Driving Skills – 4; Traffic Signs

In Hindi movies, cops dutifully arrive after the hero has thrashed the villain black and blue and rescued the damsel in distress, basically to put the villain away and tie up the loose ends like towing away vehicles damaged in the car-chase at the end, apologising to the people wrongly charged earlier, and other key events in the narrative.

After much of the traffic rules have been rewritten (see Driving Skills – 2 and Driving Skills – 3) by yours truly, the Surface Transport Authority has gotten into the act and finally updated archaic traffic signs to reflect the current reality and ensure that their interpretation is aligned with the understanding people have of a particular sign or signal.

Well, better late than never, we say!

 

Drive at 50 Or under 50 Or over 50

Drive at 50
Or under 50
Or over 50

 

Free Parking

Free Parking

 

Short-cut to destination

Short-cut to destination

All vehicles prohibited Except yours

All vehicles prohibited
Except yours

Check for cop If not visible, GO If visible, STOP

Check for cop
If not visible, GO
If visible, STOP

 

Prepare to speed up and cross before the light turns red

Prepare to speed up and cross before the light turns red

 

Stop. Wait for cross-traffic to move on Red light.

Stop. Wait for cross-traffic to move on Red light.

 

Stop, Wait or Idle

Stop, Wait or Idle

Stop. Do not cross at this point. Jaywalk on any other part of road.

Stop. Walk at your own risk.

 

Prevent pedestrians from crossing here

Prevent pedestrians from crossing here

Keep moving

Keep moving

 

In the unlikely event you took your hand off the horn…

In the unlikely event you forgot

Speed up and reach the narrow passage before the other vehicle

Speed up and reach the narrow passage before the other vehicle

Overtake from left Overtake from right

Overtake from left
Overtake from right

Expect other vehicles to give way to you

Take way here

This sign has been taken out of circulation

This sign has been moved to the museum

 

These are the signs of our times. Look forward to a smooth ride on Indian roads…

Driving Skills – 3

This is the second set of guidelines I have put together for promoting equal opportunity and experience on our roads, the motivation for which came out of my experience of driving my son to school one morning, which is captured in my post titled “Driving Skills – 1”, a few days back. The first set was published last week and can be accessed on “Driving Skills – 2”.

I will begin this set addressing an issue that vexes a lot of road-veterans, that of basic courtesies being lost; like giving way to traffic on the right, dipping your headlights at night on an undivided stretch of road when you see an oncoming vehicle, giving way to traffic coming uphill, slowing down when driving through puddles, etc.. Not only are they not practiced, the drivers of today do not even seem to be aware that such courtesies exist.

As I do ever so often, I disagree.

Not only are these courtesies known to the drivers of today, they are actively practiced. To set the record straight, and to ensure that there is no ambiguity, the basic guidelines are:

  • give way to traffic on the right, when I am on the right; give way to traffic on the left, when I am on the left
  • dip your headlights at night on an undivided stretch of road when you see an oncoming vehicle which is mine
  • give way to traffic coming uphill, when I am coming uphill; give way to traffic going downhill, when I am going downhill.
  • when approaching a puddle of water on the road close to pedestrians or cyclists, slow down at first, then, without warning, speed up and drive through the puddle such that most of the collected water gets splashed on the pedestrians and cyclists in close proximity; if, at first attempt, the strategy yields limited results, drive around, comes back to the spot, and repeat until the puddle vanishes and becomes safe for future pedestrians and cyclists

A related courtesy is to give way to an ambulance that is in a hurry and is sounding its siren. While some of you may do this out of consideration for the injured and the sick, at all times, whatever be your motivation, be alert and step into the lane created in the ‘wake” of the speeding ambulance so that you can move as fast as the ambulance. Whether the ambulance is going in your direction or not hardly matters.

In addition to using seat-belts, that we covered in the last edition, drunk driving is another area where traffic policemen are trying to become safe by insisting on your driving only when sober. Resist efforts to drive sober. Keep handy “paan”, cardamom, mint and other aromatic condiments to disguise the smell of liquor.

Do you still eat while driving? Are you still texting while threading your way through a crowded, narrow street? If you do, you need to seriously consider if you should still be driving at your age? This is 2014. And almost the start of the last calendar quarter. If you don’t have a TV in the car for the driver to view while driving, you will, henceforth, not be eligible for getting a driving licence. Get one today.

“No Parking” signs discourage parking alongside kerbs. There are no signs discouraging double and triple-parking alongside illegal single-parked vehicles alongside kerbs. If other people can park alongside “No Parking” kerbs, surely you can double-park and triple-park. How do you think Call Centres operate transport for employees in our country and keep costs low at the same time?

