Monday, November 26, 2007

Simple things that can make driving much easier on Indian Roads

One of the several things that I liked about US was their road system. US has an excellent road network that interconnects all their cities and towns. Driving in the US is far more easier than driving in India (except for some exceptions - like peak hour New York city traffic) not just for their good roads but also for the fact that most people in the US obeys basic traffic rules.

There are three specific reasons that I think that have contributed to this effect. One is that people are brought up with reasonably good civic sense. Most traffic rules are just implementation of some basic fairness system and anybody with a good civic sense (and a rational mind) should be able to deduce these laws. Another reason is that the rules are executed reasonably impartially and violations are punished with just fines. Additionally the licensing system is very fair and uncorrupted, and provides a system of eliminating people who do not know driving or the traffic rules from getting their licenses.

The first two factors really do not play any significant role in the Indian traffic system. As far as the third factor is concerned, our system is corrupt to the core and anybody who goes via the 'right channels' and 'pays the right fees' can get any license without really having to know traffic rules or even basic driving capabilities. I personally know quite a few people (girls mostly) who do have licenses but do not know driving. There was also this recent bust of corrupt officials in Traffic Department of Kerala by Malayala Manorama by getting them to issue commercial driving licenses without even knowing how to drive a heavy vehicle.

I am highly optimistic about the three problems above. All three can be solved with some dedicated efforts from the citizens. It will probably take a long time. But it is possible. There is however one aspect that can easily be rectified in the short run, i.e. clearing up the ignorance of the common Indian driver. A percentage (not sure of the size of it) of drivers break rules and cause inconveniences to other people because of a simple reason - they do not know the rules. A subset of these people would have broken the rule even if they had known about the rule. We cannot do anything about this set. However the remainder would not have broken the rule if they had known about the rule.

If there is a concerted effort at the school level to put in place a system where students are taught the fundamental principles behind traffic rules, simple ethics to follow while driving, logical rules for deducing some of the traffic rules, some basic road sense then the above issue can be solved to a certain extent. This is one area that is worth pursuing. Maybe some time in the future I would like to try my hand at that. Driving in the Indian roads has been one of the most frustrating things that I face on a daily basis. So I should at least see what I can do about that :).

Here are some of the basic driving principles which when followed would make driving much easier and safer for other people on the road (principles because I am not sure if we have rules that correspond to these).

This is not a comprehensive list but rather an indicative list. 1) Do not park near intersections where you can cause inconvenience for turning vehicles. This alone causes so much of the traffic jams that happen around busy intersections in Trivandrum. Not only would you cause obstruction to turning vehicles but in turn they would cause obstruction to onward and ultimately oncoming traffic and causing traffic jams

2) Do not park on the wrong side of the road - you will cause inconvenience to oncoming traffic when you are parking and also when you are taking the car out from the parking spot.

3) Do not take U turns in busy roads. Turn to a by-lane on the left, take a U turn there (or turn around by reversing into further by-lanes), come back to the main road and then take a right. Otherwise you would cause obstructions to traffic behind you when you start your U turn and cause obstructions to oncoming traffic when you finish the U turn. In the prescribed approach you cause only a minimal obstruction to the traffic behind you and besides you have the option of waiting for an intermission in the traffic before you make the right turn. Also you will be able to reach normal traffic speed while joining the oncoming traffic much faster this way than with the U turn.

4) Do not park at no-parking zones. If you do so you would inevitably be causing inconvenience to other people. The no-parking zone was put there for some purpose in the first place.

5) Do not go slow in fast lanes. You would be causing inconvenience to traffic behind you and would be forcing them to take extra risks in trying to overtake you.

6) If you are going slow, keep to the left of the road. Why should somebody going faster than you wait behind you just because you want to go slow.

7) Always keep left if you have an option to. That way you will ensure that the road utilization is very high and also provide the least inconvenience to onward and oncoming traffic

8) Do not stop at no-stopping zones for the same reasons as for the no-parking zones.

9) When you park, make sure that you are not wasting any parking space, and that you are parked as close to the kerb as possible and that you are not obstructing any other parked vehicle or a driveway or a by-lane.

