Thursday, January 25, 2007

Random traffic

Of the three Indian cities I've driven in, Chennai is by far the most civilised -- but that's not saying much: the other cities are Delhi and Bangalore. Visitors from those cities have remarked the same to me.

Some days back I read a humorous post (via desipundit) on gadgets to help you defend yourself from maniac drivers; the gadgets are what I've always wanted, but I was taken aback by some of the comments, particularly comment 10. Is Bangalore really that bad?

I have been pulled up by policemen in Chennai, once for going through a light that had just turned red (I was blinded by a bus) and once for taking a left on a red (I'm not sure how I did that). The policemen were remarkably courteous, and one of them was so taken aback when I said "it's my fault, I know" that he fell chatting with me on all the traffic problems in the city, and eventually waived the fine. (On one previous occasion in Chennai, some years ago, the policeman waived the fine -- but that's because I insisted on a receipt and he couldn't give me one, and I offered to give him a ride to the police station to get one...)

A couple of days ago, there was a news item that fines for certain Chennai traffic violations are being increased steeply.

Yesterday, I saw policemen pulling up motorists in the wrong lane (seeking to go straight but standing in the left lane, which at that point is divided from the straight lane) and making them turn left instead. The resulting detour would certainly have cost them half an hour, given the jam at that junction, which would probably have hurt them more than a fine. I applaud the idea.

Nevertheless, all these traffic offences are merely annoying, not
dangerous. Here's what I'd like to see the police crack down

  • Frequent lane-changing, changing lanes without signalling, weaving fast through crowded roads (two-wheelers do this all the time, but many cars and SUVs do too)
  • Tail-gating, that is, following close behind another vehicle at high speeds
  • Overtaking from the left at a left-turn (two-wheelers going straight frequently do this)
  • Moving to the extreme right of an undivided road to overtake, when there is oncoming traffic (Is might really right? If you're driving a big SUV, bus or truck and flatten that tiny Maruti-800, you may not die yourself, but you'll be in trouble anyway).
  • Driving in the city with high-beam headlights, or flashing headlights at oncoming traffic (how does it improve your safety to blind the guy coming in your direction?)
  • Unnecessary honking (why do people honk at a red light? I never could figure that out)

Any additions to that list? (We can get to more advanced things like "stop for pedestrians at a crossing without being asked" later, primary education comes first...)

I have never seen the slightest action being taken for such things. They go quite unpunished, unless two vehicles actually hit each other. And even then, unless the damage is severe or someone is injured, the drivers just ignore it and continue their ways.

Another pet peeve... why can't our traffic signs be standardised? Internationally, there are well-accepted signs for "no entry", "no parking", and so on. Here we seem to invent our own at each intersection. And Chennai is full of octagonal red "stop" signs at the most ludicrous places (eg, on the main road, 10m before a traffic light, where -- if you do choose to stop -- you have no view of the side roads). Apparently nobody bothered to look up what a "stop sign" means.


Anonymous said...

The link below should interest you. Sorry, it's unrelated to your post, except that it falls under the general category of utter inefficiencies in big cities...

Rahul Siddharthan said...

Visited, commented. Took a bit to figure out who it was. (Initially I thought it was you, but wrong initial.)