Traffic in India – what to expect

When you arrive in India for the first time, you are in for a big culture shock depending on which part of the world you’re coming from as far as traffic in India is concerned. At its best, its chaotic, which is perhaps a light word to describe the traffic in India; the word better used would be “manic”. As soon as you step out of the airport, you’re going to feel extremely hot. Imagine this, you have something cooking in the oven and you want to check if it’s done or not so you open the door with your face close to the oven and then it hits you, the heat of course. This is exactly what it’s like walking out of the airport in India in the summer.

You then step in a prepaid taxi and travel towards the centre of the city. You can’t help noticing the huge number of cars, buses, auto-rickshaws, all cramped in one small lane and honking at each other. Sometimes even I have to wonder if it will ever improve. But to be honest, I have witnessed traffic going from bad to worse. Perhaps it’s the economic prosperity, perhaps it’s the price of cars falling, or perhaps it’s the lack of vision of the Indian transport ministry, or lack of pragmatism or simply red tape in dealing with traffic matters’, I don’t know but the traffic situation in most parts of the country is extremely bad. Indians have to endure such traffic twice a day, 5 times a week.

There are no traffic rules in India (…most of the time)

You’re bound to get some experience of India’s chaotic streets. You’ll notice that driving in India is not about following traffic rules; it’s about convenience and driving how you please. If you have a bigger vehicle, you have the right of way. You’ll find buses racing towards roundabouts not taking into considering what’s coming from the other exist; you won’t find trucks stopping at give ways, or pillion riders with helmets and no one uses indicators, there will be underage bike riders, whole families travel on two wheelers and so on. Everything seems to be a state of anarchy in eyes of a first time tourist to India. The fact is that there are no traffic rules in India.

Family on bikes
Family on bikes

Then there are the pigs chewing away at the garbage dump on the side of the road, dogs wandering around looking for food and then the cows and goats grazing as if they own the roads. If you’re in Jaipur, you’ll find wild monkeys as well. Nowhere in the world, will you find such madness except in India. Compared to western standards, traffic and road safety, road regulations or traffic rules or etiquettes in India are nothing more than a joke.

However, even though it’s chaotic and very extremely dangerous, the system somehow works. Things like road rage or drink drive do exist but it’s not as bad as some countries of the world such as New York City or Miami. However sad reality is that more people are killed in traffic accidents than in any other country.

Traffic in India
Don’t be surprised to see scenes like this.

What to expect and how to be careful on Indian roads:

When crossing the road; if you are in multiples then hold your hands and walk together slowly, looking on either way.

Zebra crossings do exist but it’s mostly for decorative purposes, most Indians don’t even know what it is. So be careful. In other words, don’t bother using it.

Watch out on roundabouts or give ways, rules are often flaunted and don’t expect anyone to stop and let you cross the road.

There are no such thing as road etiquettes, be prepared to be honked it.

Be prepared to sit in traffic for hours especially during rush hour.

Be prepared to face beggars and street vendors while waiting in traffic.

If you’re driving and you do see a cow, drive around it. If you accidently hit the cow then be prepared to be sent to prison (I think this is a myth). I haven’t seen anyone hit a cow before.

The top 2 worst traffic cities in India are New Delhi, none other than India’s capital and Mumbai, the financial capital of India. With a population of 14 million, seems as if every single seems to be out on the streets during rush hour in Delhi. The trouble with Mumbai commuters is that they think the car in front is run by their horn and not gasoline.

But be it cars, taxis, rickshaws, motorbikes, scooters, pedestrians, cows and goats, it’s all controlled chaos and everything does seem to work and there is really nothing to worry about. All you need to do is brave it and come back alive. Make sure you buy your travel insurance!

This video was recently taken by a friend of mine in Agra (city where the Taj Mahal is located). You can pretty much expect similar kind of traffic across India.

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43 thoughts on “Traffic in India – what to expect

  1. HI Shalu jee,

    It is the fact that there are few traffic rules abiding citizens. Everyone seems to be in rush.

    Thanks to our municipal corporation that we are seeing animals like cows and dogs on road.

    You have rightly said that holding hands and then crossing road is the best option available.

    Your second picture really depicts the sorry state of transport of our nation and Let Govt of India sees that through your website.

    Thanks for this.

