Bangalore city driving is interesting. Vehicles of all shapes and sizes move like a school of mixed fish species. Honking means something different than in the US. It means “Here I come. Get out of the way.” Drivers do not look to the side, ever. And they only stop when it is absolutely necessary. They just nose into the river of vehicles and claim a space. Most cars are small. Whole families (mom, dad, child, baby) ride on a single motorcycle.
Driving in the India countryside is just plain scary. I got a chance to experience it last weekend and again this weekend on the way to some temples. I was not doing the driving. I was in the back seat, the guy with the white knuckles.
There are some rules of the road. This is my interpretation. The accelerator takes precedence over the brake. You just go. You assume that anything else on the road will get out of the way, whether it be on your side or the other. Tolerances are small – 6 inches between you and a small vehicle (moped, bicycle, oxcart) and 12 inches for a large vehicle (truck, bus). Even at 90 kph. Even in when the vehicles are going in opposite directions.
The white line in the center is only a suggestion. If you get a clear stretch, straight or curved, you go as fast as you can right on top of that line. Apparently a double yellow line means to go even faster. Traffic uses the two lanes as if there were four despite helpful signs that say “DRIVE SAFE – AVOID ACCIDENTS” and “LANE DRIVING – SAEF DRIVING”. Even when a stretch is marked with the sign “NO OVERTAKING”, overtaking is rampant. Even on “DIVERSIONS” (detours).
I don’t think it is documented, but India cars apparently have two useful technologies that we do not have in the US. The first is a force field generated when you honk the horn twice. This field nudges any bothersome vehicle over to the left so that you can pass without slowing down. (Traffic follows the British tradition of left-handed driving, right-handed steering wheel.) The second technology is a repulsor ray. It is activated by blinking your high beams. The repulsor ray is useful when another vehicle is coming in your direction on the same side of the road, usually at high speed. It gently pushes the vehicle back into its lane, or you into yours. Using these two technologies, the driver can cut a path through the traffic to get to the destination in the shortest possible time.
My driver is more of a fighter pilot, constrained to two dimensions but well skilled at anticipation and quick reaction. He has ultimate confidence; he does not wear a seat belt. If anyone violates the rule of “get out of my way”, he may slow down, open the window and grant the transgressor a gentle vocal reminder. If someone coming the other way violates the “get out of my face” rule, he will gesture with his shifting hand to show disapproval.
I found that when taking such a trip, it is best to concentrate on the passing scenery and enjoy the frequent changes in velocity as if at an amusement park. An alternative is to close the eyes and think safe thoughts of home, traffic lights and law enforcement.