A little essay about driving in rural India

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#1 Oct 7th, 2007, 06:02
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  • anjuna mark is offline
#1
Itís that time of year when foreign tourists flood into India. These days, many choose to drive on the roads.
Here is a little essay about driving in rural India that Iíve been working on.

Indian road safety;
Iím not going to say too much about the operation of the vehicle; Iím going to assume you already know about that.
But a couple of things about riding Enfield motorcycles;
They have the brake on the other side than most people are used to. GET USED TO IT!
I find keeping a toe on the brake pedal for the first day or two gets me straight.

Also, you will be driving on the left side of the road; for those for whom this is new, youíll have to keep it on top of your consciousness for the first week or so.
This is your mantra, the most important thing you need to know about life and living. Repeat this in your mind as you drive; LEFT LEFT LEFT LEFT.
As you say this to yourself, concentrate on your left hand.
Iím not joking, this can save your life.

Other vehicles;
Under Indian road rules, when 2 vehicles approach a level crossing simultaneously, the vehicle on the right has right of way.
Thatís just great as long as you know that the guy approaching on your left has no idea of this.
Generally speaking, everyone just slows down and waves each other through. Make no assumptions though! Sometimes [often] cars, busses, scooters, bicycles, will just barrel ass straight on through, possibly after a brief toot on the horn to let the world know.
Reality; larger vehicle has right of way. Expect vehicles to shoot intersections.

Pedestrians; especially in the middle of the day, pedestrians can be erratic. Itís hot out there, and he/she may have been at work since dawn. Do not assume they hear you and know youíre coming; in India, itís polite to give a short beep on the horn to be sure.
I find that the people who are likely to be walking on the roadside [i.e. poor people] have great faith in god and vehicle drivers. They usually have more faith in me than I have; I wish they would turn to look or step off the road as I pass [in a large bus]. But they usually donít. A big horn is good for everyone.

Animals; especially dangerous to bikes, but cattle in the road will do harm to anything less than a military truck if you hit one.

Pigs are the most dangerous for bikes in my opinion. Remember this and you might keep your tires [tyres?] down; if a pig starts running parallel to you, get on your brakes as hard as you can. The swine will break suddenly and cut across your path, and if youíre not decelerating hard, it will bounce your front wheel out from under you. Youíll be sliding down the road on your fanny. Take my word for it, I learned the hard way, twice. I also avoided many.

Dogs; if a dog looks at you, you wonít hit it. If he doesnít look at you, blow your horn. He will look and see itís a human on a motorbike and stay out of your way. The only critter that works for. Donít think he will know to stay to the side of the road because he hears you. Iím a dog lover, but I know [from experience] they just arenít that smart.

Goats;
Will mostly stay still as you pass by, but if you pass too close may be spooked and jump out at you while trying to avoid you. Goats are very thick.
That lesson hurt me some, and was much worse for the goat.

Cows / buffalos; singly, theyíre easy. Just go around them slowly and they wonít alter their course [if walking]. They will always travel in the direction they are looking, so watch their heads, and youíll get a couple of seconds notice of any course change. Also be careful of the horns, if they have long ones and may shake their heads...
In a herd, they are much less predictable. They like to crowd together, so youíre in good shape if theyíre all on one side of the road; but if you have to split a herd, go dead slow, less than a walk. Talking to them quietly seems to help keep them calm.
If mating, they will run at full gallop in any direction. Two bovines on six legs could come out of the underbrush at any time, and I have no advice to offer on that one.

Chickens; ignore them. They usually miss you, and if they donít then nothing will happen anyway [great cloud of feathers and a loud squawk]. Theyíre cheap to buy if you need to pay for one, much cheaper than an accident trying to get out of their way.

Monkeys are smart and will stay out of your way if youíre moving. If youíre parked though, they might try to steal your food.
If they try they usually succeed.
One guy I know had a monkey fall out of a tree onto him as he rode his bike below, but that was because of a fight with another monkey. The monkey was fine, my friend wasnít. He had to get a rabies injection too.

