Honking is a language

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Traffic in India is crazy. According to Patrick, and Patricia, it is very different from traffic in Brazil, and it certainly doesn't compare to traffic in Germany. So I guess it is pretty unique how Indians are driving.

The first thing you notice before you even see a car is the sound of traffic: a continued stream of honking sounds, short or long, melodious or sharp, and usually quite loud. In Germany, honking serves two purposes: To warn somebody last second, or to show you are angry. In India, it seems to serve many more purposes, and in general regulates traffic. But more on that below.

Once you see the cars, you'll notice the variations in which they come: cycle-rickshaws, auto-rickshaws, regular cars, busses, trucks, and they all honk. They also all drive like there are no lanes, no traffic regulations, and like there is no tomorrow. As a passenger in various cars, I've witnessed my driver drive through red lights without hesitation, driving against the traffic flow when they missed to take that turn, and more. It sounds like I might have feared for my life, but somehow I didn't.

Assorted vehicles

A particular humorous experiences is depicted by the movie below: a pile-up at a train crossing. When the barriers came down, cars on both sides started piling up on both lanes, leading to the ultimate clash when gates went up again. Boom! Watch it happen, unfold, and being relieved.


Train crossing pile-up (click to view)

As you look closer at some of the cars, you'll see that most don't have outer rear view mirrors. A lot of cars don't have them from the beginning, many other cars have them disabled, and some had them just torn off. When I asked one of the drivers about it, he told me that drivers simply never use them---they don't get trained on them and they are not available anyway. (I just thought they get torn off quickly once a car starts participating in general traffic because people navigate so closely to each other.)

Which brings me back to honking. People certainly honk to warn each other, and sometimes even honk to express anger (much less so than in Germany, I guess). The most common use, however, is to inform other drivers about one's position in traffic and the direction and speed one is going. The most basic maneouver of an Indian car driver is to drive up behind another car, veer right, and honk to signal they want to pass on the right. (India drives on the left side of the road.) But it doesn't have to be on the right, it could be the shoulder of the road as well. Or the on-coming lane. Indian drivers don't care.

Indian streets are there for the taking. I've seen few women driving. One incident of road rage I've witnessed was a young cab driver getting annoyed about a female driver when she didn't get out of his way quickly enough. He simulated pushing her off the street. So beware, driving in India is a man's world.

Copyright (©) 2007 Dirk Riehle. Some rights reserved. (Creative Commons License BY-NC-SA.) Original Web Location: http://www.riehle.org