It’s that time of year when foreign tourists flood into India. These days, many choose to drive on the roads.Indian road safety;
Here is a little essay about driving in rural India that I’ve been working on.
I’m not going to say too much about the operation of the vehicle; I’m 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, you’ll 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.
I’m 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.
That’s 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. It’s hot out there, and he/she may have been at work since dawn. Do not assume they hear you and know you’re coming; in India, it’s 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 don’t. 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 you’re not decelerating hard, it will bounce your front wheel out from under you. You’ll 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 won’t hit it. If he doesn’t look at you, blow your horn. He will look and see it’s a human on a motorbike and stay out of your way. The only critter that works for. Don’t think he will know to stay to the side of the road because he hears you. I’m a dog lover, but I know [from experience] they just aren’t 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, they’re easy. Just go around them slowly and they won’t alter their course [if walking]. They will always travel in the direction they are looking, so watch their heads, and you’ll 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 you’re in good shape if they’re 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 don’t then nothing will happen anyway [great cloud of feathers and a loud squawk]. They’re 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 you’re moving. If you’re 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 wasn’t. 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 doesn’t 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 I’m trying to say is, grip isn’t so good.
If there is an unseasonable rain, or the first rain of the monsoon, the roads turn to grease. I’ve 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 you’re insured.
They don’t actually pay, but if you have an accident and you’re 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. It’s an amendment to your home state license that says it’s legal everywhere. Valid for 1 year.Attitude; this is important...
You’re 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, everyone’s having a good time, No one else seems to be paying any attention to traffic rules... it’s a blast to ride fast.
TAKE IT EASY! Shit happens, but it doesn’t have to happen to you. Just because you left all that’s serious on another continent doesn’t mean it’s ok to drive like there’s no tomorrow. There are other people on the roads, including children.
Having a bike accident is no fun anywhere, but even less fun when you’re 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, it’s 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.
It’s up to you to keep everyone calm; people get excited and angry when nasty things happen, especially if there is human injury. Don’t raise your voice, make eye contact, and be sympathetic even if it’s not your fault.
If you’ve hurt someone, you will likely be charged with “rash and negligent driving”. That will be expensive and time consuming.
If it’s 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 won’t be fun, but sure beats a riot with your name on it. If your vehicle is too damaged to drive, jump into someone else’s and shut the door. Tell him to drive; he probably will.
If you are injured yourself, people will almost surely be sympathetic, but you’ll 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 you’re in north Goa, keep this number handy; Vrindavan Hospital - Tel: 250022 / 250033My 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!
From the user "anjuna mark" on IndiaMike forums