I’ve been driving in Indian traffic for the last few months. I rarely realize what a chaotic mess it is: You jump in to the driver’s seat, belt up, throw in Belle & Sebastian’s Tigermilk to the CD slot, switch on the Air Conditioner and you’re blissfully unaware of the cacophony of horns and yelling even 6 inches from your car; and it all happens between 2 and 6 inches from the body panel of your car.
A buddy was visiting from the U.S. recently and couldn’t stand seeing me drive, it always seemed like I was on the verge of crashing in to a cyclist or that a bus should have hit us by now. It got me thinking about why this system works.
The reason I figure is that most Indian drivers are intently focussed on a small portion of the car which is from the rear view mirrors forward. Little thought is put in to what happens behind this line.
The Indian driver focuses on not being the cause of a crash, he has reached a zen like mastery of the space he has on all sides, down to the aforementioned 2 inches. Besides this front third of the car however, it is not his responsibility, everyone behind this point is required to move out of the way. I’m not saying cut anyone off at 60 kmph, but within reasonable speeds I’ve seen traffic merge with me when I am even as close as the rear door of their vehicle and I make room for them without issue.
This is no easy feat however, despite being a limited area of focus, there’s a lot going on in that space. I have to ensure that my car occupies as little space as possible to allow others to squeeze in around me. I have to ensure that my car won’t bottom out on the big rock in the middle of the road. I have to ensure I memorize where the potholes in the road are, as I drive too close to the car in front to really see them before they swallow my wheel. I must always be mindful of the mirrors.
Since we are used to leaving only a few inches around the body panels, the outside mirrors are the anomaly in our measurements, so as I pass another vehicle I need to ensure that I have accounted for the mirrors. You will notice many auto-rickshaws have their rear-view mirrors on the inside and several cars always have their mirrors folded. It is more of a concern to protect the front of your car including the mirrors and forget the back, it’s someone else’s responsibility.
In the same sense, most of the dings I’ve experienced are with cars rolling back at stop lights and someone reversing into my bumper while parking. It’s the only time you are helpless to protect your front third of the car.
People think you need to be super-human to drive in India. In reality the truth is, narrow focus is the key to the driving culture of India. See it the next time you’re on an Indian road.
Any stories from driving in India or other trafficked developing nations?