A Functioning Anarchy: India Traffic – Asia
Up until now, I used to think that Vietnam had the craziest traffic I had ever seen. Well, move over Vietnam. Enter India. I am positive that the word clusterf*#k was created here by some Westerner riding in a taxi around Delhi. During my month long stay in India, I heard someone say, "Traffic in India is like a functioning anarchy". I thought that it was a perfect way to describe the orderly craziness! Anything with a wheel is considered a drivable vehicle out on the public streets. Bikes, scooters, tractors, wagons, wheel barrels and rickshaws are all road-worthy vehicles. I have collected some of the common rules, or lack of rules, about driving and transportation in India. My best advice to you is NEVER, and I mean NEVER try to drive yourself in India. It’s suicide. Westerners have no idea of Third World driving, so don’t even try. The rules are that there are no rules.
If there are lines painted on the road for three lanes, that means there is room for five lanes of traffic, leaving about one inch of space between cars, side by side, hurtling down the road. The equation is simple. Double the number of lanes painted on the road (including the shoulder of course!), then subtract one. Granted, this depends on the presence of bikes, auto rickshaws, or cars, but on average, the equation is correct. Remember, in India there is no such thing as personal space, not even on the road.
I am convinced no eye test is necessary to pass your driving test in India. However, a hearing test is mandatory. The horn is probably the second most important equipment on a car or any vehicle. The first is the steering wheel. In fact, on most large vehicles such as trucks, they are painted on the back in cutesy little colorful letters, “Honk Please”. This is because there are no side mirrors; they take up too much space in the narrow lanes of traffic. All you need is a horn. It is not the driver's responsibility to check before changing lanes. It is the driver flanking another driver who is responsible for announcing their presence. If you don’t, prepare to be hit – plain and simple.
The big story in Delhi is about the Blue Buses – death on wheels. The papers state that the drivers don’t have any qualifications to drive them. About every other day there is another person crushed by a bus. The papers keep a death count daily and write about it. The people are infuriated and are calling for the government to do something about it, but there has been no progress to this point.
I stayed as far away as I could get from any bus. Their hugeness looks like they just came from a demolition derby. They are a mess of twisted metal spitting out toxic fumes commanding their presence in the street. For those locals brave enough to ride the bus, it’s no easy journey. There are no real bus stops. Sure, people wait by the side of the road in places that look like bus stops; however, when the bus comes, it doesn’t really stop. You have to run to get on it. Let’s just say that they aren’t handicap accessible.
People take running leaps to get on the bus. Getting off the bus is more of the same – one step worse. If the bus does stop to let people out, it doesn’t necessarily do it on the side of the road. No, no, no, that would be way too sensible and safe. Instead, they let people out from the fourth lane of six lanes of traffic. Imagine if you are in a car and the bus has just let people out in the middle of the street. Now there are people stepping out in the middle of moving traffic that you have to watch out for – or not. Mainly, those people fend for themselves and dodge in front of cars, find narrow spaces to make their way to the side of the road.
Stop lights are optional. When coming upon a red light, simply lay on the horn as you speed through the intersection. People run red lights because to sit and actually wait for a red light is excruciating. Stop lights are looonnngggg. I once noticed a Walk /Don’t Walk sign with a little countdown display. I’ve seen these in other countries. In Delhi I saw a countdown sign starting at 200. I am not joking.
Crossing the Street
You'd think that in a culture where elders are highly respected, hospitality would be over the top. You'd figure tourists would be appreciated. Not so. There are no crosswalks. If there are some, it doesn’t matter as no one obeys the traffic lights. You stand by the side of the road. Eventually you have to step out into the mayhem and try to cross. You look and see a free space, but quickly get stuck about three lanes in. You stand there while cars and buses whiz by and avoid you. You inch out a little more, try to make direct eye contact with a driver. You even go as far as waving your hand in the stop position, clearly demonstrating that you are trying to cross, and they should let you pass. They will run you over without even thinking about it. If you are a cow, though, or happen to be riding a cow, then you have a "get out of jail free card". Cows stop traffic; humans don’t. Whenever possible, find a cow along the side of the road. Let it lead you across, or hide behind it if you have to. That’s really your only hope of coming out on the other side – alive.
Should you still feel like renting a car and driving yourself after reading this, well then, you are crazy enough to maybe get by in Delhi traffic. Good luck!
Read more of Sherry's travels at Corporate American Runaway.