After driving over 3,000 kilometers on the most chaotic streets in the world, I’ve learned a thing or two about staying alive on India’s roads.
If you ever plan to drive yourself around India in a tiny, uncooperative rickshaw (and I hope you do!) you’ll be one step ahead of the game with my rickshaw run rules of the road.
Rule 1: Mind the pecking order
There is an unspoken pecking order on the roads of India and it is absolutely crucial that you understand where you fit within this. In order to keep yourself alive on India’s roads there is one rule that matters most of all: It is your responsibility to get out of the way of anything that comes above you in the pecking order.
Official Pecking Order:
Rickshaws (that’s us!)
Men driving carts pulled by oxen
Shepherds ushering sheep/goats/cattle across the road
Dogs/Chickens/Peacocks/Pigs/any livestock not currently being herded by aforementioned shepherds
The good news is that you are free to run anything that falls below you on the all-important list right off the road should you so desire.
Pecking order pop quiz. Who rules the road in this photo? That’s right, the cow.
Rule 2: Always keep moving
Buses will barrel at you head-on. Cows will step into the road in front of you. Large, honking, insane traffic circles will suddenly appear from nowhere and you will be forced to drive straight into them. You will want to slam on your breaks. You will want to come to a stop before pulling into an intersection. Doing so would be a mistake.
Indian traffic moves. It fills the holes like water. Your fellow road warriors expect you to keep moving. Should you stop you will become the kink in the chain that stops the whole mess from functioning. Cry like a baby out of fear if you must but don’t stop moving.
Rule 3: The road is your bathroom
Do you know what truck stops, gas stations and fast food restaurants have in common? What’s that you say? Shit food? Okay, yes. At least one guy with a mullet? Okay, that too. But the answer I am looking for here is “FREE BATHROOMS.”
You don’t have to pay to use the bathrooms in India because there are no bathrooms at all. The road is your bathroom and you share it with the millions of others who are driving alongside you. You will see people pissing and shitting on the side of the road so often that after a while you won’t bat an eye at it. Don’t be shy. Join in.
Rule 4: There are no rules
You know all those rules you learned in drivers ed about merging and speed limits and lane changing? Forget all those. The only rule on India’s roads is that there are no rules. You can speed along as fast or as slow as you’d like. You can drive the wrong way down the highway. Lane lines, where they exist at all, are only a vague suggestion. Hannah, Sarah and I drove nine days before we saw a stoplight that people actually stopped at. We never saw a stop sign. Over 3,000 kilometers and no stop sign! Don’t try to make sense of it, just drive.
Rule 5: Well, there is one rule
Okay, there is one golden rule on the roads of India and for the life of me I cannot explain why this one tiny detail has the power to drive every Indian completely off their rocker. So heed my advice friends and heed it well. Whatever you do, you absolutely must not drive with your turn signal on.
Should you do so, you will be honked at, signaled to, waved down and warned by every concerned passerby. It is absolutely acceptable to never use your turn signal at all but should you decide to use it you absolutely must remember to turn it off afterwards. Driving with your turn signal on is India’s ultimate sin.
I hope that these rules will serve you well and keep you safe out on the roads. Have fun future rickshaw run drivers, it’ll be a hell of a ride.