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Here is a fun fact – India is the world leader in road fatalities even though both the US and China have more vehicles on the road, thus once again proving that old classic – it’s not the size that matters, its how you use it.
The exact figures are open to some contemplation. Two Central Agencies – the National Crime Records Bureau and the Transport Research Wing – guesstimate the figures at 1.36 lakh and 1.42 lakh respectively for 2011.
They took these figures from FIRs that were filed with the police for fatalities, therefore I presume the real numbers are nearly double that. If not triple.
As a daily denizen of Indian roads, I feel I can be confident about the police and their doings since I know them very well.
They are shy and retiring creatures when faced with situations that require them to enforce the law to cars with a flag or a red light or a ‘Do you know who my daddy is?’ board.
However, if you want them to be a near permanent fixture of your driving experience all you need to do is be poor or a young boy with a girl or that unlucky soul who was cut off from the herd, ending up as the last person to jump the signal.
In such a situation these creatures will forget all their shyness and transform into a hitherto unseen creature of great anger and threats.
Keep calm and take out your wallet. A token amount of money is generally enough to mollify them.
But please remember to increase the amount of money in direct proportion to the following situations –
a) Driving License ah? Why? You think I don’t know how to drive?
b) Insurance papers ah? Do you know much petrol costs? And you want me to pay premium?
c) Emission Certificate ah? Pigeons are dropping dead mid-flight if they accidentally swoop over the road. How much more certification do you need?
d) Yes I cut across three lanes of speeding traffic to go from left to right so that i could take that illegal U-Turn down into the wrong side of that one-way after running over somebody’s foot. But people are dying in this country without food and you are stopping me for such silly things? Why sir?
If you find you have checked all of the above, then perhaps you have bigger problems than the police right now. Get help, I beg you.
But I digress. My expertise about the police is not the point.
What is about driving in India that is killing all of these people?
Well there are a multitude of issues. My personal favorite is the ‘hand’.
It is when an idiot blithely crosses the road, right as you careen wildly towards the signal (whatever the color) hoping desperately to swerve through the junction just in time to miss the sea of traffic coming from the opposite direction by several inches.
Said idiot will do so in the confident, dare I say miraculous hope, that it can slow/change the direction of a half-ton chunk of metal hurtling at 70 Kmph on shoddy brakes and only vaguely in the driver’s control – by holding one hand up, palm facing oncoming traffic, as a sign of its intention.
The contention being that if you hit the fool now, it is your fault.
The amount of praying every driver does in that split second when they jam the brakes and swerve while the idiot continues on it’s path, palm outstretched, looking as peaceful as a Buddha, is what is keeping religion alive in this country.
Of course that is still better than those special idiots who begin crossing at a random spot in the road, go half way across, then decide their life is both precious and meaningful and try to save it by dashing back, only to be halted mid-sprint by a car roaring by, turn back around with renewed courage for a second attempt, lose all courage two steps into their second attempt, turn back once again and eventually get run over by me.
Okay that last part doesn’t happen a lot. But I tell you, there have been times when it becomes ever so hard to ignore that little voice in my head that whispers, “Just a little closer, go on, you know you want to. Teach those flighty buggers a lesson.”
However the pedestrians have little choice, as there are really no footpaths in most areas. Not that a footpath will save you when a crazily over-speeding vehicle completely loses control and plunges into the crowd (I have seen it happen several times). but at least later, if you survive, you can make jokes about being in the right place at the wrong time.
Most accidents do not happen due to bad roads, or lack of footpaths or oblivious Buddhas. Most accidents happen in India because we drive way too fast, ignoring all sense and sanity, without helmets or seat belts or air bags, while completely trusting our fellow roadies to keep out of OUR way WHILE doing the same thing.
This trust is so ingrained that hurt and angry faces will glare at you as they pass should you ever make the choice to drive slowly on the left-hand side of the road or stop the instant the signal turns red. (Try it. You will see.)
We drive this way because every one drives this way. And why does everyone drive this way? Because the next guy is driving the same way.
We are the only people who halt at a signal, and then begin creeping forward in bursts.
We do this to such an extent that when the signal does eventually turn green, it’s role as a means to stop traffic from the other side has been made redundant by our presence in the middle of the junction.
Add to that a thousand-year-old culture and you realize that Indian road-rage is not only fueled by attempts to prove my pee-pee is bigger than your pee-pee, but a spirited effort to make the claim that, metaphorically, my ancestors from up to seven generations ago, had more yardage than the yours.
And considering our history – I would say the death toll is quite low actually.