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Death Wish: A Horror Story About Indian Driving Habits

By Diana McLeod

      For those of you who have a secret death wish, but are afraid to go through with it, I have just the thing! Travel to India, and spend your vacation hiring cars with local drivers. Dave and I did a lot of highway travel on our 2009 trip, and, frankly, we are amazed that we survived the experience! Here, as we see it, are the rules of the Indian road.

LANES: If you are on a three lane divided highway, you can actually fit five vehicles abreast. If the other four vehicles are local buses, you should be careful not to knock off the people who are clinging to the sides of the bus. If such a thing were to happen, the Indians will shake their heads regretfully, and say that those people must have had bad karma.

DRIVING AT NIGHT: Many Indians believe that if you drive with your lights off, you will save on gas. In the South, they also believe that oncoming traffic cannot see them, even with their lights on. So, they zap the oncoming car with their brights, just as the two cars approach each other. This practice renders every driver on the road virtually blind. This is a terrific habit in a land where “sacred cows,” bicyclists, pedestrians, temple processions, goats, and wandering mendicant pilgrims wander right out onto the highways after dark.

PASSING: Always do it, no matter what. The other oncoming drivers, who are also passing, will chicken out first. Unless they'’ve got a very big truck or bus. The biggest vehicle wins. Then, and only then, are you allowed to give way to them. But, to save face, you may only chicken out at the last possible second.

HORNS: Always honk the horn, even if there is nobody there to hear it. Indian highways are a cacophony of honking. In some areas, there seems to be some kind of “horn language” that drivers signal each other with. When passing multiple trucks on a dead blind curve, I had to hope that this was the case.

      Most trucks have signs that say “Horn Please.” Some even have signs that read “Please be Horny,” or “Honk if you’'re Horny.” (The double entendre is unknown to them). Still, if horns are any indication, all India seems to be in the throes of rampant sexual frustration.

TURN SIGNALS: are unnecessary. That is what the horn is for. Besides, they are meaningless when you are already straddling two lanes anyway.

MINIMUM SPEED LIMIT: is as slow as the oxcart, without reflectors of any kind, plodding along, late at night, on a three lane urban highway.

THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS “ONE WAY TRAFFIC”: We have even had drivers drive on the wrong side of a divided highway, straight into three full lanes of oncoming Delhi traffic! We survived one such experience by promising the driver extra money if he would get back on the correct side of the road. (Of course, we never gave it to him! We gave him a long, angry lecture instead.)

TRAFFIC CONTROL: With all these “road rules,” you can imagine that India has pretty grim accident statistics. The traffic police have wisely decided that, if everyone were to drive a little bit slower, there would be fewer accidents. So, they put up metal speed barriers, at random spots along the highway. These things are everywhere! If you’'re driving along on a three lane highway, you will suddenly see that both the right and the left lanes are blocked by a rolling metal barrier! Suddenly, everybody has to merge into the center lane, from both sides, all at once! At night, this "“accident prevention system”" is even more insane, since they don’'t put any reflectors on the darned things. The hapless drivers, already blinded from other drivers flashing their brights at them, won’'t see the barrier until the last possible second. Worse yet, I never saw any warning signs saying "“barrier ahead,"” or anything like that. If you have a large truck in front of you, you never see these things until he swerves crazily into the middle lane. If you are already in the middle lane, you had better start braking, or prepare to be made into a “road sandwich” by the two trucks on either side of you. And, for the biggest thrill, try avoiding a barrier when there are four or five vehicles occupying three lanes! I think that these barriers, which are meant to be traffic safety devices, are the maddest and most dangerous part of the whole system!!

     We love India. It is a fascinating country. We recommend it as one of the greatest travel experiences in the world. We also highly recommend its train system.

Thanks for reading! Diana

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