Braving the Wheel in India

I have an Indian driving license. My accomplishment was the result of completing a certain number of hours at a driving school. The school car had two sets of gears, pedals and wheels, which meant that the instructor drove the car and I just sat back and waited for the hour to finish. I never took a driving test – just paid and received my laminated card.

This process may explain the lawlessness of Indian roads. One ways, lanes, shoulders – none of these things mean anything to the average Indian driver. In Varanasi, our driver turned into the opposite side of a national highway for a few kilometers because he didn’t want to double back to our exit. The only road rule that is followed, most of the time, is the traffic light. When we asked a driver in Mumbai why he blatantly ran a red, his response was “It’s night time. You don’t have to follow the lights at night.” We also learnt that a right indicator does not always mean a person is turning right, but that they are giving others permission to overtake on the right. That’s a guessing game I don’t want to play.

We both went through the process of getting international licenses before we left home, so decided to put his to use today. Naturally Sandeep was somewhat hesitant to get behind the wheel here.  Here are some shots I took from the front seat during the 1 km drive from home to town.

Even the kids were somewhat confused at to why Sandeep was driving. We didn’t have a car in New York City, and save for a few vacation rentals, they don’t see him behind the wheel. On our trip so far, we’ve relied on others for transportation.

Ava: Why is Dada driving in your seat?

Diya: The driver sits on other seat because the cars drive on the opposite side of the street here.

Ava: No they don’t.

For once Ava wasn’t just being argumentative, she was correct. The cars drive wherever they want.


The busiest intersection in town doesn’t have a traffic light. The solution is that a policemen stationed at a rotunda holds up a miniscule stop sign (look closely) – sometimes in a particular direction and sometimes to no where in particular. As we approached him, he sternly held up the sign to the car on our right, but motioned to us to keep moving forward. There was no logic behind the differentiation, and there is no one stationed there at night.

Sandeep started driving because it seemed silly to ask his parents’ driver to take us on short runs. We also wanted some freedom to roam around on our own. Sandeep’s been amazingly calm about the entire experience. I asked him, his father and the family driver if anything bothers them about driving in Kerala.

Sandeep: The lack of any signs. I don’t know what’s one way, there are no speed limits, or stop signs. I just try to go with the flow. I do like the fact that I don’t have to worry about breaking the law, because it is 100% unenforced.

Sandeep’s Dad: The potholes, because my car has low clearance.

Jos the Driver (has been a family driver for 15 years):  The lawless bus drivers just want to over take the cars. They’re always driving in the opposite direction of traffic.

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3 Responses to Braving the Wheel in India

  1. Now that you have experienced driving in India, you’re ready to drive in Rome.

  2. Pingback: Entertainment on an Indian Train | a minor diversion

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