Raising South Asian Voices

Cynthia Dettman:  Author

Traffic Safety in India- NOT!

I’ve been reluctant to look up traffic statistics for Tamilnadu.  I find the traffic absolutely terrifying and am totally amazed that people aren’t running into each other constantly.  Vehicles, pedestrians and animals are coming fast in all directions with very little traffic control. In the big city there are a few traffic lights, but almost no stop signs and no control of side traffic- vehicles must just nose into the flow of traffic from the side and find their way into the flow without getting crushed.

Scooters are ridden by whole families, including babies and small children.  If there’s a helmet, it’s only worn by the driver. Women ride pillion sitting sideways. Meanwhile pedestrians are on their own – there are few pedestrian signs and they are totally ignored, so pedestrians do the same thing: enter into the traffic, hold up your hand if needed, and then just go.  

Somehow it seems to work- I  haven’t seen an accident yet.  People do yield when necessary, but only when necessary.  And everyone looks so relaxed! In the US, every driver would be in jail or at least have a string of traffic tickets.

What are the statistics? I finally looked, and it’s bad!  India has the HIGHEST percentage of traffic deaths for its population in the WORLD.  And Tamilnadu ranks THIRD among Indian states for traffic deaths. Many claim that this is the result of easy access to alcohol, lack of police enforcement, and rapid growth of vehicles on the road without sufficient road space.  Today’s paper says that Chennai saw 7,580 accidents in 2018, with almost all those accidents involving injuries. There were 1,260 deaths. Of those, 41% were riding scooters and 17% were pedestrians. 

 The state saw 12,216 people die in road accidents.  Of these, 60% were in rural areas. This is likely because people can drive a lot faster in rural areas, and many buses and lorries travel long distances at night on unlit, high speed roads.  In urban areas, the traffic is just too congested to allow for high speeds.  

So… this does not help me feel safer!  However, I continue to be amazed at how the traffic flows in spite of the chaos.  How does it work? And I continue to be mostly scared in the back of an auto rickshaw, careening through the wild traffic, inhaling all sorts of pollution and dust and smells. WhEEEEE!!!!

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Our son-in-law Saby told me when we landed at Chennai airport “Mimi, cover your eyes – you of all people cannot watch how people drive here”.
He was right, and yet I forced myself to watch and marvel at how many people “were snatched from the jaws of death” the whole 3 weeks we were in India.
And yet – I know Saby’s brother-in-law Ramji never met his father, as he was killed on his scooter in typical traffic there when Ramji’s mom was pregnant with him. And probably most vehicle deaths there are the folks on scooters and small vehicles. Horrible risks – and yet I did note that the ebb and flow of their traffic seemed pretty cooperative to keep it all moving.

How sad that Saby’s brother in law never met his father due to India’s crazy traffic accidents. Wow. Very sad. I never saw an accident, but I kept imagining them. Good to be back in the US now where people drive fairly safely- fairly! Cynthia

I love your description of driving In Tamilnadu. You nailed it perfectly! Like you, I was amazed when I was there 10+years ago how few lights there were and yet the traffic flow worked… for them. Me? I was in panic mode! Thanks for the memory.

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