It is known that Indians are genetically predisposed to diabetes and obesity. Perhaps even heart disease. What is not so well known is the fact that Indians are also genetically predisposed towards bad driving. Here’s a clip from YouTube as an example!

Is it just me, or has everyone noticed how the last bastion of civilised (a relative term, as all non-Indians would agree) Indian driving, Mumbai, has also fallen? On my drive to and from work, at every traffic light – major or minor – I see people jump lights with impunity. And it is not just the usual suspects –i.e., the autos and the cabs. Two-wheelers, cars of every make and size (self-driven and chauffeured), BEST buses (serious offenders, these chaps!) and the occasional Mumbai police Bolero/Qualis – basically anyone who can jump a light, does. Not that the other aspects of driving fare any better. But at least, until a year or so ago, it seemed like while Mumbai drivers never followed any other rule, the red light was still the last un-breached frontier; a holy cow, not up for slaughter. It seems we have changed!

India has some appalling road-fatality statistics. According to the 2007 report of World Road Statistics (WRS), India ranked number two with 94,985 people killed in road accidents. As in most other things nowadays, we were pipped to the post by China, which lost 98,738 citizens. Isn’t it strange that two nations where rules and social niceties of any kind are treated with disdain should have the highest number of road fatalities? Because, in the final analysis, safe and good driving is all about following rules, and as we know, we Indians were not made to follow rules.

Given our disregard for rules and our ignorance of the concept of self-restraint, I have attempted to create a list of suggestions to make Indian driving better, safer and less stressful. Please feel free to add to this list.

  1. The Government of India (which loves dictating things to industry anyway) should ban the manufacture of car horns. So every new car will come without a horn.
  2. At each intersection or crossing, introduce barrier gates/arms/turnpikes, like at a level crossing. Only the sides with the green lights will have their gates raised, the others will be shut, and so people will not be able to jump red lights. Of course, the barriers will have to be solid and extend all the way to the ground, so as to prevent two-wheeler riders from tilting their vehicles at 30˚ and sliding under the barrier.
  3. Lanes should have dividers at least 12” high – this way we ensure that all drivers stick to their lanes. No cutting! Of course, if the guy in front decides to pick up a passenger, or generally stop to leisurely spit out of the window, you’re screwed. But you can always beat him up. That’s still legal….or should be.
  4. The horn should be banned
  5. Indicators should be connected to the steering wheel. The moment the wheel moves more than 5˚ in either direction, the relevant indicator starts flashing.
  6. Windows can’t be lowered while driving. This will take care of all spitting and “throwing-beer-cans-out-of-the-car’ instances.
  7. Driving licenses should only be issued after tests. Wait a minute. I have heard rumours of such a system. Will somebody please tell me if that’s true?
  8. Driving licenses should not, by law, be issued to the blind. From personal experience, it seems that India has the highest number of optically-challenged drivers on the road.
  9. The horn should be banned.
  10. No more than 364,566 pedestrians, 35 cows and 12 dogs to be allowed at any point of time per one-kilometre stretch of road.
  11. The hi-beam headlight should be banned in vehicles that have headlights.
  12. Vehicles should not be permitted to be overloaded beyond 500% capacity. (Of course, this does not apply to trains.) This rule should be strictly enforced.
  13. Children under 12 should not be allowed to drive without a valid driving license.
  14. Driving the wrong way in the path of oncoming traffic should be discouraged. More than 10 such instances should result in the cancellation of the offender’s driving license. If the offender did not have a driving license, he should not be issued one.
  15. The horn should be banned

I realise that for most of us, rules like these will take the fun out of driving. So every weekend, we should allow people to come to a huge field in (or with) their vehicles of choice. (Handcarts, ponies, the occasional elephant, bicycles, dumpers, trucks, buses and tankers are all allowed.) Pedestrians, beggars and hawkers should also be encouraged to participate and generally mill around the field to better simulate Indian road conditions. Then each person should be allowed to drive his vehicle within the field in any manner or direction he chooses.

That way, we can still be true to our genes. And if we’re really lucky, we still might make it to the number one spot on the WRS rankings. Go India!

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