Defensive driving for Indian road conditions

Offence is not the best form of defence, at least not on the road. And especially not so in India, where you have just about every known traffic rule being blatantly flouted. Many are not even aware of the rules and proper driving etiquette. While a large part of this has to do with the population at large and the general ignorance, the system too is responsible with no stringent rules or tests for issuing of driving licences and no proper training given to novices. It’s not surprising, therefore, that we have the highest rate of road accidents in the world!

So, we’ve ended up in a situation where it would be best to drive defensively on Indian roads to not just avoid accidents, but also to reduce stress while on the road. While general safe driving practices hold good in India too – from wearing helmets on bikes to wearing seat belts while driving, not talking on the mobile phone, to driving on low beam only at night – there are some additional precautions to take.

Lane driving

We list a few defensive driving techniques that are suited to driving in India.

Doggedly follow rules

How many times have you stopped at a red light, well behind the stop line only to see fellow motorists overtake you, park on the pedestrian crossing or beyond, or even just ignore the red light, cut in front of you and take an illegal U-turn? It may get annoying, but if you will need to hold your ground – stick to the rules. Slow down when the light turns amber and stop before the stop line when it turns red. Over time, you will notice many others beginning to do it automatically.

Practice lane discipline

To most motorists lanes are just decorative markings on the road – what matters is being able to squeeze through the gap between two cars or using the lane marker as a racing line to follow, cutting through the traffic. Stick to your lane – the centre lane on a three-lane road and move to the right lane only to take a right turn or to overtake. Leave the left lane for buses. When switching lanes, always turn on your indicators atleast a few seconds before you switch lanes.

Use the mirrors

The outside rear view mirrors are there for a purpose – use them. In the city, it is necessary to check both sides, as you could get overtaken from either side. Always adjust the mirrors for a proper field of view before you start out, making sure there are minimal blind spots. The internal mirror is not a vanity mirror – use it to keep an eye on traffic following you.

Avoid tailgating

One of the biggest causes of fender-bender accidents in India is tailgating. Most drivers do not keep the minimum distance needed between two cars in city traffic and hence get very little time to react if the car ahead stops suddenly. Keep at least a single car’s length distance between the car ahead and your car when travelling at speeds below 30 kmph and increase the distance proportionately as speeds rise. Also when in heavy traffic, make sure you can still see the bottom of the bumper of the car ahead of you – which means you have at least 5 feet of space in between.

Watch out for jaywalkers

However, leaving gaps in traffic has its own perils. Jaywalkers and motorcyclists try and squeeze into these gaps. Now, even if you are polite enough to let them, often times jaywalkers step out from the gap into the path of oncoming or passing traffic and get hit. Be alert. Use the horn to warn jaywalkers if needed.

Anticipate others mistakes

Staying alert in India also means being able to see the future – that is being able to anticipate the moves of other drivers. Not everyone uses their mirrors or turn signals when changing lanes. Many trucks have non-functional brake lights or tail-lamps. The art of good defensive driving involves being able to anticipate what these vehicles may do next. For instance, if you see a junction coming up and a car straddling two lanes approaching it, there’s a 50% chance of the car swerving into your path to take a turn at the junction. Before that happens, either warn the driver using the horn or hold back till the junction has been cleared.

Look all around, stay visible

In India, it does not make sense to only look at the direction of oncoming traffic while taking a turn or merging lanes. There are many who drive in the wrong direction too – just because it’s convenient to them. Stay alert. Check all directions before changing lanes or crossing a junction. Stay visible as well – use your indicators, use your headlamps in poor weather conditions.

Drive for the road

Not all roads are smooth tarmac. Anticipate the changing road conditions and alter your speed and driving style accordingly to suit the road conditions. On the highways or in the mountains watch out for stones placed by errant truckers on the road. Keep an eye out for garbage or oil slicks as well, which can lead to a skid. Keep your speed in control and always slow down gradually, letting other drivers know that you are slowing down.

And most of all, stay calm and drive on. Avoid road rage!

Also read: How to deal with road rage in India 

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