    Sapna

  2. Glad you came up with this post Shalu!

    Don’t we all get caught in traffic sometime or the other, and keep waiting endlessly for it to clear up! The case is much worse of course in the metros as compared to some of the cities. However, some smaller and older cities have a worse scenario where traffic is concerned.

    I guess a lot depends on the administration and how they manage things. Nevertheless, I liked the tips you shared here, and like I keep telling my kid’s when they are moving around…a rule of thumb is – no matter what – if you are driving – YOU need to be careful. You really can’t blame another for their traffic sense won’t be similar to yours either ways – isn’t it?

    And not to mention the stray animals that we find in huge numbers in our country, which I hope could be taken care of foremost.

    Thanks for sharing this with us and reminding everyone too. 🙂
    Twitter:

    • Hi Harleena, the traffic in some places are getting bad to worse. Sometimes you find yourself sitting in traffic and consuming fumes if you happen to be in an auto-rickshaw. The administration is to blame. They have no idea what to do with it, they come up with rules but often are not implemented. Thank you for your comment.
      Twitter:

  3. While the sales of automobiles are touching the sky and the vehicle population is going beyond the reach, the Indian roads remain archaic in the absence of long range planning. Nice read. I share your concern.

  4. Hi Shalu Ji,

    It’s always a pleasure to read your articles, they’re always full of information for the poor, unsuspecting tourists visiting our country.

    I can wholeheartedly vouch for this topic. Traveling on Indian roads is a nightmare. Period. I think it would be sensible and better for any tourists visiting India, to leave all forms of common sense and logic behind in their home country, as that won’t work here. Quite sad but it is true. Indian traffic defies all forms of explanation and theories.

    Actually, it would be wise if the tourists didn’t venture out on their own, for their own safety. They should go with a car and a guide.

    Another post full of knowledge. 🙂

    Regards

    Jay
    Twitter:

  5. Hi Shalu,

    I really enjoyed this post and wanted to apolozied for not coming here more ofen. I promise I will add your blog as those I visit regularly.

    Well, let me tell you, I will never drive in India 🙂 I am not the kind of person who could drive in such chaos, because I’ll be way too scared.

    But, you know every time we see image of India, that’s what we see, busy streets with cars all over the place. I totally get the picture.

    Thanks for this interesting post.

  6. Hi,
    This blog really interesting about how the road traffic in India ,this is might biggest worry in peak hours in roads in India ,In peak hours every vehicle users might look for alternate way to reach destinations.
    Thanking you

  7. Hi Shalu ji,

    Wow interesting topic but yet i hate this thing about India.I have lived many places in India But Specially in Mumbai it is like Hell of Cars rikshaws Buses People and streets & Roads are very narrow.I have very bad experiences here due to traffic.I hate to drive here But source here can be a two wheeler. In car you have to stand in line at every signals for several minutes.
    I was in delhi before but there the roads are very broad so travelling is litle better yes but old delhi is same as mumbai.

    I also do believe that traffic system is really very weak in India.

    Thank You
    Shorya Bist
    From Youthofest

  8. reality of Indian Transport system..and it is a sad reality for every Indians face everyday..and i have noticed that this is more in metro cities like banagalore delhi….etc. and i face this type of problem everyday sometime i am frusted..anyways thanx for sharing very nice post…

  9. Phew! Thanks for the heads up. I love Indian movies and I want to see those sites someday. Just like the ICE from the movie “3 Idiots”. Thanks for giving me an idea what to expect. 🙂

  10. Thanks for letting us know about the traffic there in India. I guess traffic is a rampant problem everywhere but it would be nice if the government would do something about it.

  11. Thank you for the very informative post. I’m a traveler and my next destination is India. Your post gave me a lot of ideas on how careful I should be when I am finally on an Indian road.

  12. Truly interesting share Shalu .
    You have put forth the real picture on roads and its so much an integral part of our everyday life in India that I was smiling throughout the share. What to expect when on Indian roads was true to the core .

  13. Sister shalu I like always your articles very much some people are posting articles without knowing the basic step of communication and writing skills.
    You have the ability and know the way of how to convince your reader to read the whole article, very creative post, just keep it going.
    Thank you
    Twitter:

  14. Dear Madam, Best Way to survive in Indian Traffic is to cool down, I am In the field of Road Safety, since 3 Decade. Daily Minimum Driving Approx. 50 Km/Day. We have to change our attitude, As we Say in Trg., High tech Car,Medium tech Rd. & Lower our mentality. It’s A Dangerous Mixture. Pedestrians are having right of way around the world, But In India, Not even known to Driver As well As Pedestrians, If Pedestrians comes in between, the driver shouts at them & Pedestrians also doesn’t know from where they use to cross the road.
    I use to tell Self Don’t get hurt & Don’t hurt some one.

