When it comes to bad driving, terrible traffic management and utter lack of road sense we Indians are there right at the top of the list of the worst. The first thing that shocks people who come to India is the complete chaos on the road and for a few days they can only talk about how terrible Indian roads and driving are. I am a patriotic person, I wholeheartedly love my country and I am quite proud and happy to be an Indian except in two matters; our toilet habits and our driving. I will not talk about toilets since this magazine is not about sanitation but I will talk about driving since this space is all about all things automotive.
I live in the glorious city of Hyderabad Deccan, a city that has been defaced by greed for money. Atrocious constructions that have no link with the heritage and the past of the city have come up and have wiped out the history of the place and replaced it with ghastly malls, horrendous multiplexes and where a house of four to six people once stood, it has been razed to the ground and replaced by apartment blocks. People park cars on the roads and the carriage ways are almost non-existent. Parks and places earmarked as lung spaces have gone having fallen prey to the rapacious desires of land sharks. The original inhabitants of the city have all gone off to the US of A in search of greener pastures and along with them took whatever culture that Hyderabad once had. They have now been replaced by the nouveau riche whose sole purpose in life is to show that they have arrived in life. And when you want to talk of having arrived, what better than a gaudy, garish coloured SUV/MPV to show to the world that the arrival has happened.
Having expensive and big vehicles is something that also brings out another facet of the nouveau riche. You have to shove everybody out of the way through intimidating driving and constant honking of the horn. Hyderabad has always been a city blessed with pretty wide roads; else where in the world that would have been a huge advantage but in Hyderabad it means that this is scope for further lawlessness on the road. People drive on the wrong side of the road – I have actually seen a two wheeler being driven on the wrong side of the road on the elevated expressway to the airport where two wheelers are prohibited and where the boy racers use their weapons of choice to set land speed records. It is truly a miracle that at an average only some 20 Hyderabadis die in accidents on the road every day. One would have thought that the city should now have been free of any human occupation what with people driving through red lights, with trucks having iron rods sticking out of them and no tell tale warning signs in the day or night and the ubiquitous autorickshaws that move like the Queen does on the chess board. Two wheeler riders merrily zip in between two moving cars placing trust entirely on the abilities of the car driver and the car’s brakes. Mercifully due to congestion traffic moves at a snail’s pace and this means that very serious accidents are usually averted. But most vehicles in Hyderabad carry their battle scars rather loudly and proudly.
In all this the role of the police is most interesting. The policeman sees a two wheeler or a car or sometimes even trucks being driven on the wrong side of the road. He pulls out a camera and takes photographs of the offending vehicle and a few months later if someone has actually been able to trace the owner of the vehicle and electronic challan is delivered at the door step of the offender. The previous practice was to simply throw away the challan but now the police have gotten savvy so they have palm held devices which will show if there is a vehicle that has been repeatedly involved in traffic offences and then the owner is made to pay a fine- if the police have been able to stop the vehicle in the first place. There are those who do pay and the police love them because Andhra Pradesh due to a slew of meaningless populism which has made the rich richer and the poor poorer has become a victim of poverty itself. The fines are most useful in paying salaries of the police at least and therefore bad driving is encouraged. The police is now showcasing its achievements by putting gory videos of people dying and getting maimed in accidents on Facebook. Anyone with a strong heart and stomach can go to the Hyderabad Traffic Police page and watch the gore unfold. What is great is that you can also hit the like button.
If the police represent one level of failure then the policy makers represent another level. Hyderabad is one unique city where all flyovers end at a red signal. I have often wondered what the purpose of the flyover was in the first place. There are also so many instances where some rich and powerful person will construct a huge office complex and convert the space shown for parking for even more offices. The Municipal Corporation authorities never check or serve notice for violations but the traffic police will hide in a corner and suddenly pounce on a row of vehicles parked outside in the no parking zone since there is no parking option and the offices in some of these buildings are not just some shops but offices where people “have” to go.
And then there are all kinds of under-powered vehicles like the Piaggio Ape, the Mahindra Alfa, the Bajaj Auto rickshaws that carry loads. I have actually seen some of these vehicles being so overloaded that they do wheelies when they engage gears and try to move. It usually requires the help of a few amused bystanders who will stand on the front of the loaded auto so that its front does not levitate. Hyderabad is also home to steep gradients and state transport buses, autos and assorted two wheelers wheeze their way up the slopes causing traffic pile ups. I have a simple question; why cannot the government determine that vehicles should produce a certain minimum torque and power before it is sold in the market? Top speeds can easily be restricted through the programming of ECUs. The problem is not confined only to Hyderabad, many cities in India have hilly terrain and having some norms would facilitate the flow of traffic.
But the biggest offenders are we citizens. If you ask yourself you will see that we do not need the police to tell us to stop when the signal has turned red. We do not need someone to tell us that we should not drive on the wrong side of the road. We do not need someone to tell us that we should not go the wrong way into one way traffic zones or get our two wheelers onto roads that prohibit their plying. Yet we do it and if something happens then it is always the fault of the other or that of the traffic police who did not “enforce” a rule. I was once driving a very racist Swiss national in Hyderabad and he said to me after seeing glaring violations of traffic rules “you have to admit that you Indians have no brains”. My desire was to punch him in the face but in the face of overwhelming evidence in his favour, I chose to remain silent.