A couple of years ago, I was on the highway with my young teenagers. It was a straight stretch of road and I could see a long way ahead. I was doing a comfortably good speed when suddenly a scooter rider chatting away with his pillion was riding at an angle toward me. It did not require physics to know that he would end up under my wheels. I honked away as soon as I saw him take off at that weird angle and applied brakes. My kids sat in tense silence. One of two things could happen:
1) The locals would gather and beat me to death. This is a possibility in India because it is always the bigger vehicle’s fault, and we love to take law into our own hands. As there isn’t much of me, it would take only a few blows to snuff my life out.
2) If I stayed alive I would surely spend the rest of my life in jail.
Luckily for my children, I slowed down fast enough and the scooter and I drove parallel to each other before our friend veered again toward the outer edge of road.
One half of me wanted to stop the guy, give him a few tight slaps and a mouthful. His carelessness would have cost us more than money! I was appalled by his unmindfulness – he didn’t seem to notice anything that happened in those few heart-stopping seconds!
Now with COVID 19 and reduced availability of public transport for travel, everyone with four wheels has become a highway driver. What people do not seem to understand is that highway driving in India requires skills that are acquired with every trip over a period of time and it is NOT THE SAME as city-driving.
There are the standard rules – drive in the slow lane, use the fast lane only to overtake, maintain speed limits, etc etc. I think most drivers don’t even know that they exist 😦
Highway driving requires being alert at all times because we carry our belief of coexistence on to the road as well. So along with vehicles, the highway will have:
1) Stray animals
2) People plucking flowers off the plants on the medians
3) Grazing cattle
4) Tractors driving on the wrong side because they do not want to drive to the U-turn
5) A vehicle broken down at the blind curve with no warning triangle placed to caution vehicles.
It is really insufficient to stay glued to the road ahead. One must constantly use the rear view mirrors and side mirrors especially when situations such as the ones mentioned above arise and you may need to take a quick decision between braking and changing lanes. That said, do not EVER change lanes and cut into a speeding vehicle, you risk collision.
And what can I say about the car with the Learner’s L-board – a complete newbie who wants to test his driving ability on the highway. Please get on the highway only after you have earned your full license and have some driving experience. What I have also seen in young and new drivers is that they can at best stay completely focussed for about 2 hours after which their reflexes reduce. While I do not have scientific data to back that statement, this is what I have noticed after having helped my own children fine tune their driving skills. So if you must be on the highway, please stay in the slow lane (that’s the one farthest from the median and closest to the outer edge of the road!).
Then you have who I call the ‘swingers’. These guys literally sashay into your lane just as you pick up speed and when you slow down they decide to move back to the other lane and this keeps happening continuously like the mating dance of cranes!
There is a category of drivers I call the ‘wrong side rajas’. They think they are not breaking any rule as long as they have their headlights on while driving against the traffic on your side of the road. Everyone from your cyclist to cars to buses and trucks do this.
And have you encountered the ‘middleman’? He drives on either side of the lane markers, he will have two wheels in one lane and two in the other lane. You can honk to the point of going deaf yourself or flash the light to the point of draining your car battery, he just won’t budge.
Lastly folks, driving should never be carried out using that herd instinct. All sheep follow one sheep, all elephants follow the matriarch and so on. When there is a slow moving vehicle in one lane and a slower vehicle in the other lane, and one guy manages to overtake using his middleman skills, all other vehicles need not rush to do the same. Everyone literally crowds around and behind the slow vehicles like it is a hunt of sorts, baiting for the kill creating potentially dangerous situations. A few seconds of patience won’t eat into your ETA.
A few simple rules can keep us safe on our highways.
1) Know the risks. Be vigilant at all times.
2) Do not drive if you are tired and/or sleepy. Get a good night’s rest before leaving on a trip.
3) Respect your car’s ability and limits. It cannot be a super jet, ever!
4) Use those INDICATORS. It really helps!
5) If you need to use your phone, please stop, finish your chat and then get back on the road.
6) Be nice to heavy vehicles on the ghats, especially those that are going uphill.
Wishing everyone miles and miles of safe driving!!