Dare to Drive: Surviving Delhi’s Traffic Mayhem

I challenge you.

Can you drive on Delhi’s roads for a week without losing your cool?

If the answer’s yes, know that you are rare.

I struggle.

I have anger issues, but it’s much better than before.

Success has been moderate. On average, seven out of ten times, I win. At other times, anger gets the better of me, mainly on the roads of Delhi.

I drive 20 miles to the office and back. Every mile, I find at least a few violating the rules. Not a week passes without a motorist narrowly missing my car in a brazen act of violation.

In my younger days, I used to get enraged by reckless behaviour on the streets. Over the years, I have mellowed considerably – so much that I wonder if I am the same person I once was.

Now, there are occasions when I don’t step out of my car if an errant motorist has collided with it. I take a few deep breaths and carry on.

Once in a while, I can’t help but flare up.

The Wild West of Delhi’s Roads

It’s not just the jumping of a traffic signal or overspeeding that ails Delhi’s motorists. It gets more bizarre than that.

For instance, you are in the extreme left lane, ready to turn left at the T-point, and suddenly, at the turn, a motorist comes from your left and swerves to the right. You brake hard to avoid a collision, and before you react, he is gone.

This is not an exceptional case. It happens frequently. But there are other frequent occurrences, too.

If you live here, you’d know a thing or two about how mob psychology plays when the traffic lights malfunction. It results in a free-for-all on the road. At such times, you find rational people behaving irrationally. It is the worst time to be out on the streets.

And then there are some roads that bring out the worst in motorists. Usually, these are narrow lanes leading to an intersection. Whether traffic lights work or not, clearing this stretch of the road is always an ordeal.

My new office route has a few such patches. Seeing the glass half full, I felt it would sharpen my focus and test my reflexes, which it does, but once in a while, I get to see a side of me that I am not particularly proud of.

Delhi’s Unruly Traffic: A Consequence of Impunity

Is it fair to conclude that, by and large, the citizens of Delhi are an unruly bunch with zero respect for traffic rules wherever they go?

Not quite.

When the same lot visits a country that strictly enforces traffic rules, they change their tune. They don’t dare because they know what’s coming. 

The Crux of the Problem

We all have a streak of indiscipline in us. Whether it manifests or remains latent depends on the consequences. Delhites feel they can get away. And they do in most cases. So, they violate road rules with impunity.  

I have myriad experiences that could fill a book.

A few years ago, a rich brat who banged into my father-in-law’s car had no remorse after the accident. On the contrary, I spotted an unusual swagger when I called the Police Helpline before him. He remained undeterred. A few minutes later, a cop arrived and took him aside for a brief chat. When he returned, the cop dissuaded us from registering an FIR and suggested we leave.

“Aap padhe-likhe log ho, baat samjho. Iska aadha gaon 5 minute main yahan hoga agar yeh ek call karega (You are educated, please understand half his village will assemble in five minutes if he makes one call).” he said.

Later, I discovered that the cop and the errant driver were from the same caste and lived in the same Munirka village, a few minutes away from the accident spot.

As the capital of India, in governance, Delhi ought to be a role model for the rest of the country. Sadly, it is not.

But Delhi is not alone. I am highlighting it as I live here and experience it daily. But you may have felt the same in other cities.

The Power of Strict Punishments

Let’s look at countries that have taken bold steps in clamping down on those who violate traffic rules. In Singapore, for instance, heavy fines and even prison sentences are imposed for offences as minor as littering from a vehicle. This approach has yielded impressive results, ranking Singapore’s road safety statistics among the best globally.

Moving to the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates has implemented a points-based system where drivers accumulate demerit points for violations. Upon reaching a certain threshold, the driver can face license suspension or other penalties. This system has incentivised responsible driving and significantly reduced the number of road accidents.

The urgency for strict regulations cannot be emphasized enough. Delhi, in particular, faces severe air pollution and congestion issues exacerbated by reckless driving.

The need for more political will to implement and enforce stringent traffic rules impedes progress. When political considerations outweigh the need for public safety, the ordinary citizen pays the price.

A Plea to Netas

It is high time that the policymakers and authorities recognise the urgency of the situation. Enacting and enforcing strict traffic regulations is not just an option; it’s a moral obligation.

Put the violators in jail for a day or two. Make sure they can’t bail out. Only then will they learn.

Reckless driving comes with a feeling of entitlement. That must stop. Fear of the law is critical. Being aware of the consequences and knowing there is no getting away is the only way to rein them.

Till such time, the “Sab Chalta Hain” attitude will continue. And so will our suffering.

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