Driving safety in India

Those who have driven in developed countries and then driven in India will realize the stress that this activity brings about when you drive on the roads in India.

Figure 1 A common sight on Indian roads in 2014


Often this stress is not recognised by the majority of Indians because they have not simply experienced anything different.

Figure 2 How road safety works

There are rules and simple measures which can bring down the stress associated with driving by over 90%. Take for instance the universal respect or the STOP sign at intersections, which does not even require any electricity or high technology.

After the demise of a Minister recently in a car accident in Delhi, the Government has woken up to the need for improving driving safety, as this report in today’s Hindustan Times Newspaper says:


6 Jun 2014, Hindustan Times (Mumbai)Moushumi Das Gupta letters@hindustantimes.com

‘Motor Vehicle Act will be upgraded to int’l standards’


NEW DELHI: India’s Motor Vehicle Act will be re-drafted within a month in line with advanced international practices to enhance road safety, said road transport, highways and shipping minister Nitin Gadkari on Thursday. The new bill may include measures such as installing CCTV cameras at traffic signals, redesigning heavy vehicles and centralising data to check misuse of driving licences.



NEW DELHI: Two days after Union minister Gopinath Munde died in a road accident, the NDA government on Thursday pledged to overhaul the 26-year-old motor vehicle law that it said wasn’t saving lives but spawning corruption instead.

“The law has become antiquated and lost its relevance. We will scrap it and bring in a fresh law. The broad contours of the new law will be ready in a month’s time,” Union transport minister Nitin Gadkari said after a review of road safety regulations. Gadkari told officials at the review that the old law was mostly being used by cops to harass the public and make money.



As part of the overhaul process, Gadkari has directed ministry officials to study how countries such as United Kingdom and Singapore – which have fewer road fatalities compared to India — tackle traffic violations. “We will study best practices in ten countries before drafting our law,” he said.

India has one of the worst road- safety records in the world, with a road accident every minute and a fatality on the road every three-to-four minutes. Approximately 137,000 people died in road accidents in the country last year alone.



The 1988 Motor Vehicles Act was last amended in 2001. Several committees have been set up since then to recommend changes to the law. In March 2012, the UPA cabinet, for the third time after coming to power in 2004, approved the draft Motor Vehicle Amendment Bill that proposed hefty fines for traffic violations. However, low priority accorded to road safety issues ensured that the bill didn’t get cleared by Parliament.

Gadkari said that the proposed law would provide for greater technology-based interventions to minimize road accidents and check violations. “We want to cut down on human intervention. The reliance would be on sophisticated IT-based systems,” he said.

Road ministry officials said they want the new bill to be ready for introduction in Parliament during the budget session. “We are working on a war footing to draft the new law,” Gadkari said.

How fast can I drive?

This is a very common question asked by all drivers. How fast can I drive?

There you are driving along nicely and the road is clear. You wish to just hit the pedal and race away. Then you see this sign:

Figure 1 Speed limit sign 60 mph is 100 km/hr

Oh come on, you may say, why can’t I drive faster than that? Why are these silly speed limits put up here?

If you are thinking like that, or you really wish to know why there are speed limits, please read on till the very end and you will be glad you did.


Figure 2 Speed thrill and safety


How are speed limits set? Are they some random number posted by some officials in the Transport department, or are they potentially lifesaving?

To answer this question, let us look at two very important concepts here:

Stopping Distance: This is the time taken for a moving vehicle to come to a halt. You may be surprised to know that a car travelling at 120 kmph can sometimes take the length of a Football field to stop!

Reaction time: This is the time taken for the driver to register danger and hit the brakes, typically this take one second. In this one second, your car would have travelled 33 metres or over a hundred feet if you travel at 120 kmph!

Both of these are variables depending on the speed of the vehicle, condition of the road and tyres and braking system of the car, and alertness of the driver. It takes quite a bit of Math, Physics and Biology to calculate the speed limits for any stretch of road.

Reaction Time Components

1 Mental Processing Time

This is the time it takes for the responder to perceive that a signal has occurred and to decide upon a response. For example, it is the time required for a driver to detect that a pedestrian is walking across the roadway directly ahead and to decide that the brakes should be applied. 


