How to Cross an Indian Road and Live to Talk About It
Something as simple as crossing the road is a high-risk adventure activity in most Indian cities. You look both ways and all you see is a sea of unending traffic. Yes, there are some pedestrian lights in the city center which can be used at your own risk and zebra crossings dotted here and there but both are completely ignored by motorists. Crossing a Road in India is a daunting if not down right scary task especially for foreigners visiting the country for the first time. The conditions of the roads, the heavy flow of traffic, variety of vehicles and animals on the roads teamed with the sudden unknown and random traffic conditions or lack of traffic rules in India all pose a tough challenge for people who are used to organized driving and pedestrian crossings that are a norm in other countries.
The rules governing right of way are that the biggest vehicle has priority. Indian traffic, a joke says, is structured like it’s caste system: The hierarchy goes like this- Trucks and Buses come first, followed by cars by size, then autorickshaws, cyclists and pedestrians. This thought process makes it tougher for pedestrians and even quite dangerous to cross streets without any experience.
Here are a few Tips to Crossing a Road in India and Living to Talk about it…It is possible!
Being calm cuts down half the problem. Calmly assess the road you need to cross and and flow of traffic. Take your time and don’t panic or rush to cross.
Look in ALL Directions Before Crossing
While your mother may have told you to look both ways before crossing a street as a child…it’s still common for people to look only one way at the direction traffic is coming at you. This poses a problem in Indian Road situations as most streets are dual with no dividers and traffic going in both directions and often on the wrong side of the road in an attempt to overtake another vehicle. Even on dual road you need to look at both directions as it’s not uncommon for vehicles especially rickshaws and cyclists to go in the opposite direction looking for a cut in the divider to cross over to the right side.
Indians drive on the left of the road…so if you are used to it the other way around that’s the first thing to remember so you don’t look in the wrong direction while crossing. So look carefully to the right and then left before crossing…
Cross the Street When Indians Do or in a Small Group
One thing India has is people – lots and lots of people. At times that can be overwhelming, but other times it can contribute to your safety. If you’re in a decent sized city in India, chances are, there will be several Indian people who want to cross the street when you do. There is strength in numbers. Don’t be afraid to stand close to them, even in the middle of the crowd if possible. Wait for them to start crossing, and then walk when they walk, and stop when they stop. Not only will they indicate when it’s a good time to cross, being one of a crowd increases safety as there is less chance motorists will hit a group of people.
Go With The Flow…Don’t be Afraid to Stop
If you wait for a ‘good opportunity’ or a clearing to make it all the way across the street without stopping, I can guarantee you you’ll be waiting a long time…a very loooong time in some some cases.
In bigger cities in India, there is seldom a big enough break in the traffic to cross the street safely without stopping somewhere in the middle. On smaller roads when the traffic is slower moving traffic if there is a little bit of an open space, step out and walk a few steps. You may then need to stop and stand there in the middle of the street for a few seconds, while traffic zips around you. When there is another small break in traffic, walk a few more steps, stopping again when it becomes unsafe to continue walking. The first couple of times, it may kind of frighten you to be in the middle of the street with cars and scooters zipping around you, but keep in mind that Indian drivers are accustomed to driving around people, and unless you step right in front of them when they are too close to you to stop, you are really quite safe standing in the middle of an Indian road.
But don’t try this on wide roads or highways when the traffic is going at higher speeds. In those cases wait for a clearing in the traffic enough for you to cross in one go.
Never Run Across and Indian Street
It’s almost a sure shot way of getting hit by something or another.
Be Attentive and Look for Signs
By signs I don’t mean road signs. Be attentive to horns. Almost everyone sounds horn if they are about to hit you, and you would have enough time to move away.
Make eye contact with drivers nearing you and observe their expressions to see what they are thinking. They often nod or make a hand gesture assuring you that it’s okay to cross while slowing down to allow you the time. But look out for others around him they may not be so accommodating.
Other Tips to Remember
– Avoid Crossing at intersections especially those without signals(stop lights) as it could be very confusing with traffic moving in all directions.
– Don’t attempt to run if you find a small gap. Walk slowly, even diagonally, until you reach the other side.
– Do not attempt to cross in front of buses, trucks or SUVs: the drivers of these vehicles are pretty ruthless. Motorcyclists are your friends: they will swerve to avoid you or even stop if they have to. They probably feel more vulnerable than other motorists.
– Again, the most important thing is not to panic.
– If you are the extremely cautious kind and don’t enjoy the adrenaline as much, just hold up one or both hands – high – signalling vehicles to stop. Nobody ever ignores this but it could get quite embarrassing when you realize that all the traffic around you has come to a standstill.