If you have been to India recently, then surely you have noticed an aversion to using turn signals, waiting at traffic lights and just the rules of the road in general. Chaotic would be an understatement to describe the traffic conditions on Indian roads these days. That got us thinking… why is that? What makes drivers and riders alike so averse to following simple rules of the road?
History of Automobiles in India
Let’s start from the beginning. Cars haven’t been in mass circulation for very long. Back in the day, if you wanted to own a car, you were rich. And we’re talking country club rich. Only royalty, wealthy business people and landowners could afford one. To most people it was a pipe dream and cars were viewed like space ships. It is only very recently, especially with the advent of car loans that more and more people are purchasing cars. And boy is there a feeding frenzy! It is no wonder all the top automotive manufacturers in the world are chomping at the bit for a piece of the Indian market pie.
Not everyone can afford cars even today. A vast majority of the masses still live under the poverty line. Before one can graduate to affording cars, the alternatives are bicycles and bikes or scooters. The roads are flooded with them and are a menace. But in these congested times, they are definitely the quickest way to get around town. Comfort and safety definitely take a back seat in the interest of saving commute time. These two-wheelers also have great gas mileage compared to cars which make them a very attractive purchase for most. Insurance is cheaper and they are easy to fix. You can see where this is going… for every car sold, you have about 4 or 5 two-wheelers sold. The numbers add up. Strike One.
This concept is virtually non-existent. Sure you have driving schools that are supposed to teach you, but ask licensed individuals how many of them actually went to driver’s education classes and the answer will probably be 1 in 10… if that. As for the actual tests, well they are a joke – it usually lasts for about 30 seconds and anyone with some extra cash in their pocket can get a license. Rules? What rules? Speed limits? What’s that? A red traffic light means STOP. Really? People to this day use their hands as indicators whether they drive or ride. They even make you use them when you go for a driving test. A funny thing is you even have disclaimers at the back of cars that say, “Air conditioned. No hand signals.” This is because you can buy cars without air conditioning and usually the drivers of such vehicles don’t believe in the use of turn signals are use their hands instead… if at all. So basically what you have is a combination of people who have no idea how to drive or ride and some who may have “taught” themselves that are rolling around in land missiles. Nice. Strike Two.
Let’s move our attention to the roads themselves. Roads and boulevards that are smooth and wide are in the process of being built today. It is hard to drive in a straight line when existing roads (most of which are quite narrow unless you are in a big city and are driving on a main road or highway) are filled with potholes and incomplete construction debris but sadly that’s the way things are. An interesting observation here – if there is a tree in the middle of a road that is being constructed, the tree gets to stay right where it is, and the road goes around it… on both sides with no barriers. Talk about a disaster waiting to happen. Heaven forbid something did happen, the vehicles are literally left where they are until the issue is resolved. Think of the repercussions of such an incident on the traffic conditions. The materials used on most roads are sub-par and deteriorate so quickly, it compounds the issue of unsafe travel. And of course the concept of lane markers is also lacking. Strike Three. Thankfully this is changing in the big cities and you can actually drive for long stretches without worrying about an unmarked ditch smack in the middle of the road.
In conclusion, the sheer number of commuters on bikes, bicycles, cars, trucks, buses, carts and carriages (horse/ox/cow/camel you name it) coupled with all the aforementioned factors is not just a recipe for disaster, it also means people just don’t know or don’t care about the rules of the road. The bottom line is, I need to get from Point A to Point B. That’s it. There is no other thought related to sharing the road with other fellow commuters or safety of travel. When you are literally inches away from the nearest vehicle (and they are all around you), it would be naive to assume anyone is going to pay attention to turn signals. Once again, in several of the big cities, the government is taking steps to rectify this issue by levying heavy fines for unsafe or illegal driving, installing speed cameras to monitor and control the speed of traffic and by trying to enforce the law of the road. It is a slow and painful process, but at least it is a step in the right direction.
Also check out our article on the History of Auto Racing in India.