If you had pulled over and stopped on the side of the road, and now need to get back into the moving traffic lane, pull out suddenly, without checking if someone is coming and without any prior indication. This can be done whether you are single or double or triple-parked. Only if you suddenly pull out into the busy traffic lane will you be able to ensure that the other drivers are vigilant and minimise future traffic incidents. We all have to shoulder these responsibilities from time to time. We cannot expect the authorities to handle everything.

Opening the driver’s side door into the moving traffic lane, without checking for oncoming traffic, could be used as an alternative to driving out, in case you do not wish to leave your hard-earned, illegally-parked spot.

It is unlikely that you don’t already know this, but all footpaths (sidewalks / pedestrian paths) have been converted into Free Parking zones, even though no notification has been issued for the same. If you still find any in existence, use them. For free parking. In most cases you will be assisted by illegal touts who would be available for renting out the public space of the footpath.

If the society has enable you to earn the money to buy a car, it needs to provide for parking it as well. You do not need to have a place to park before you buy a car. Of course, society does not give out brains and good sense. The government is mulling over a bill that will make selling a car to anyone who has the space to park it, illegal. If, perchance, you happen to possess a parking space for your car, ensure that it is utilised for another more important purpose like installing a generator, making flower-beds, or illegal extension of your house, leaving you no choice but to park on public space.

Drive like a banshee. If you don’t know what banshee means, don’t worry. Chances are that you drive like one anyway.

If all else fails,

  • hire goons with no self-esteem to shoo people out of the way of your car (while you sit inside wearing a white kurta-pyjama and a Gandhi cap)
  • buy a red beacon and a siren from Khan Market and instal it on top of your car

And, lastly, never ever follow a traffic rule because it makes sense and is the right thing to do and will make for a safer and more wholesome driving environment. Do so only if there if danger of being caught. You will never go wrong.

Driving Skills – 2

Stirred into action on seeing two accidents in a short ten kilometre stretch from home to my son’s school (click Driving Skills – 1 for full story), I have started compiling a list of easy-to-follow guidelines designed to bring equality and democracy to our roads. I am conscious that some of the guidelines set out below are more applicable to male drivers, and some to drivers in the Delhi/Gurgaon/NCR region, but that is more on account of a) more drivers being male and b) I have lived in the Delhi/Gurgaon/NCR area for over ten years, rather than a desire to give these two constituencies a competitive edge over others.

In order that benefit to society is neither delayed nor denied, I am not waiting to complete the document and, instead, will publish it, as I progress, in instalments. This is the first instalment. 

While going the wrong way on a one-way street (“is there any other way to go?” you might be tempted to ask if you live in Gurgaon), if oncoming traffic honks at you, flash your high beam. We all know the magical properties of the high beam. When aimed correctly, it should make the errant vehicle vanish. Especially in India, a generally hot country with long hours of bright sunshine, where, particularly in the daytime, the beam’s magical properties make it invisible to the naked eye.

If they don’t get out of the way when you flash the high beam which they could not see, roll down your window, make a tight fist and wave it randomly in the air. If the oncoming car still does not get the message, stop your car and get out. If you can’t go the wrong way, nobody goes nowhere mister. At this point roll up your shirt sleeve for the trading of punches which is likely to follow shortly.

If you need to turn right at an intersection, ensure you are in the left-most lane at the moment you need to begin the turn to the right. The right turn must be made in a graceful arc sweeping across the rushing vehicles in the centre and right lanes in a manner that brings them to a screeching halt mid-stride. This strategy is even more effective when you have to make a U-turn to the right. The simple beauty of this strategy can be judged by the fact that it is equally effective the other way round; while turning left from the right-most lane.

Never, ever, stop on the left side of the road where it is prohibited to either stop or wait. Stopping on the left side of the road, next to the kerb, will only cause a minor disruption. For maximum impact, stop right in the middle of the road. Purpose of stopping is irrelevant. It can be to let a pedestrian jaywalk across, or to ask the driver of the taxi next to you for directions. Experienced drivers will know that the second reason listed above has been found to be most effective for maximum disruption as two cars will be stopped in the middle of the road side by side while others try to navigate around them.

In any condition of stopping in the middle of the road, never forget to turn on the blinkers (the flashing lights that are meant to be a “caution” signal for others) to gain the moral high ground in any ensuing confrontation, should you encounter outraged fellow-travellers or even a rare cop trying to enforce rules.

If you see a traffic signal turning amber in the distance, what do you do? Even young children know the answer to this. It is obvious really. You must speed up in order to ensure that you are able to reach and cross the signal before the light turns to red. Distance to the signal is irrelevant. If you can see it, you can cross it.

