Driving in India?

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India at a Glance

Driving in India

If you are an adventurous spirit, driving in India might be the thrill you have been looking for. If not, you should rather get a professional driver to navigate you through the congested streets with their own unwritten rules. Our driving guide for expats gives you a good idea of what to expect.

As India is one of the world’s most populous countries, it should come as no great surprise that driving in India means getting used to crowded and congested roads. Driving is rather dangerous, particularly in India's cities. The nation holds the world record of deaths involved in road accidents. In 2010, over 135,000 people died in road-related situations, and according to the Hindustan Times, traffic fatalities claimed a life every three to four minutes in 2011.

It is difficult to control the amount of accidents on the roads, as many motorists do not obey any traffic laws. There are very few pedestrian crossings, which makes both driving in India and being a pedestrian rather dangerous. The only good news is that this has raised people’s awareness, leading to the foundation of road safety groups such as ArriveSAFE.

If you do not want to rely on public transportation to get around, it is highly recommended that you hire a chauffeur who has a couple of years of experience. They will know better what driving in India is all about, as they are more familiar with the rules of the road. Due to India’s low wages, these drivers are affordable and, more importantly, they will get you to your destination in one piece.

Road Infrastructure in India

Driving in India will require you to share the road with rickshaws, speeding trucks, mopeds packed to the maximum capacity, dozens of other cars, and animals. Traffic in India’s gigantic cities is also very noisy. Many Indian drivers honk their horns without pause. Contrary to the horn-use standards you are used to from your home country, horn use here mainly is a means of conveying the ‘emotional’ side of driving in India – virtually every kind of emotion. Some might also do it just for the heck of it. There is nothing to be done about this, except hop on the bandwagon and honk your horn!

Despite the country being third in the world as far as the extent of its road network is concerned, India’s 3.3 million kilometers of roadways are often far from well developed. Potholes, speed breakers, grains, shards of glass, and cow dung are just some of the things you may find on the road while driving in India. Additionally, flooding may occur, which will in turn cause sewers to overflow – this can drastically slow down the pace of driving. The marriage, birthday or funeral procession of an important person in a larger city may cause an eternal traffic jam with lots of honking horns.

Safety Advice for Driving in India

A vital info for safe – or rather, safer – driving in India is the unofficial pecking order for right-of-way: cows (because they are holy), large trucks, buses, SUVs, cars, mopeds, rickshaws, bicycles, and lastly pedestrians. Many cars play ‘chicken’ while driving, meaning that they will drive in the middle of the road, challenging oncoming traffic to move into the ditch. Try not to get involved in this game, and if your driver does it, just look away and hope for the best!

The key to safe driving in India is to come armed with patience. Engaging in road rage is extremely dangerous and will get you nowhere, except perhaps into the nearest hospital. Keep your eyes open to everything around you and be ready to break, swerve, and accelerate at virtually the same time.

If you happen to be involved in an accident, try to settle it with the other driver as quickly as possible. Avoid getting the attention of other drivers or pedestrians. They will usually take sides with the Indian driver or the driver with the smaller vehicle, and this may erupt in a fight.

InterNations Expat Magazine