    Rest in Next.
    Bye.

  15. Dear Shalu…..

    Greetings from ADEs-ROAD-Safety-Odisha

    Indeed you depicted the Indian Traffic rightly, but can’t we join hands and do something to correct the mistakes that we are doing and which is also bringing shame to us….hope you will agree with me…kindly have a glimpse of the page in FB and do mention your valuable comments….I believe if WE come together then can CHANGE the scenario of this ‘Horrible Traffic Condition of India’ and let the world sees the change…Yes, it is our attitude and the mentality of believing ‘Me First’ in most of the case and which compels us to violate the Road rules….but sometime or the other one has to accept the change, whether by force or by acceptance or voluntarily…..even I would like you to mention the page in your social media contacts so that people can share their experience and pics….

    Cheers
    Sandeep Jena
    +91-94372 83054

  16. Before i went to india for a few days work in Dehli, i thought bangkok is the worst in terms of traffic problems. But when i get there and went out on Dehli street, i changed my mind completely about my country traffic condition. . . . In India the traffic is so messed, like there is no rule controlling people using the road.

    I hope India Gov solve this traffic quickly. It will increase number of tourists significantly.

  17. Ms Shalu, I live in Delhi and have driven in its hellish & chaotic traffic for many years now. Still, everytime I drive I am amazed at the undisciplined & dangerous way in which most people drive in/around Delhi. I think it’s a perfect storm of several reasons that is causing this:
    1. There are too many vehicles on Delhi roads (around 85 lacs private vehicles registered till 31st Mar’15), the roads/flyovers are inadequate to handle the load. We have buses, tempos, 2/3-wheelers, cars/suv’s, rickshaws, cycles, pedestrians, food-vendors, all fighting for the limited space on the roads. On many roads, vehicles are parked on both sides & that eats half of the space in the first place. We need more parking spaces desperately.
    2. Upon seeing the chaotic traffic on the roads, even the most even-tempered people get stressed/angry/fearful/confused. In this situation, to get ahead, you have to do what everyone else is doing regardless of whether it is right or wrong. If you are courageous enough to still obey the rules, you will be run over, constantly honked at, get dirty stares and made to feel like a bloody fool. Frankly you have no choice but to add your personal chaos to the mega-chaos on the roads.
    3. There are many apparently ill-trained & bad-mannered drivers on Delhi roads today. This includes drivers of buses, tempos, 2/3-wheelers, cabs, cars/suv’s (hired drivers). Their lack of training/bad manners shows when they change lanes without indication, overtake you with little distance between the 2 vehicles forcing you to either suddenly hit the brakes or swerve without having the time to look at your rear view mirror, as an example. It is possible these drivers are illiterate, ill-trained & got their licenses without proper procedure.

    The solution?
    1. Govt. must build more flyovers/under-passes/multi-storeyed parking spaces at all choke points so the traffic does not accumulate.

    2. In areas where traffic is heavy & the construction of either a flyover or Metro station is in progress, Govt. must ensure that there is a central co-ordinator to ensure the site does not become a hellish choke point

    3. Increase the penetration of Metro rail though it does not seem that Metro has alleviated traffic chaos in Delhi

    4. Issue licenses strictly, only after thoroughly checking the driver’s proficiency and knowledge of traffic rules though that is no guarantee the rules will be obeyed practically

    5. Post traffic cops at major choke points to alleviate any jams quickly & catch the offenders red-handed

  18. Hi. I will go to India this summer and planning to go to New Delhi. I’m curious about the traffic because I want to make sure my itinerary goes well. Is the traffic still chaotic there? Can I ask for an exampe if I want to go to a place which the distance is about 5 km how long will it take? Thank you so much 🙂

    • Hi if you want to go a place around 5km distance it will take just 10 mins but if you wanna travel 10 km there is a chance of traffic over there and u can reach that 10km within 1hour

  19. Road accidents are now a days is major problem in India. Minister of Road Transport and Highways has just published a report about accidents in India. You wont believe there are 25% hike in road accident as compare to last year.

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