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Bombay traffic: Rules of the Road Part 1

Traffic is a never-far-from-the-front-of-our-attention fact of life here in Bombay. Our schedules and social lives (or lack thereof) revolve around the horrendous crushes of vehicles on the roads and the attendant long investment of time involved in going anywhere. There have been a few traffic-related situations in the past few days, so I figured a few entries (I’m looking at 5 parts at this point) outlining what the roads are like would be in order.

Today’s introductory topic concerns the number 1 rule of the road. This isn’t a rule in the sense of being ‘written down’ laws of any sort. This is just the everybody-follows-it regulation by which you have to abide. If you don’t, then you put yourself in a position of easily getting in an accident.

Simply put, this most important rule is Bigger Is Better. Traffic flow is regulated not by police, lights, lanes, or signs, but by the size of the vehicles – or animals – present. A rough pecking order would include:

  1. Cows
  2. Long haul diesel trucks
  3. Buses
  4. Elephants
  5. Horses, bulls, and oxen-drawn carts
  6. SUVs/minivans
  7. Cars
  8. Taxis
  9. Rickshaws
  10. Motorcycles
  11. Scooters
  12. People hauling items on handcarts
  13. Bicycles
  14. Pedestrians
  15. Dogs, cats, birds

Everybody knows these rules, and everyone follows them. Big trucks rarely slow down for anyone – but then again, no one expects them to and so usually gets out of their way. When that system breaks down, however, horrific accidents usually result (more about that in Part 5).

But usually, however, people are pretty willing to play the hand fate has dealt them. If you are in a rickshaw, you let cars and buses push you out of the way. By the same token, however, that rickshaw will not slow down at all for the family and grandma crossing the road.

While no one would claim to love the traffic, after a while, the mad melee becomes accepted and expected. The most difficult thing for us to get used to when driving in Thailand was that incoming traffic would actually yield to us on scooters – this is unheard of in Bombay.

But everyone stops for cows.

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One Comment

  1. There’s a comment over in Facebook too.

    3. Dave on May 17th, 2009 at 10:17 pm

2 Trackbacks

  1. […] Here are the next Big Five Rules of the Road, following on the heels of Bigger is Better: […]

  2. […] are routinely ignored, leading to harrowing games of chicken, as the “Bigger is Better” rule comes into effect (and its corollary – “Momentum Determines Right-of-Way” – meaning […]

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