India’s Killing Fields

 

*Precursor:

I wrote this piece shortly after returning from a grueling 9 hour  journey on my motorcycle. The next day I wrote the second draft softening some of the edges and patting down some of the anger. After re-reading both drafts and after much deliberation and consideration, I have opted to publish my original piece. While it may be confrontational and inflammatory I feel it is more representative of my honest feelings and reflects my present state of mind. I truly believe THAT is what people who follow my work wish to read…

L.

The mentality of Indian motorists is beyond stupidity. It’s insane. There, I’ve said it. I have held my tongue and suffered these fools long enough. The facts are simple, clear and undeniable. India’s roads are killing fields. There is zero regard for human life, no respect for traffic laws and absolutely no accountability for behavior while driving here. Period! To worsen the matter, most Indians seem delusional when confronted with this fact. I recently read a question on Quora asking why Indian drivers are so bad. The query was met with ridicule and abuse. One reply actually said “Indians are the best instinctual driver in the world. The “BEST!” It left me shaking my head in astonishment.  I could write a book on the inadequacy of the drivers here, this isn’t hearsay, perception or fabrication. I have witnessed it firsthand. Every time I take to the roads, I see dozens of reckless acts that endanger someone’s life.

Do I sound angry? Damn right I am. Furious! I ride with the India Bull Riders, one of the largest and most respected motorcycle clubs in the country. A club that obeys traffic rules, wears proper protective gear and behaves in a manner conducive to safe driving. Sadly, there is no gear made that can protect you from idiocy.  This past weekend we celebrated our 10th anniversary with a group ride to Jim Corbett National Park in the Nainital district of Uttarakhand. On the return journey to Delhi, there were four, FOUR, separate incidents cause by stupidity or incompetence and you had best believe NOT by our riders. These incidents landed two of my brothers in hospital with broken and fractured bones. One of them, a young lad, was carrying his girlfriend pillion. The others escaped injury by the grace of God. Shame on me for waiting so long to scream out in anger and frustration.

Let’s set the stage. A three lane National Highway, 9:00 pm, light rain and fog, you are in the centre lane. From the other side of the highway there is an endless stream of trucks, busses and SUVs with their high beams on. Due to this, the tractor with no tail lights or rear illumination of any kind in front of you is almost invisible. Through the billows of black oil smoke coming from its exhaust, you catch glimpses of it from the flashing high beams of the car three feet off your rear tire. He, of course, is honking at you because he wants you to get out of his way. You can’t go right into the “fast lane” because the bus there is going 15 km slower than the tractor and you don’t want to risk getting pinned between it and the SUV coming up behind him at high-speed. You can’t go left into the “slow lane” as there are huge clumps of pavement, loose gravel and massive pot holes there due to the road work being done. You are aware of the repairs not due to any signage or caution lights, but only because you can see the throngs of pedestrians and bicycles bobbing and weaving as they navigate their way through. So you hold your speed and pray the guy behind doesn’t clip your tire as he rips passed to wedge his car between the tractor and the bus. Just another day at the office on India’s bloodbath highways

In 2015, the BBC reported the following facts and statistics as supplied by India’s Ministry of Road Transport.

  • 146,133 people were killed in road accidents in India in 2015, up from 139,671 in 2014
  • There were 501,423 road accidents in 2015 – or 1,374 accidents every day – up from 489,400 in 2014
  • 500,279 people were injured in road accidents in 2015, up from 493,474 in 2014
  • 400 road deaths take place every day on India’s roads
  • Nearly eight in ten accidents were caused by drivers, with 62% of those blamed on speeding

Four hundred road deaths a day. 400. Let that number roll around in your head while I report some firsthand facts.