2. Movement Time

Once a response is selected, the responder must perform the required muscle movement. For example, it takes time to lift the foot off the accelerator pedal, move it laterally to the brake and then to depress the pedal.

3 Device Response Time

Mechanical devices take time to engage, even after the responder has acted. For example, a driver stepping on the brake pedal does not stop the car immediately. Instead, the stopping is a function of physical forces, gravity and friction.

The intelligent driver will error on the safe side and leave room for reaction time and less than perfect conditions. That driver will also hone the braking skills to give more of a margin of safety. That margin can save lives. Pay attention to the need to react quickly.

Reaction time increases in poor visibility. Low contrast, peripheral viewing, bad weather, etc. slow response. 

One of the most difficult situations occurs when a driver must detect motion of the car immediately ahead, its acceleration or deceleration. Accidents frequently occur because the driver fails to notice that the car ahead has stopped and does not apply brakes until it is too late. http://www.visualexpert.com/Resources/reactiontime.html

This happened a few days ago to none other than the Chief Minister’s convoy.

Figure 3 Ignoring speed limits, and it’s consequences, make the news almost daily

So speed limits are based on complex calculations to minimize the risk of accidents. A comprehensive study of road safety (Treat et al., 1977) found that human error was the sole cause in 57% of all accidents and was a contributing factor in over 90%. In contrast, only 2.4% were due solely to mechanical fault and 4.7% were caused only by environmental factors.

Figure 4 Car accident

If you ignore speed limits it would be fatal not only to you but to other innocent people as well.

So, please, even if you may have a Lamborghini, please follow the speed limits,because your life is far more valuable than any car ever made.


Here is some more technical stuff if you are interested:

Highway traffic and safety engineers have some general guidelines they have developed over the years and hold now as standards. As an example, if a street surface is dry, the average driver can safely decelerate an automobile or light truck with reasonably good tires at the rate of about 15 feet per second (fps). That is, a driver can slow down at this rate without anticipated probability that control of the vehicle will be lost in the process.


The measure of velocity is distance divided by time (fps), stated as feet per second. The measure of acceleration (or deceleration in this case) is feet per second per second. That assumes a reasonably good co-efficient of friction of about .75; better is .8 or higher while conditions or tire quality might yield a worse factor of .7 or lower.


No matter the velocity, that velocity is reduced 15 fps every second. If the initial velocity is 60 mph, 88 fps, after 1 second elapsed, the vehicle velocity would be 73 fps, after 2 seconds it would be 58 fps decreasing progressively thereafter. For the true mathematical perfectionist (one who carries PI to 1000 decimal places), it would have been technically correct to indicated the formula is ‘fpsps’ rather than ‘fps’, but far less understandable to most drivers. Since at speeds of 200 mph or less, the difference from one method to the other is in thousanths of seconds, our calculations in these examples are based on the simple fps calculations.


Given the previous set of conditions, it would mean that a driver could stop the described vehicle in a total of 6.87 seconds (including a 1 second delay for driver reaction) and your total stopping distance would be 302.28 feet, slightly more than a football field in length!

The newest addition to our family

Yes, and she is named the Ertiga! This is our new family transport. The LUV story vehicle that has captured the hearts of Indian families all over. We love this vehicle for its sheer practicality, spaciousness, ease of use and versatility. It can seat seven people easily, and can even make space for a couple more if needed! Yet its footprint is smaller than that of a large car.

When used as a five seater car it is very spacious, with a wheelbase over 2700 mm, longer than many luxury cars. The sheer size of the rear door speaks volumes of the space available inside.

These are pictures of our new car after we have done a few modifications to it, and we absolutely love it!

From the front it sports a wide smile, and looks ever ready to go! It is tall and yet solidly planted to the ground.

The rear looks great, with no ugly projections or bumps. It can even be mistaken for a small hatchback!

We have made a few changes to our vehicle to improve the life and joy of the vehicle. I felt it is easier to show them to you rather than explain it. So here goes J

Reverse parking sensors to warn us of blind spots were fitted by us at our dealer.

