Journal : Global Times (Chinese) Date : Author : Special Correspondent Yu Tong Page No. : NA


For foreigners, watching Indians drive and park is a wonderful pastime. Sometimes it feels like they are engaging in an art performance. A closer look and patient experiencing  shows that behind the “art performance” of Indian drivers are not only written traffic laws, but also a set of unwritten social norms and unspoken rules.

Gestures instead of turn signals on

Driving or taking a ride in a car in India is always an exciting experience. On the road, all kinds of vehicles and pedestrians “jostle for space priority”, from time to time there are stray dogs and monkeys crossing the street, and occasionally you also encounter cows strolling on the street; the ears are dinned with high and low horns, bells and motors The roar makes the air seem even hotter. Safely negotiating this kind of of traffic requires an understanding of some rules which have to be followed.

First of all, right of way is determined by “might is right”. Specifically, pedestrians must be careful to avoid all kinds of vehicles, non-motorized vehicles must be careful to avoid motor vehicles, tricycles must give way to four-wheeled vehicles, and small cars must avoid large vehicles. When I first arrived in India and bought a car on the road, my old colleague repeatedly reminded me to avoid the “blue bus” (Indian buses are generally painted blue), which are  a 100% road killer. The only exception is the cow. The cow has absolute right of way on the streets of India, and all vehicles and pedestrians have to walk around the cow when they see it.

Secondly, where to turn is determined by gestures. In India, not only do those who ride bicycles use hand gestures, but people riding motorcycles and driving cars are also accustomed to using gestures to signal their intentions while driving. In India, there are right side driven cars and traffic moves on the left side of the road.  In the case of cars, the driver stretches out his right hand to indicate that he wants to turn right, and the passenger stretches out his left hand to indicate a left turn. These are simple and easy to understand, but also complicated. For example, when you drive a car and see a hand in front of the car bob up and down, you have to distinguish carefully: if the palm of the hand faces down, that is to remind the car behind the waving party not to overtake as he is going to change lane; if the palm of the hand faces up, that is to tell the car behind that he/she can overtake from the waving side. These gestures are clearly written in the Indian traffic rules, and they are tested when testing for issue of a driver’s license.

Some people may be wondering, since turning a corner is done by hand gestures, what is the purpose of the turning signals on the car? This thing, like a rearview mirror, is dispensable for many car owners in India. Even if there is a turning signal, the driver may not use it. Once the author nearly smashed a motorcycle that suddenly changed lanes, but then accused him (the owner of the car) of being at fault. The young man didn’t realize that his vehicle had a turning signal, and innocently explained that the passenger in the rear seat was holding a big packet so he had no way of making a turning gesture (with his hands) at all. Even if Indian drivers turn on the turning signal, foreigners may not understand it. In India, you can often see a car with the right turning signal flashing to the left. The author learned from an Indian friend that this meant that the vehicle in front was indicating that you can overtake from the right. The turn signal is thus used in lieu of hand gestures!

Buses don’t stop fully, getting on and off the bus depends on your skills

Indians cannot remain idle when riding in a car, and have a compulsive urge to actively participate in traffic behavior. Once when I was driving close to an intersection, I encountered a red light. I saw a passenger in the car in front of me reaching out from the left window, putting out his hand, raising his index finger and turning his left hand in a clockwise circle. Just while the author was puzzled, he saw the car making a big circle from the leftmost side of all the vehicles waiting to turn right and going straight, and drove the red light and turned away.

In addition, the number of passengers in Indian vehicles is determined by …. well, the number of passengers. A motorcycle can carry a couple with three or four children, and it is common for a car to squeeze in a family of seven or eight people. Not to mention the bus, there are five or six people hanging outside the door during rush hours, which does not affect driving at all. Even during off-peak hours, many buses do not close their doors (some cars do not have doors), so passengers can jump on and off at any time. When the bus arrives at the platform, the driver usually doesn’t stop the car completely. They just slide past slowly. The ones who want to get on the bus jump up in two steps, and those who get off the bus jump down and step forward a few steps to buffer. Everything is as smooth as clouds and flowing water. You know, many Indians like to wear slippers, and these difficult movements can all be done in slippers!

Careful observation will reveal that the back door of an Indian bus is not between the front and rear wheels, but is located behind the rear wheels near the rear of the car. This design is very important and can effectively prevent passengers who make “technical errors” when getting on and off the vehicle from being injured by the rear wheel. In addition, if a passenger fails to grasp the door and falls off, he will think that his “skills” are not good and not anything to do with the bus driver. The author has been in India for many years and has not seen any media report that passengers were injured in getting on and off the bus and making trouble for the bus driver.

Indians also have a “cute” side of driving, that is that quarrels or fights caused by car accidents are rarely seen on the street. Ordinary vehicles smashed, and the two sides often walked their own way leaving the car, waving their hands. In India, you can use your own car to learn to drive. Ask the instructor to sit in the co-pilot position and learn directly on the road. When my wife started to learn to drive, she sometimes rubbed against other cars, but she was never held accountable.

The parking guy does “heavy shifting” to help you take out your car

Watching Indian parking is even more of “a must see” spectacle. Many parking lots have no clear parking spaces at all. As long as you have good driving skills and the ability to park your car, you can find your parking space anywhere in between. In some prosperous areas and outside shopping malls, the parked vehicles are as densely packed as containers in the terminal. The reason for this is that an unspoken rule in play is that no one pulls on the handbrake, and the vehicle is left in neutral gear. If your car is blocked by a vehicle coming in later (this is very common), you mustn’t worry. Parking lots often hire a few parking guys. When you signal to leave, the younger brother will quickly make a judgment as to which car is blocking your way, and which car is blocking the way of that car. They either push them forward with their hands or push them back with their buttocks, swiftly moving the cars in the way as if they were moving the blocks one by one.

When you think about it, many things in India are the same as driving elsewhere;  only there are not only written traffic laws that work, but also some “hidden rules” that you need to observe and experience patiently. The problem of parking is typical of the Indian scene: there are many seemingly messy things in India but there is always a solution. A self-consistent unwinding mechanism exists in the capillaries of this society.

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