Rules of the Road - Indian style

Traveling in India is an almost hallucinatory potion of sound, spectacle and experience. It is frequently heart-rending, sometimes hilarious, mostly exhilarating, always unforgettable and, when you are on the roads, extremely dangerous.

Most Indian road users observe a version of the Highway Code based on an ancient text. These 12 rules of the Indian road are being published for the first time in English for the benefit of unwary foreign pilgrims to India. Please MEMORIZE before attempting such an adventure.


The assumption of immortality is required of all road users.


The following precedence must be accorded at all times. In descending order, give way to: cows, elephants, heavy trucks, buses, official cars, camels, light trucks, buffalo, Jeeps, ox-carts, private cars, motorcycles, scooters, auto-rickshaws, pigs, pedal rickshaws, goats, bicycles (goods-carrying), handcarts, bicycles (passenger-carrying), dogs, and finally, pedestrians.


All wheeled vehicles shall be driven in accordance with the following maxim:

"To slow is to falter, to brake is to fail, to stop is defeat."

This is the Indian drivers' mantra.


Use of the horn (also known as the sonic fender or aural amulet):

Section 1: Cars

Part a. Short blasts (urgent) indicate supremacy, i.e. in clearing dogs, rickshaws and pedestrians from path.

Part b. Long blasts (desperate) denote supplication, i.e. to oncoming truck, "I am going too fast to stop, so unless you slow down we shall both die". In extreme cases this may be accompanied by flashing of headlights (frantic).

Part c. Single blast (casual) means "I have seen someone out of India's 950 million whom I recognize", "There is a bird in the road (which at this speed could go through my windscreen)" or "I have not blown my horn for several minutes".

Section 2: Trucks and Buses

Part a. All horn signals have the same meaning, viz., "I have an all-up weight of approximately 12.5 tons and have no intention of stopping, even if I could." This signal may be emphasized by the use of headlamps (insouciant). All sections and parts of Article IV remains subject to the provision of Order of Precedence (Refer to Article II above).


All maneuvers, use of horn and evasive action shall be left until the last possible moment.


In the absence of seat belts (which usually are), car occupants shall wear garlands of marigolds. These should be kept fastened at all times. The importance of this rule cannot be overemphasized.


Section 1: Right of Way

Traffic entering a road from the left has priority. So has traffic entering from the right, and also all traffic in the middle.

Section 2: Lane Discipline

All Indian traffic at all times and irrespective of direction of travel shall occupy the center of the road.


India effectively has no roundabouts or traffic islands. Apparent traffic islands observed at crossroads have no traffic management function. ANY OTHER IMPRESSION MUST BE IGNORED or you drive at your own peril!!!


Passing is mandatory. Every moving vehicle is required to pass every other moving vehicle, irrespective of whether it has just passed you. Overtaking should only be undertaken under suitable circumstances such as in the face of oncoming traffic, on blind bends, at junctions and in the middle of villages/city centers. No more than two inches should be allowed between your vehicle and the one you are passing - one inch is mandatory in the case of bicycles or pedestrians.


Nirvana may be obtained through the head-on crash.


Backing up: This article is no longer applicable since vehicle manufacturers in India have dispensed with a reverse gear due to observed lack of use.


The 10th incarnation of God was as an 18-Wheel articulated tanker truck.

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