I slowed down as I approached the intersection.
The instructor sitting next to me, on my right hand side, already an aberration I was still grappling hard to understand, was losing it.
“Why do you always slow down on approaching an intersection? Can’t you see that you have priority?” he hollered in exasperation. “You are causing a great confusion to the guy who is driving behind you, he will see no reason to slow down, nor would he expect you to slow down”
I casted an apologetic look at him and accelerated, marginally, while still looking furtively to my left and right as I passed the intersection, where, to my great amazement, other cars and, wonder of wonders, even lorries waited obediently.
Kalyani Nagar, Tilak Road, Mount Road, Brigade road and more junctions from India flashed across my mind.
Horns, expletives, shaken fists flitted across my memory at the cross-section where the four roads met was a maelstrom of vehicles, positioned at angles nowhere along the direction of roads. An aerial view will have presented a maze of cars, scooters, bikes, lorries and other vehicles locked in unbelievable array.
In India, you ALWAYS slowed when approaching an intersection.
I may have priority.
I might know that I have priority.
But it is idiotic to think that each, or even any, of the drivers approaching the junction from the other three roads would even consider that as a possibility, leave alone as a right. On Indian roads it had always been, to borrow an economic term, to the advantage of the first mover and the time-tested truth, might is right.
20 years of driving in India, had instilled the following mantras deep in my psyche.
- The road belongs to bigger vehicles and your place and right is proportional to the size of your vehicle – trailers, lorries, tempos, cars, autorickshaws, bikes, scooters and mopeds.
- In a strange subset twist, the scooters, bikes and mopeds gain precious grounds as they occupy less space and hence can zig and zag and twist and gain each square centimeter that is available to be gained. Again, an aerial shot of a moving two wheeler, would resemble that of a swift racer snake.
- The three wheeled wonder, the autorickshaw, defies all laws of physics, gravity and road sense. They rule the road. Even the mighty trailers and lorries sometime stand in awe and give them way. The drivers are dare devils and they have an hawk’s eye to locate the spaces available and an eye-hand coordination that will satisfy a most demanding kindergarten teacher.
- Hence as a car driver, I have been superseded by the bigger vehicles by their size, ignored and pushed aside by the smaller vehicles with their mobility and dexterity.
- And we trust the HORN. It clears the way like no other means can even dream of. We honk when we see a vehicle in front of us, when we see a vehicle approaching us from any side, when we see pedestrians jaywalking on the road, even when pedestrians, the miniscule percentage, that still use zebra crossings to cross the roads, when the signal turns green, when the signal becomes amber, when the signal shows red. Most of the time we do not know why we use the horn, but we use it anyway, and not to be outdone, all the other vehicles use their horn as a reply or as their first act. The pedestrians, as they cannot honk, wave their arms and shout and curse, and jump, run or stop, adding to a general sense of mayhem.
- Signals are present because there is a government department that installs them. To give them more credibility is at the risk of your life.
- And when it comes to signals given by the drivers/riders – there is one simple rule- They are decorative and NOT TO BE UNDERSTOOD as a signal on what the driver/rider intends to do. We never take them on their face value. He may have given the signal to turn right or left on a previous junction and may have forgotten to switch it off. Illuminating signals and hand signals are often displayed simultaneously and you do not have all the inputs to process what he intends to do. Many scooter/bike/moped riders just look in the direction they intend to go and one has to note their head movement in the absence of or along with any light/hand indications. An autorickshaw driver may signal right by an indicator, left with his hand and go straight. We always wait to see the final act, we do not rush into any preconceived opinions based on frivolous things like signals.
- Opening the door while driving to inspect the tyre, to drop something that you do not need inside the car are normal. And any or all doors can be opened while the vehicle is in motion.
- If there are three lanes and a service lane, then the traffic will move in 7 lanes. This is correct. To expect only three lanes to be used and the service lane to be left unused is a crime against utilization of available space.
- When we approach a roundabout, we continue to drive. We enter the round about when we have space. And once into the flow we can always move and leave when we need to. We do not wait before a roundabout. There is no nonsense of “look for vehicles approaching from the left”.
- When we see a bicycle rider on the road, most times we do not, we continue to drive. We might splash some water on him, or make him lose his balance with us passing by, but we do not signal and leave the lane (practically not possible too) and get back again after signaling.
- When there is an unmanned level crossing, we cross and we do not stop unless there is actually a train crossing the road that we are planning to cross.
- When there is an unmanned level crossing, we cross when we see a train approaching. We are good in calculating the relative speeds of the train, that of our vehicle and the distance to be covered.
- When there is a level crossing with a gate, we cross as the gates start to close or while they come down, here again we are good in calculating the speed of movement of the gates and the distance.
- Even after the gates come down, two wheelers cross by ducking under the gate. This is seen purely as an act of goodwill to avoid the traffic jam when the gate opens.
- We occupy both sides of the road, on either side of the gates, and somehow wriggle across when the gates open.
And my instructor expects me to drive through a junction just because there is a puny teeny weeny yellow diamond perched on the side of the road, that tells me I have priority.
Go, tell it to your grandmother!