OK I admit it, I’m a bit of a driving snob. This is largely due to having spent the first four decades of my life in the UK, with one of the most difficult driving tests, strictly enforced rules and, consequently, very low road death and accident rate. Then we moved to California and I had to take my California Driver’s “test” which involved driving about 2 miles, making a few stops and turns before I was handed a license. I thought it was a joke until we moved to Pennsylvania where the same test consists of reverse parking a vehicle into a space large enough for an airplane to park and then driving through a parking lot and approximately 100 yds of road.
I still find it astonishing that that a 16-year old can take this “test” of their driving competency and then hop into a Hummer and drive it across country. And not only drive it, but do so in such an aggressive manner. It’s as if every US driver thinks the road is theirs and theirs alone, with little concept of braking distance and the dangers of tailgating.
So, that being said, I have been amazed this week by the driving in and around Chennai, India. The roads are chock full of mopeds, motorcycles, auto-rickshaws (tuk-tuks), cars, buses, trucks and of course people and the odd cow wandering through. It is fascinating to watch how this all works. And work it does. Many vehicles have a “sound horn” sign on the rear and it is quite expected to drive along and, when obstructed, simply press the horn to warn the other rider/driver/pedestrian that you are there. Amazingly, the other road users all heed the warning and move over, which is useful as road markings seem to serve little purpose here leading to 3 or 4 vehicles occupying 2 lanes.
I am unsure how it works, but it is truly a demonstration of collective teamwork on a huge scale. Unlike in the US or Europe the car horn here does not seem to be used aggressively and other road users seem to just “get on with it.” As I sit in my car I am somewhat awestruck by how my driver navigates his route (no, there’s no way I am going to drive myself here!) with relative ease. Yesterday we came face to face with several trucks in the middle of the road (and more cows) as we heading from one town to another and yet it all seemed to work smoothly.
I cannot imagine this sort of holistic driving approach working elsewhere and conversely, I wonder how Indian drivers find the driving in the US or Europe?