How to survive the Indian highway: A guide from CarToq.com
Driving on Indian highways is not just an experience, it’s an adventure. Every long highway driver has tales to tell of near misses, accident scenes and other drivers with a warped sense of road rules. Yet, over the years, Indian highways have become better and more fulfilling for long road trips.
Here are some handy tips to driving on highways in India, where it’s not just about road rules, but about knowing what to expect and being prepared. And a whole lot of intuition and common sense.
Keep speed within limits
The primary cause of accidents almost anywhere in the world has been overspeeding. In India especially, it’s even more prudent that you keep your speed within limits. The general speed limit on most divided highways in India is 90 kmph and on others its 80 kmph. On expressways the limit is 100 kmph. Choose to drive at a speed you are comfortable with and have enough time to react. Staying between 80 to 100 kmph in top gear is a good speed to also keep your passengers comfortable, cover maximum distance in reasonably good time and extract maximum mileage from your car. With modern cars it’s tempting to take your car to exotic three digits speeds, but try not to.
Observe road signs
This is a tough one. On many state highways and two-lane highways, road signs are almost absent. But on divided highways road signs can be a life-saver. Watch out especially for indications of a junction or break in the divider. This will give you time to slow down, as invariably at such junctions you’ll have an errant driver or pedestrian crossing the road.
Stick to your lane
Lanes are there for a purpose on divided highways. Fast moving traffic overtakes from the right and slow moving trucks and buses keep to the left. That’s in an “ideal” world. In India, the opposite applies. Trucks and buses hog the right lane next to the divider, refusing to budge, and you are left with little choice but to slip into the left lane and overtake. Switch on your indicator whenever you are switching lanes even if other drivers don’t do this.
Always follow the vehicle ahead at a safe distance. Staying about four or five car lengths away at a speed of 80 kmph will allow you enough time to react if the car ahead stops. Don’t tailgate the driver ahead. This is all the more so, because not all vehicles have brake lights that work, especially trucks and buses. You need to watch carefully to see if they are suddenly slowing down.
Making sense of turn indicators
Turn indicators are usually meant to indicate that the vehicle ahead is going to take a turn. But in India, these flashing amber lights are a means of communication on the highway. When you approach a vehicle from behind and want to overtake, observe the turn indicators. Drivers usually indicate that it’s safe for you to overtake them by switching on their right turn indicator – and here common sense plays a large role. If there’s no likely right turn ahead, it means he’s asking you to overtake. But on rare occasions, this can actually mean he’s taking a right turn. Stay aware. Similarly, a truck or bus hogging the right lane on a highway may have his left turn indicator constantly blinking. What he’s trying to tell you is “I’m staying here, you can pass me on the left.” But again, stay wary and use your own judgment.
Sound horn to communicate
“Horn, Ok, Please” is a common bumper sign you’ll find on trucks. It’s an invitation to honk. Sound your horn a couple of times to indicate to the driver ahead that you want to overtake and then hold your peace, especially on undivided two-lane highways. Only rarely will a trucker actually glance in his rear-view mirror and automatically give way. Be patient. There is horn etiquette to be followed. A couple of short beeps are enough, but continuous honking can annoy the driver ahead.
Lights to communicate
On a two-lane undivided highway, if you see a vehicle approaching on the other side flashing his lights at you, just move aside. It’s a form on unwritten communication where flashing headlights means he is demanding right of way (abroad the same thing means he’s letting you pass).
At night the opposite applies. In some cases you may even find the driver ahead switch off his headlamps for a couple of seconds when he’s approaching you. This means either he’s getting dazzled by your lights or that he’s demanding right of way. Either way, give way.
Mind the might of light
Not all drivers are aware of the use of the high beam/low beam in the car. Once on the highway, you’ll notice that rarely do vehicles get out of high beam. Now this can be dazzling at night. Use low beam whenever you’re approaching a vehicle, whether from behind or oncoming. To overtake, truckers invite you to “use dipper at night”. Now this means you have to pull into his field of vision and then constantly flick between high beam/low beam a few times, and then watch for his “indicators”, allowing you to overtake.
At night, you’ll find drivers seldom switching to low beam even if they know they are dazzling you with their high beams. They will sometimes momentarily switch to low beam and then back to high beam just to tell you that they exist and draw your attention. You need to stay courteous though. Switch to low beam and then look at the side of the road, not into the headlights as they will dazzle you.
Watch out for dark threats
There are many unseen obstacles you’ll find on the highway. Unmarked speed breakers is one of them. Keep an eye on the car ahead. At night, watch out for trucks without taillights. Also watch out for parked trucks without any lights. And then there are tractor trailers, cyclists, bullock carts. Just keep your senses alert. An additional hazard is vehicles with one light or even some driving without lights toward you.
Avoid fatigue, take breaks
Driving for hours on end can be taxing in such situations. Even though you may not feel it, it’s best to stop for at least 10 minutes after every 3 hours of driving to stretch your limbs and rehydrate yourself. When you do so, pull off the highway, put on your hazard lights and make sure you are in an area where you are relatively safe.
There are many more tips to driving on Indian highways. Do let us know what you think are some of the more important ones.