A corollary of the above rule is that you should never, ever, be the first to stop at a traffic signal. Doing so is bound to lead to an immediate and irrevocable deterioration in your social status, if an acquaintance were to notice this act of weakness, especially if you happen to belong to Delhi or its surroundings. As we know, acquaintances of people living in Delhi hang around at traffic signals waiting to spot you being the first to stop at the signal.

The other outcome of this unnatural behaviour, should to choose to indulge in it, is that everyone behind you will need to stop. Can you imagine the chaos a moment’s irresponsibility on your part will create for the city? Choose to act in a responsible manner today. Never be the first to stop at a red light.

Always drive with your child, preferably an infant, in your lap. Borrow one if you don’t have one of your own. In order to create the right environment it should be done without the child wearing a seat-belt. In any run-in, either with infuriated fellow-commuters, or with the law, blame the other guy for not being sensitive to the child. An unintended benefit will be that the child will imbibe these driving habits early.

Please understand that the law asking you to wear a seat-belt while driving has been introduced for the safety of the cops trying to enforce it. Never, ever, wear a seat-belt while driving. Make sincere efforts to avoid detection by holding the buckle end of the belt and stretching it as far as the point where it could be buckled, without actually doing so. Not only will this permit you to cock a snook at the efforts of the traffic policemen to become safe by getting you to wear a seat-belt, you will also be able to engage one hand with the belt buckle, leaving only one hand to drive, shift gears, etc. The situation, as you can guess, is pregnant with possibilities.

In order that you are not overloaded, we will stop this instalment here. We hope you will find these guidelines useful in bringing order to our increasingly chaotic roads.

Driving Skills – 1

I drove my son to school today morning because he had to reach earlier than the regular school time.

Almost as soon as we had started we heard the siren of an ambulance behind us. We gave way. A few hundred metres down we found the ambulance waiting by the side of the road, with its staff trying to evacuate an injured person, lying on the side of the road, with a damaged two-wheeler lying flat on the road, and a car standing near it, facing the wrong direction (opposite to the direction in which traffic is supposed to flow). It appeared to be a case of a car, travelling in the wrong direction on a one-way street, having hit a two-wheeler travelling in the right direction. The one-way street I am referring to, if you are familiar with Gurgaon, is the one that stretches from Fortis hospital and ends at the intersection with the Golf Course Road. Thank God for the alert common man. Many cases of hit-and-run become hit-and-be forced to stay, thanks to his alertness and willingness to get involved.

A few kilometres further, on a road that has been cut through the Aravali hills in the last few years, and on the side of the DLF Golf Course, at the only intersection on that road, we found two big, expensive cars, lying upside down in various stages of damage. It appeared to be a fairly recent event from the shards of glass lying all over the road and the road still wet from the various bodily juices that may have oozed out from the two vehicles. It might have happened in the wee hours as we did not see any bodies. Even the alert common man crowd had thinned out. James Bond would have struggled to engineer a more spectacular crash. A few beggars who perhaps ply their trade on that intersection were seen telling interested passers-by of what, according to them, had happened. If I can say it without sounding judgmental, it seemed to be a case of, plain and simple, rash and negligent driving fuelled by an assumption that I (the driver) can do no wrong and since everyone else is a sissy and will drive carefully, I can get my way on the road. Apparently, in this case, there were two such un-sissies, who probably ended up in a tie at that intersection. And, this is one of those cases of a tie in which both combatants lose.

If you are familiar with Gurgaon in particular and the Delhi / NCR area in general, you can be excused for saying “so?”.

But some of the more vigilant readers might notice something amiss. “You are not telling us the full story” they would say. “Only two accidents? On almost ten kilometres of road? And you expect us to believe that?” is what they will confront you with.

They have nailed it, as usual. On a good day one might see three fist-fights in parking lots, a couple of traffic jams on account of illegal obstruction caused by triple-parked vehicles, a two-wheeler mowed down by a speeding car, a couple of trucks in a no-truck zone, and a couple of fatal accidents, all on the same ten kilometre stretch. There could also be some bad days. Like the one I had today and that I described earlier.

The world keeps changing all the time. Cities have changed. Cars have changed. Drivers have changed. Driving habits have changed. “Courtesy”, “caution” and ”yield” are some of the words that have been deleted from the modern driver’s lexicon.

Unfortunately, our traffic rules and their meanings have failed to keep pace with the changing times. An unfortunate outcome is that some people still insist on following traffic rules. Some people still express anguish at the chaos on the roads.

Perhaps today morning’s drive was the last straw. Instead of merely complaining at the turn of events, and with a view to doing my bit at conditioning the modern driver to feel at ease in today’s conditions, I have taken upon myself the task of compiling an updated set of traffic guidelines and recommendations which I will be sharing in the next few days.

Here’s to equality on the road and effective and stress-free driving for all.