10) Never overtake along the right side of a vehicle which has put a right indicator. Similarly move to the right of the lane if you are turning right since you should not expect people to overtake you through the right once you put the right signal.

11) Likewise never pass along the left of a vehicle which is turning left. So when you are turning left do not expect a vehicle to go through your left and hence keep to the left side of the road.

12) Give way for faster vehicles. You wouldn't gain anything by not doing so and he would gain something by you doing so.

13) Always stop at stop signs at intersections. Merge into the traffic or cross the traffic only during an intermission in the flow. If you don't you will be causing far more total inconvenience to a large number of people than the slight convenience you gain by not doing so.

14) Give way to oncoming vehicles turning right. This is true especially in narrow roads because if you don't it is highly likely that you are going to cause a traffic block for yourself down the road. Letting the turning vehicles turn will ensure a reasonably smooth flow and prevent deadlocks.

15) Avoid right turns in heavy traffic whenever possible. Alternatively go take the next round or turn left into a by-lane and turn round and wait for a respite in the traffic and then cross the traffic.

16) When you are waiting to cross an intersection make sure that you cross only during a respite in the traffic. Do not inch into the intersection and restrict the traffic. If you inch into the traffic you will be inviting the vehicles to cross you by moving right and thereby create the possibility of a traffic obstruction to traffic in both directions.

17) When you are waiting in a traffic jam, DO NOT try to overtake the vehicle in front of you. Not only that you wouldn't reach anywhere by doing that but also you would be creating a deadlock by blocking the oncoming traffic.

18) This might sound funny - yes you should not violate a one way rule even at night. The thing is oncoming traffic would never expect a vehicle against the one-way direction and could be very dangerous for you and the oncoming driver.

These principles are simple extensions of a few fundamental principles

1) Other drivers on the road have as much right as you do. Corollary - You have as much right for the road as anybody else.
2) Do not cause inconvenience for other people on the road for the sake of your luxury. Corollary - You don't have to suffer inconvenience for the sake of another person's luxury.
3) First come - first serve, so yield for the guy who came first. Corollary - demand if you are the first.
4) Right of way for the one on the right so yield if you are on the left. Corollary - demand if you are on the right.


  1. The rules followed by drivers in Trivandrum based on my experience of driving for 12 years:

    1. I am the only one on the road. If any others are on the road, they have to adjust to my way of driving.
    2. I may have indicators in my vehicle, but I should not be bothered to put them on when I want to take a turn. You have to read my mind and know when I want to take a turn and in which direction.
    3.I can park in any way I wish. Why should I be bothered whether it is causing inconvenience to others either to park or take out the parked vehicles? I have rights!
    4. I will stop my bike at the middle of the street near a junction and happily chat with my friend and juggle a cellphone conversation too! (If you do not believe this , visit Pappanamcode Junction between evening 5 to 8 PM to see these two legged creatures not belonging to human race!). Do not dare to look at me with accusing stare that I am hindering traffic! If my mood is not right, you may be showered with choices phrases!
    5. About auto wallahs!..., no let me stop here or this comment section itself will becom bigger that the original article itself.

    Bye for now!


  2. It is sad to see that people do not really care about other people's inconveniences. One aspect, as I had discussed above, would be that they have not learned to care about others. There is no real point to get frustrated [I do very often :( though] about what we can't change. But definitely if we take some initiative to build better sense of ethics in our future generations, I believe that we can make a difference.

  3. I agree that people here in the US have a much better civic sense than in India. But one major point that you have overlooked is the fact that traffic here in the US is dominated by cars with a few buses and trucks. There is some kind of "homogeneity" to the traffic. That is not the case in India, where you have cars, buses, two wheelers, three-wheelers, bullock carts and every possible thing. Organizing smooth traffic flow in such a condition is no joke. I believe that if you introduce the same kind of traffic here in the us, things will go crazy even here. Has anyone looked at the traffic scene in LA!!!

  4. Yes I agree to that aspect of higher homogeneity in traffic in the US. That is like the topping for the cake :). Add lack of homogeneity to lack of obedience to rules and you have the chaos that we have here in India. The point I wanted to highlight was the importance of driving civic sense into the masses so the omission can be forgiven. Rather not have everybody buy cars for the sake of homogeneity - think of the emissions :)