  • Chronic over-speeding and refusal to observe lane driving
  • Perpetual use of high beams
  • Running red lights with a honk of the horn
  • Making a left hand turn (right in North America) from a stop light without stopping first, or slowing down, or looking.
  • Violent and random lane changing (I use that term “lane” very loosely)without using indicators or checking mirror
  • Traveling in the wrong direction. Tuk Tuks are the worst offenders; but motorcycles, cars and even busses are just as guilty.
  • Using all lanes at an intersection to make a right hand turn (North American left)
  • Zero concept of “one by one” merging
  • Mass migration to the left at every red light or stop sign
  • Continual horn honking to the point where your horn is no longer a warning or safety device, It is simply ignored
  • Bullying by crowding and pushing, or simply wedging your vehicle in between two others until someone gives way
  • Overtaking on blind corners
  • Under speeding or coming to a complete stop in traffic to check GPS, answer the phone or let someone out at the vegetable stand.
  • Children bouncing around freely in the vehicle (four years in India, I’ve not seen a single child seat)
  • Parking in or close to the corner of T junctions or slip lane entrances
  • Inadequate or no lighting on most highways
  • Deplorable road conditions
  • Government or ministry approved vehicles in states of dangerous disrepair (The public busses wouldn’t even be allowed on the road in Canada)
  • Un-roadworthy private vehicles
  • Tractors/bicycles/ox carts on National and State limited access highways
  • Severely limited road signage
  • “Speed Breakers” with no warning (sign, painted) sporadically placed or built by local vendors.

These are not random acts. You will encounter every bullet point I have made multiple times on every road journey. It is not uncommon to be traveling at 80 km an hour on a highway, have a car rush up to you from behind with his thumb on the horn, throw his vehicle into the adjacent lane at the last moment, missing you by a mere foot and as he passes, you see him on the phone while his two-year old child is jumping up and down on the front passenger seat. Then inevitably you catch up to him in 500 meters because everyone has to lock up the brakes for the broken pavement or pot hole. The populous is running wild and there is seemingly no one there to curtail it. Simply put, it’s a nightmare.

When confronted with an obstacle in his lane, be it a stopped bus, slower moving vehicle or road works, an Indian driver will automatically  swerve (without indicating) into the next lane without thought or hesitation. Be it into on coming traffic, in rush hour conditions, day, night, school zone, raining…it makes no matter. Coming to a stop or slowing down is not even considered. Trucks hijack the highway three lanes wide, busses throw themselves about like fighter jets, the SUVs bully and intimidate while the cars honk and wedge their way through.

So what is to be done? The responsibility is twofold. Government and private sector. The road conditions and enforcement have to improve.

  • Repair the roads
  • Light the highways
  • Paint lane lines
  • Increase Highway Patrols x 10
  • Enforce traffic laws with severe penalties
  • Introduce and enforce graduated licensing
  • Make truck and bus drivers complete mandatory schooling and instill yearly license review

As for the drivers? Well, when tackling any mass problem, I believe education is the key. Teach the new drivers properly. This,  coupled with stiff fines. Ah yes, monetary loss is something Indians will pay attention to. You want an Indian to adhere to a rule? Hit them in the wallet. It pains me to say it, but I think the existing driving population may pay lip service to improving driving practices, but ultimately they will not change. They are self serving, self important, impatient children.

Let me close by saying this as directly as I can,

 “Hey you. Yes, YOU. I don’t care where you’re going, what you do for a living, how expensive your car is, who your father is or WHAT YOUR CASTE IS. You are NOT more important than me. Nor are you more important than the people in the bus beside you, the family in the car in front of you or the cyclist on the side of the road. You are nothing more than another motorist. Get your head around this; my LIFE is more important than where ever it is you are headed. Stop being an asshole. Wait your turn, use your indicator, stop honking and for God sake try to drive like a responsible, educated and reasonable human being.”

There it is, in plain English. I would ask you, dear readers, to share this. Certainly not in an act of self promotion for my blog; human life is far more important than that as well; but in a vain attempt to raise awareness and maybe, just maybe influence a few drivers and get them thinking next time they get behind the wheel. Thinking about something I didn’t say, but I am sure you know who did…Be the change you want to see.

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About Author:

A Canadian born Brit with a bad case of wanderlust

6 thoughts on “India’s Killing Fields

  1. Words from the heart of someone who spends some time on the roads. Its amazingly true to admit that people on roads turn amazingly selfish. Ride / Drive Safe.. there are loved ones waiting for you

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