Driving in a foreign country can often be trickier than you can imagine and driving in India is the trickiest if you are an expat. No, we are not scaring you. Read on to find out why we say that (and what you can do about it!).
Unlike many foreign countries outside Asia, India follows the right-hand drive rule. The vehicles travel on the right side of the road, and the steering wheel is also on the right of the car. If you are habituated to left-hand drive in your country, then this change can be a bit overwhelming in the beginning.
But, that’s just the obvious issue, let’s look deeper into how to stay safe while driving in India:
1. The Driving License
The most important thing to consider while planning driving in any foreign country is procuring an International Driving Licence (IDL). If you are planning to visit India for a shorter period, then IDL will be best suited as it is valid for a period of one year. In case you plan to stay longer then it is advisable to procure a local Indian Driving License to get around. To apply for an Indian Driving License, you will need to visit the Regional Transport Office (RTO) in the city you are residing in. Much of the procedure in many RTOs is online and reasonably transparent. Fill the form, take the test, and then drive!
2. Car Insurance
Getting your car insured is a government-mandated necessary step towards ensuring your safety while driving. There are a plethora of options available to acquire car insurance. The online revolution has well and truly hit Indian insurance products so do check online for policies and prices. In India, insurance policies have a bundle of various clauses. It is essential to read through all the terms before getting your car insured.
3. Get Accustomed to Traffic
India is the second-most populous country in the world. Sometimes it will seem as if most of that population is out on the road. The volume of traffic on the Indian roads can be intimidating in the beginning if you are not used to heavy traffic (well, maybe even if you are used to it!). Before getting behind the wheel, it is advisable to be out and about in a cab first. Get a sense of the traffic and how it behaves. In most places, the traffic rules are strict, but you will never struggle to find miscreants who choose to ignore the traffic rules. Experiencing the traffic as a passenger or while riding shotgun will allow you to draw your own conclusions about how the riders in your town push the rules and just when they hang back. That will allow you to create your own road survival strategies.
4. Lane Discipline
If you are accustomed to driving in and maintaining lane traffic rules, then the Indian roads may shock you. It can be reasonably assumed that in most cities in India lane driving is followed by only an inconspicuous minority of drivers. People breaking off from lanes are a common sight on the Indian roads. The use of indicators while changing lanes is an uncommon nicety so do not depend on folks doing that. This uncertainty can be intimidating in the beginning, but once you get the hang of it, you will be able to anticipate these lane deviants easily enough.
5. Driving on Highways
No matter how much you enjoy driving or how proficient a driver you are, driving on Indian highways is no mean task. The inter-city road network in India has come on by leaps and bounds in the last 4-5 years and these roads can be an absolute pleasure to drive on. No autobahn but super-serviceable just the same. That said if you choose to go deeper into the country the situation may be different. Much the countryside has single-lane highways connecting the smaller centres. That means traffic running on both sides running of the same road without any divider in between. The traffic will also comprise a variety of vehicles of different types. We suggest not taking on these highways and byways until you have gotten comfortable driving in the city.
6. Road Accidents
If you happen to be in a road accident, it is sensible to reach out immediately to the local police station or traffic police officer. The crowd can get rowdy in India, especially if someone has been hurt. There are no easy ways to address this situation -try and avoid any conflict with the crowd and stay calm while you wait for help.
7. Speed Limits
All our roads have posted speed limits, but people often treat these as suggestions rather than rules. Though it is not advisable to defy the speed limits but do understand the traffic that you are driving in. On many roads with tighter enforcement, drivers will keep under the limits and so should you. At other places, if vehicles are generally travelling at higher speeds, then you might want to try and keep up to avoid causing any traffic lags or jams.
No matter how much you have read about driving in India, nothing can prepare you for the reality of Indian roads better than being out there on the roads for yourself. Spend a little time feeling the traffic before jumping behind the wheel. That prep time will help you decide whether you can take that plunge or not. And if you feel that this is an adventure too much for you then remember India has a variety of car rental services too – complete with reliable chauffeurs. You can still experience the heady beauty and rich experiences of India’s highways from the passenger seat!
You must read Living in India as an Expat: Every Day Is a Fascinating Experience