Driving in India


Driving in India



Rule of the Road

Traffic in India drives on the left side of the road, in common with many other Asian countries.



Statistics (year 2007 figures)


UK comparison

Annual fatalities



Registered motor vehicles



Motorisation rate, (motor vehicles / 1,000 population)



Fatality rate, (deaths / 10,000 motor vehicles)



Fatality risk, (road deaths / 100,000 population)



Fatality quotient, (fatality rate x fatality risk)



Fatalities / 1,000 km road



Road length, km



Paved roads, %



Road density, (road length km / land area km2)



Vehicle density, (motor vehicles / km)



Population density, (population / km2)





Statistics Summary

Compared with the UK, India has twice as many motor vehicles, and a higher population density. But India enjoys ten times the road length resulting in a much lower vehicle density, and also has a much lower motorisation rate. And within the motorisation rate, motorcycles account for 71% of all motor vehicles, whilst cars, jeeps, light commercial, and taxis amount to only 18% of the vehicle stock. India typically imposes lower speed limits compared with the UK. Unfortunately all these advantages do not extend to the various fatality rates which are very much higher than the UK.





Driving Environment

There are a wide range of driving environments across India, from busy dense city centres with congested narrow streets, wide but busy multilane highways, to narrow rural lanes, and mountains in some areas. The climate is mostly tropical so generally warm, but varying from arid desert to monsoon rainstorms, and with some snow in the northern mountains. Many roads have developed to follow the line of previous footpaths so are often narrow, and in recent times villages have expanded linearly along roadsides, constraining the available road width. Many minor roads have a surface consisting of more potholes than road.



Driver Behaviour.

Drivers here all want to rush everywhere, overtaking is considered a vital necessity even when it isn't viable, e.g. a bus driver will attempt to overtake anything then a few metres later will stop at the next bus stop. Tuk-tuk drivers and motorcycle riders zigzag across the roads regardless of other traffic, many motorcyclists and almost all pillion riders don't wear a helmet. The horn is used incessantly by many to demand that others move out of the way. Courtesy is nonexistent, every driver wanting to push ahead even in the most congested situations, resulting in mini-gridlocks everywhere.






The vehicle stock is mostly of locally manufactured cars from several Indian manufacturers, with the imports being mostly Japanese. Many older jeeps are still in service as taxis, often running severely overloaded. Buses are mostly quite elderly and of local manufacture, they are typically built on a lorry chassis resulting in a high floor, and many have no side window glass to facilitate natural ventilation. Lorries are also mostly quite elderly, and of local manufacture. Many lorries have no mirrors at all, so 'Horn Please' is commonly written on the rear so the lorry driver may know when a vehicle is following and especially when another vehicle is overtaking. A significant 71% of all motor vehicles are motorcycles and 3-wheelers. Handcarts are very common, as are animal drawn vehicles utilising many different types of animals from donkeys to camels.





Speed Limits.

Speed is measured in km/h. Signage follows the ISO system, written in European digits, but signs are rare, local signs are often placed by local residents associations. Speed limits in towns and villages are moderately low, typically at 35 km/h, although signs are seldom seen. Because of this, limits are not recognised nor adhered to, and traffic generally moves at the highest driveable speed of each vehicle type, constrained only by slower moving vehicles. Other main roads typically have a limit of 65 or 70 km/h. The maximum limit for all vehicles in most Indian states is now 100 km/h, although there are some toll highways having a 120 km/h limit. Many of the former 'end of speed limit' signs are still to be seen, but no longer applicable.



Traffic Signals.

India now uses the short 3 phase system: green > amber > red > green, i.e. with no amber after the red. However, on Sundays and public holidays all lights are typically switched off, and others may be off at quieter times of the day. Sometimes when the normal sequence of lights are off, flashing amber lights may be displayed in all directions meaning give way. At some junctions flashing red lights are displayed in all directions meaning stop, then give way and drive on when safe. Some signals now incorporate a countdown timer showing seconds before the next phase.

At some traffic signals, across the red light the word 'relax' is printed, which is a very useful to take the rush and stress from city driving.






Road signs.

Regulatory, prohibitory, obligatory, hazard, directional, and advice all follow the standard ISO (European) system, although the No Entry sign is circular with a red border, white background, having a diagonal red bar through a black vertical arrow. Some of the signs are hand painted, although others are retroreflective. Main roads have mileposts at various km intervals, but not all in European script. Many direction signs are trilingual - in a local language, and in Hindi, and in English, although European numbers are used universally for all languages.





Road markings.

White is used generally, but yellow occasionally, apparently interchangeably. Stop lines at a zebra crossing are typically double, with the word 'Stop', in some locations in English, some in Hindi. However, lines at road ends may not be painted or may be worn away.






Kerb markings.

Some kerbs are painted alternately black / white, typically at major junctions for visual reference, at some other locations black / yellow is used. In some locations the lower one metre of tree trunks are painted white as a road safety measure.






Roundabouts typically have few signs or markings but seem to work remarkably well at most locations, the entering traffic should give way to the circulating traffic, and often does, although in some places where there are varying sizes of vehicles, the larger vehicle tends to take priority over the smaller vehicle.






Many intersections have no marking whatsoever, yet the traffic seems to flow in a system of organised chaos, all types of vehicles passing on all sides of each other.



Pedestrian Crossings.

Zebra crossings are common, however drivers have no respect for them, it's as if they didn't exist. As a pedestrian always make sure the road is clear in all directions before starting to cross.



Railway Crossings.

India has an extensive railway system with many at-grade railway level crossings. Most of these have a reasonable system of advance countdown markers at 300, 200, and 100 metres with appropriate hazard signs, and full-width manually operated barriers at all crossings, but typically without any light signals. Most barriers carry a single stop sign but this is typically painted not retroreflective, so not easily seen at night.




There is a network of higher quality roads, typically between the larger cities, however all these roads are used by all classes of road user including animal-drawn vehicles. Because many of these roads are dual carriageways with an un-crossable central reservation, local traffic commonly uses each side of the dual carriageway in both directions - don't be surprised to see a lorry or a bullock cart coming towards you in either lane on your half of a dual carriageway.

The police have a system of checkpoints everywhere, this itself is not a concern, but there is usually no advance signing, the checkpoint is marked merely by several lines of stones across the road to slow traffic.





City Driving.

Roads within the cities are typically very congested with every type of road user imaginable, any of which may be moving in any direction across or along the road. Main roads can be relatively wide, but side streets may be barely sufficiently wide for a car to pass through. The horn is used incessantly by many, primarily to demand others to move out of the way.





Rural Roads.

On the plains these roads can be very straight, but are usually narrow and often tree-lined. In hilly and mountainous areas the roads tend to follow a constant slight gradient by meandering around the hillside. Beware of all types of animals being herded along a road.





Night Driving.

Night driving is not recommended anywhere. Street lighting is sparse on major roads in the cities and nonexistent everywhere else. There are just too many hazards including cycles and motorcycles without lights, pedestrians, and large animals on the road that are not easily seen, such that the risk is too high to consider.




Parking on a road is legally permitted most places, except where signed, although road markings are not used. However, parking may cause severe congestion on most narrow roads, wherever possible try to find a parking area off the road.






Something to watch out for … any type of vehicle including lorries moving towards you on your side of the road, including coming towards you on your side of a dual carriageway, as shown in 3 of the above photographs! Even at night such a vehicle without any lights is just as likely to be coming towards you on your side of the road, including on a dual carriageway.


©Keith Lane 2009