Saturday, July 28, 2012

Right is right, left is wrong or: How I Learned to Stop

Note 1: I have been to several countries, but never have I driven a vehicle outside India until now.

Note 2: Caution - speed bump ahead. This is a rant by an average Indian lost in the roads of a foreign land.

If you are a holder of an Indian driver's license (international or not), and are employed by an American company, you are allowed to drive on American roads. You shouldn't be. Here's why.

You have to drive on the right side of the road! Now, one might think it isn't that much of a big deal, right? Wrong! When you are driving on an expressway (more on that later), it is okay, you have to keep straight. The trouble begins when you are at a crossing, and you have to turn left.

Pardon me, I am bad at drawing. But you do get the idea, right? And ALL the driving instincts that you developed back at home will force you to turn the car into the wrong side of the road! 

Inside American cars, everything is a mirror-image of how everything is placed inside Indian cars. The driving wheel is on the left instead of right, for example. I mean, of course this isn't as life threatening as turning into the wrong side of the road, but you do end up being taken aback when while trying to turn on the indicator, you end up switching on the wiper instead!

And if this wasn't enough, enter automatic-transmission. Yes, yes, there are those kinds in India too, but how many? Automatic-transmission cars have only two pedals that you need to operate, accelerator and brake. And you can get accelerator to work only by first hitting the brake! Aaaah, kill me!

In India, we have been brought up to think that we should be driving on the middle of the road. Like Kings. Well, that wouldn't go too well here. You don't have to drive over the dotted white line on the road, but between the lines! "Keep to your own lane", is the motto on the road. And, if you really must change lanes, you need to flash the indicator, look into the three rear-view mirrors, then actually look back to confirm that there is no-one just behind you because of the blind-spot in the rear-view mirrors, and then gradually change lanes! All this while keeping an eye on the speed so you don't cross the limit. Goodness! And even the gradual shifting is difficult because we are accustomed only to 90° turns, not changing lanes when we have to go straight! Who changes lanes going straight?!

And then there are expressways. High-speed roads which connect long distances. You can get on or get off an expressway by taking the ramp or the exit respectively. Speed limits. Speed limits on these expressways are typically in the range of 60 mph (96.5 kmph) to 75 mph (120 kmph). Funny thing about the speed-limit is that it isn't so much the limit on the speed, as it is the speed you are expected to drive! 50 mph, and you are going too slow (and have cars overtake you left and right!). Plus, you can push it to 65 mph on a 60 mph limit. So much that the cars on an expressway are more-or-less at a zero relative velocity to each other. (Yes, the concepts of uniform motion you learnt in school come-in handy.) Which also means that you can change lanes if there is no-one to your left or right, irrespective of someone being in front of you or behind you, a concept which takes a LOT of getting used to.

The savior, of course, is the GPS. Without it, you are lost in the concrete jungle. Except, when the GPS goes on harping, "Take EXIT! Take EXIT!", and you see no exit! "Ah, there it was.", you would go, right after you've missed it. And do not worry if you miss an exit. Your loyal siri-like GPS would "recalculate" the route for you, and ask you to take the next exit, provided you see it of course. All this, is of course easier than following instructions such as - "Turn right, and then keep left on highway XYZ". Turn right and then keep left?! Yes, 'cause if you don't, the road branching on the right will take you some place else! Yes, and then there are "Right only", "Must exit", "Left only" lanes. And if by the grace of God you land up on a "Right only" lane by mistake, turn right, no matter what. No stop, reverse, get-on-the-right-track for this country.

And finally, the Stop Sign. A marvel of traffic engineering, something that is NEVER going to work in India. When you see a stop sign, you stop. Stop, stop, stop. And the one who arrived at the stop sign first, gets to go first! I arrive at a stop sign, and every time, every single time, I marvel at the civility with which people stop, and then wait for everyone who arrived before them to go, and then go their own way. I can NEVER imagine something like this working in India, because here, the one who can go first, goes first. Everywhere.

Right is right, left is wrong or: How I Learned to Stop...


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