I did a post that touched briefly on the roads and driving conditions in Mumbai – but that was shortly after I had arrived and really had no idea what I was talking about. Now that I am a “seasoned” expat Mumbaiker I feel somewhat qualified to expand on the topic, seeing that I am now more familiar with the “rules” that govern driving in Mumbai.
The first rule and most important in my opinion is that the larger your vehicle the more right of way you have. There is a definite pecking order on the roads and it goes like this… Trucks, Buses, SUV’s, Minivans, larger sedan type cars, midsize cars, small cars, rickshaws, motorbikes, bicycles and then there are pedestrians who are basically just walking excrement who should be run down at every possible opportunity. To violate the pecking order is tantamount to treason and will result in your vehicle being hit… it doesn’t matter that you arrived at the intersection first… violation of this rule is at your own risk and will likely result in a fatality – that of the driver in the smaller vehicle. There is only one exception to this pecking order and that is if you happen to be a COW – then you trump all living and inanimate things and not only do you have the right of way, but you can divert the flow of traffic should you choose to do so by stopping in the middle of the road for your afternoon siesta.
Another rule (in no particular order now since we have established the primary rule) is that you only stop at the red light IF and ONLY IF a policeman is standing there… at all other times the red light is merely a suggestion and should be approached and breached in the fastest and most expeditious manner… if you happen to to terrorize a few pedestrians while they have the right to cross well then – that only demonstrates your ability to dodge moving targets and cements your reputation as a superior driver.
If another vehicle is approaching you in what seems like a course which will most certainly result in a head on collision… flash your headlights rapidly and accelerate toward them. Unlike the rest of the world where flashing your lights at another vehicle means go ahead – flashing lights at another vehicle here is like slapping them with a glove and challenging them to a duel – This serves to achieve two things, firstly it alerts them to your presence because it is quite certain they never saw you before, and the headlights will now accomplish what the blinding midday sun could not. secondly it lets them know that you are not afraid to die and will hit them if they refuse to yield.
It is preferable when riding a motorbike to have at least three or more persons on the said bike – to transport less would be a waste of good resources and quite frankly it’s just rude when so many people have to walk or take the bus. the ability to navigate traffic by darting in and around cars and trucks with a family of five balanced at various points around the motorbike is a testament to your lightning fast reflexes and will garner you much respect from family and friends alike. Be sure that only you the driver / rider is wearing a helmet. Passengers wearing protective headgear will only serve to tip the bike over should they have to lean to one side to avoid hitting vehicles on the other.
There is no such thing as over using your horn… blowing your horn repeatedly when you are five cars back from a stoplight where traffic is jammed in every direction is just good common sense. After all, how will the five cars ahead of you know that you have business that is infinitely more important than theirs could ever be and move out of your way? And it doesn’t matter that everyone else in Mumbai apparently has business which is also of a pressing nature and are also blowing their horns loudly – good drivers will be able to discern the sound of your horn and make way. it’s also a good idea to blow your horn when you are trying to overtake a vehicle by driving on the sidewalk and up on the blind side of another vehicle – you don’t want them to suddenly start playing a game of terrorize the pedestrian and swerve into you by mistake.
Lastly… learn to follow the flow of the traffic. Just because that is how it flowed yesterday it does not follow logically that it will flow that way today. Stop expecting things to conform to what you believe to be right and embrace the logical nonconformity… In other words when in Mumbai drive as the Mumbaikers do… stick to these few simple guidelines and you will be off to a good start… happy driving!
ONE LOVE, ONE HEART, ONE PEOPLE…