The road itself;
Much is made of the potholes and poor surface. But remember this as well; it doesnít rain for months after monsoon. The roads are very dirty!
This includes oily soot from diesel engines and cow shit, all dried and rolled out by the passage of many tires.
What Iím trying to say is, grip isnít so good.
If there is an unseasonable rain, or the first rain of the monsoon, the roads turn to grease. Iíve had to drive on the muddy shoulder as it was safer than the road.
The old hands were all sitting in the bar, watching the first timers slide off the bend into the field one by one...
There are no roadside reflectors or lines on the sides. There can be buffalos lying in the road and your headlight is probably not very bright.

Insurance;
Is mandatory in India. I STRONGLY advise you to be sure youíre insured.
They donít actually pay, but if you have an accident and youíre not insured, you are in DEEP shit; at the mercy of the police.

License;
Get an international license from the auto club where you live. Itís an amendment to your home state license that says itís legal everywhere. Valid for 1 year.

Attitude; this is important...
Youíre on vacation, mom is far away, no one is watching what you do.
There are few if any speed traps, fines are only a few bucks anyway. There are no breathalyzers, everyoneís having a good time, No one else seems to be paying any attention to traffic rules... itís a blast to ride fast.
TAKE IT EASY! Shit happens, but it doesnít have to happen to you. Just because you left all thatís serious on another continent doesnít mean itís ok to drive like thereís no tomorrow. There are other people on the roads, including children.
Having a bike accident is no fun anywhere, but even less fun when youíre in a place where it can take so long to get help.


Accidents; no one likes to talk about this subject, but it would be good to be prepared if it happens.
Each situation is unique, so what to do will always be a judgment call.
If you hit an animal, itís your fault. Best to just apologize and pay for it if the poor creature is dead or badly injured, even though you may be in a state of discomfort yourself. If necessary, go back later and find the owner.
Itís up to you to keep everyone calm; people get excited and angry when nasty things happen, especially if there is human injury. Donít raise your voice, make eye contact, and be sympathetic even if itís not your fault.
If youíve hurt someone, you will likely be charged with ďrash and negligent drivingĒ. That will be expensive and time consuming.
If itís only property damage, consider paying on the spot. You are insured [right?], but who needs the hassle?
If anger is brewing and a crowd is gathering, flee if you can. This is legal in India [leaving the scene of an accident if you have fear for your personal safety due to riot]. But you have to report to the nearest police station immediately. This wonít be fun, but sure beats a riot with your name on it. If your vehicle is too damaged to drive, jump into someone elseís and shut the door. Tell him to drive; he probably will.
If you are injured yourself, people will almost surely be sympathetic, but youíll still have to take charge if you can. Ask if anyone has a mobile phone, ask him or her to call someone for you, a doctor or hospital or the police. There is still no central alarm number for India.
If youíre in north Goa, keep this number handy; Vrindavan Hospital - Tel: 250022 / 250033

My qualifications; driving in India since 1971 [on a bicycle for the first few years], I have a reputation [no longer deserved] for being excessively exuberant on the road. Iíve hit most of the animals mentioned above, and maybe you donít have to.
II hope this writing will help someone sometime. Have fun!
#2 Oct 7th, 2007, 06:29
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  • edwardseco is offline
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A pleasant surprise to find intelligent advice on this topic. Its spot on. I suppose I would be in favor of a mass extermination campaign against bicyclists (not you NI). I found them more crazed than pigs. Got 2 myself but only nicked 'em. Lordy, what a tamasha! Bigger has the right of way. But, when its the same size watch out (bus & gasoline tanker = death). Heed the paperwork requirements! I didn't and regretted it when a big police lorry came by following an accident in the rain (don't drive in a hellish downpour). Don't expect the luck I had in sussing that situation. Such a thrill though if you are young and have no encumbrances..
#3 Oct 7th, 2007, 06:49
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  • Nick-H is offline
#3
Quote:
My qualifications; driving in India since 1971 [on a bicycle for the first few years], I have a reputation [no longer deserved] for being excessively exuberant on the road. I’ve hit most of the animals mentioned above, and maybe you don’t have to.
II hope this writing will help someone sometime. Have fun!
There is nothing better than learning from someone else's experience

Great post. I'm going to make it a sticky.

People always post all the jokes about driving in India, but when you get on the road it really is no joke.

