Paul and Rita - India and About, 2005/6 - This'n'That - Rules of the Road


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Rules of the Road - India style

Anybody who has visited India before may be surprised to hear me even suggest that there are any rules of the road in this country of single-lane, cow-infested, horn-blaring, congested roads.  Well, apparently, there are some, but knowledge of them is definitely not a prerequisite for gaining a driving licence.  

Some foreign visitors, un-initiated in the real working of Indian roads, may at first think that it's the cows roaming freely over the by-ways of India that cause most of the problems.  But it is a beast of far less intelligence (and far uglier too) that causes almost all accidents and all the discomfort of all other road users - the ROAD HOG.  Before I go any further, I would like to distance that title from the pink hairy fellows that we often eat in slices for breakfast (God I could murder a bacon sandwich right now!)   The Indian lesser-brained ROAD HOG is an all too common occurrence, in fact I would say that nine out of ten drivers (using the term "drivers" loosely) belong to this sub-species of human.     

I'm not sure how this evolutionary transition took place, some might blame the British, perhaps many will, but it seems to be something that overtakes the average Indian nice person once they get behind the steering wheel of a car, truck or bus, or even behind the handlebars of a small motor bike.  Its as if when they turn the ignition on, they turn their brain off.  The road ahead becomes their own personal domain, upon which if anyone should dare to trespass, its DEATH TO THE ARROGANT INTRUDER!!!! I'VE GOT RIGHT OF WAY BECAUSE I'M IN A BIGGER VEHICLE THAN YOU!!!!  GET OUT OF THE WAY OR DIE!!!!!  Of course, this is accompanied with excessive and often continuous use of the extra loud horn.  But, then again, all vehicle maneuvers are.

Perhaps my view point is biased by the incredibly bad driving we've witnessed whilst cycling through India.  Possibly.  Being run off the road by a on-coming bus who is on the wrong side of the road because it is overtaking another bus and there is not enough room on the road for all three of us, that tends to make you slightly annoyed.  Especially annoyed when there is a foot drop between the tarmac road surface and the mud path running alongside.  But when that happens a dozen times in the space of a few hours, you start to feel it must be something they've got against you personally, Although I've witnessed the same happening to many other road users.   

Perhaps, I hear you say, they don't see me before they start their overtaking maneuver.  They certainly do see me, and in fact, I'm sure they start overtaking early just so they can run me off the road! 

One of the most puzzling and arrogant use of the might is right rule that I have experienced, is when an on-coming vehicle forces me off the side of the road when they are not even overtaking anything.  I think they do it just because I've dared to ride more than a few inches from the edge of the road.  Luckily, this is not too frequent an occurrence, but is especially puzzling and frightening when it happens.   One particular incident I recall quite clearly, and probably will for many years to come, happened when there was just me and a motorbike on a stretch of fairly newly laid tarmac.  I was riding a foot or so from my edge of the road, he was riding towards me in the middle of the road. When he was about fifty metres away, he started beeping his horn and waving for me to pull over further onto my side. Puzzled, I slowed down a little and moved over as far as I could, but still he tooted and waved for me to move over.  Perhaps he thought he was in a far bigger vehicle, say, one of those massive trucks that they use in quarries, or perhaps he thought he was clearing the traffic ahead of a wide load following behind him.  But he was on a little motorbike, and there was no wide load behind him.  He was just being arrogant and emphasising his vehicles was mightier than mine.

I rest my case.

Here is a news item from the Sunday Times of India, 11/12/05

Bus Crushes Rickshaw Puller
Howrah:  Rickshaw puller Sahadeb Rachar (35) was killed by a Howrah bound private bus on Saturday.  The incident sparked largescale violence, bringing traffic on NH6 to a halt.  Five police officials, including an officer in charge, were injured after the mob hurled stones at them and damaged five buses.  Some pedestrians were also injured.
The incident occurred at 8am when Bachar was going to work. A Jikhira-Howarah private bus hit him from behind, killing him instantly.
The driver fled after the people gave chase.  Police arrived three hours after the incident.  Infuriated at the delay, the mob vented their ire at the police and damaged the buses.
They threw stones at a police van, broke the wind screen of a CTC bus and attacked five private buses.  More than 25 people were injured when the police resorted to a lathicharge(baton charge?!) to bring the situation under control.
he situation was brought under control at 2.30pm.

It seems it's not just me that gets upset by the way the bus drivers drive!  This is not an unusual occurrence. 

Further News
I found this very interesting editorial in The Statesman newspaper the other day.  For information, I think the CM referred to is the Chief Minister of the state. I suppose it could also stand for Carnage Minister. Judge for yourself.  Also, a crore is 10 million.

Road Recipes

CM must get to the root of the problem

It was only after Subhas Chakraborty, the West Bengal minister for transport, had come out in defence of bus drivers following an accident in which a young mother taking her child to school was killed during a mad race on a busy thoroughfare, did the chief minister talk of tough action to curb accidents. Buddhadeb Nhattacharjee has every reason to be concerned though why he had to take action only after so many have been lost is beyond comprehension.  Ministers ought to take responsibility for glaring failures in their departments; this has not been the case in West Bengal. Subhas has been difficult to tackle on on several grounds, which could be the reason why the CM has given him a long rope.  Now, with so many lives lost - and assembly elections a few months away - the Cm may consider it prudent to demonstrate his concern and provide some consolation, if that were needed, by talking of restructuring traffic management with fresh investment of Rs 7 crore.
What is not clear is why he speaks more of the public's road sense more than the killer bus drivers who commissions above public safety and incompetent traffic policemen who are incapable of enforcing the law.  It goes without saying that public outrage expressed through burning of buses and roadblocks at accident sites serves no purpose.  The evil will survive unless corrective measures are taken not just to create awareness but also to compel policemen to do their duty.  There are busy junctions where chaos prevails because traffic management has collapsed.  More flyovers may have been the answer if West Bengal did not have a notorious reputation for delayed construction - such as the latest one at Taratolla.  It does the CM no credit to deflect attention from the governments failures by talking of reckless pedestrian habits.  It is pointless to blame the public when the system is not in place.


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