But it can still be fun: I enjoy my Chennai driving!
~
Life gets aadhar every day.
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#4 Oct 7th, 2007, 07:37
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  • kmalik is offline
#4
If you are visiting from abroad and driving the family auto on international driving license, does the auto insurance coverage carry over? I suppose one could read the insurance policy, but such a scenario is unlikely to be discussed. Does the standard auto policy in India cover guest drivers? If not, are there supplemental insurance options one can purchase?
#5 Oct 7th, 2007, 10:27
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  • capt_mahajan is offline
#5
If it is a private vehicle, it is mandatory in India to have third party insurance only.. Which means the vehicle may not be insured, but you need a policy which covers third party/other vehicle claims.

Normally, all that is required is that the vehicle not be used for commercial purposes, and that a licenced driver be operating it.

I feel sure an International Driving Licence would be acceptable.

This is as it pertains to the Indian insurance company. Whether a foreign company permits its customers insurance in another country, I don't know.
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This is computer generated drivel. No signature is required.
#6 Oct 7th, 2007, 10:41
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#6
Monkey falling out of a tree and rabies injection--that's not covered in my Oregon insurance.
#7 Oct 7th, 2007, 14:02
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  • Nick-H is offline
#7
Indian car insurance seems to go with the car. It even covers the car when it is sold, although it should be transferred to the new owner's name.

The concept of careful consideration of the owner's history, named drivers, etc, and pricing accordingly doesn't seem to have caught on here yet.

I'm a little far away from my policy just now; one of the other resident members might be kind enough to check if it has a "who can drive" clause. I think it is "any driver" by default, probably subject to being legally licensed to drive
#8 Oct 7th, 2007, 14:49
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  • Aishah is offline
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3rd Party Insurance - mine goes to 2008 and as Nick says it comes with the car. I am actually the 3rd owner and the papers have all the original owner's name but this is o.k.!
Great post, Anjuna, I really enjoyed reading it with a bit of a chuckle. For myself, I have two road rules which serve well in most circumstances and are very brief - they are S&S. For those who don't understand the initials, means Size and Sound. The larger the vehicle to yours, you give way. The noisier your horn you have the most chance!! Drive carefully (I am talking now about cars) give way to everyone, including animals, obstacles etc.who is anywhere near you!
Every cloud has a silver lining!
#9 Oct 7th, 2007, 15:01
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  • birds is offline
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I agree with all the above, especially the need for insurance.

Twelve years ago we came overland from Europe. After driving through Iran and Pakistan India seemed a piece of cake ;-).

Now we have criss-crossed the country from North to South and West to East. Thankfully in 12 years very, very few accident instances, killed one dog, injured another :-(, possibly killed a cat, hit the mirror of a motorbike but the worst was a drunken motorcyclist who came out of a side road without looking and hit our car on the side. vehicle. Thankfully damage for both parties was limited but in no time there was a massive, very aggressive crowd, which was more dangerous than anything else. We managed to drive off.
#10 Oct 7th, 2007, 16:12
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Amazing travelling birds! Those sudden, massive, aggressive crowds can be frightening... sometimes they look and sound aggressive, may actually not be, but its the crowd lending weight to it all that is hugely intimidating.
#11 Oct 7th, 2007, 16:36
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  • Pandey12 is offline
#11

International Driving Permit

I had an IDP last year from the UK, but in the small print it allowed you to ride a motorcycle up to 0.9L engine. Technically does this make your insurance void if you find yourself involved in an accident and your mororcycle is above 0.9L engine?
Life is what happens to you while you are making other plans.
#12 Oct 7th, 2007, 16:50
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I've never been a bike rider, not even a push-bike, but isn't there a separate test/licence that you have to get for bikes in UK?

Or maybe you had that anyway, and there was still a 900cc limit?

Maybe the AA site might clarify this.
#13 Oct 7th, 2007, 20:42
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All this talk about licences started me thinking about mine..However, I found the thread for putting this question and posted it there. Hope someone has an answer for me!
#14 Oct 9th, 2007, 09:21
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Of course, to all the precaution one can take on the Indian road the unexpected can create dramatic implications. A length of bailing wire once caused my steering wheel to lock up. I would have probably finished off an unfortunate old woman but for the isight to to turn in the opposite direction and swing back to break free..
#15 Oct 9th, 2007, 09:56
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OMG - that must have been scary edwardesco! BTW interested in your location - are you in the Middle East somewhere? Earthquakes and very hot? Or that earthquake line that runs through California - my memory totally shot after living here too long - San Andreas fault is it?
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