There are some other things that we got done at Car Décor.

We did full carpet lamination with a transparent tough material that is permanently fixed over the light beige carpet. Floor mats can be placed over it, and the floor cleaned easily with no problems even if liquids spill inside the car.

Full wall to wall carpet lamination.

Steering grip really helps in tight corners when you have to use only one hand to steer the vehicle.

We put Chocolate brown and Olive combo art leather seats from Orchis, which were essential since the original company fitted fabric cover was light beige.

They have done a neat job with the new upholstery, and give three years warranty against stitch-loss and peeling.

And yes, we did add two screens on the headrests for back seat video entertainment, which also reads DVD, SD cards and USB. It also has a few games which kids can play during long drives. The screens have a neat zip cover to cover the screen when not in use.

Bumper and side protectors also help protect the car from objects which try to come too close!

As for the driving experience, our Ertiga is a diesel car, and this is our first diesel car too. The car is quite, fast, and easy to drive. I am enjoying the power especially the turbo that kicks in after 2000 rpm. Small turning radius and electrically powered side mirrors make parking and maneuvering in city traffic a breeze. Rear seat is very comfortable, you can adjust the reclining angle, adjust the roof air conditioning to your taste, and there is a center arm rest too.

The Maruti Ertiga! The ideal family car. Need I say more?

Ertiga: Spaciousness in Spacelessness

To me, this picture represents the main reason why the Ertiga has been such a huge hit in India, crossing over 12000 bookings in two months since its launch. After the Ertiga has been launched in India in April 2012, people have finally realized that they were being taken for a royal ride all these years, by cars which occupy costly real estate, often as expensive as downtown real estate, without any real utility of space at all.

The Ertiga cleverly utilizes every inch of space it occupies, to easily fit 5 adults and two or more kids in exactly the same space that a small sedan occupies on the road.

Just look at the third row of seats in the Ertiga, and the kids reclining there royally! Imagine this same space in the typical middle class Indian aspirational model, the ‘Sedan with a boot’. The ‘dicky’ is a total waste of space, if you ask me, 99% of the time.

People have realized that they were being taken for royal ride, or rather being given the boot without any use, by car manufacturers eager to pander to their so-called ego’s.

Indians have woken up to the fact that if they are buying a car, they might as well buy one that gives them the maximum utilization of that most precious commodity, space!

They have realized that a car with just a boot, is practically of no value at all in real life, but being sold in India because Indians have not matured enough to realize that cars with boots are being sold only in markets like India.

Take for example the Toyota Corolla. It is being sold as a hatch back in most developed countries. Why? Because people out there also buy cars for what they really need them for, not to show off to neighbors. But in India, Toyota has not yet done so. They want to sell their overpriced, environmentally more hazardous sedan’s rather than market the more practical hatchback version, because for them profit is more important than the environment.

Maruti Suzuki has been spot on in designing the Ertiga. In the space that would have been otherwise wasted in a boot, they have literally worked magic and created a third row of seats that can seat 2 adults or three kids if needed, or folded down flat to hold luggage. Maximum space in minimum space.

The Ertiga is not only practical but also quite luxuriously appointed too for the price. There are a few comforts, like height adjustable seat belts for the front, and a rear AC for the second and third row combined in the roof.


All in all, the Ertiga is a winner, and just goes to show that the Indian market is maturing. High time other car manufacturers woke up and put customers first, not their profits.

Indians driving abroad

Would you like to drive abroad? Are you an Indian who has been driving in India all these years and have always wondered if you can drive on roads abroad? Does this sound like a dream for you? If so, you have come to the right place!!


Let me assure you, you can drive abroad, and the experience will be one of the most memorable and enjoyable moments in your vacation. [Especially if you are a guy who loves to drive!]

A little bit of background here first: I have driven in Mumbai for the past 20 odd years, and have lately been enjoying driving by relaxing in the back seat. I stay in one of the rare places in Mumbai where there is no traffic jams when I commute. Do not be jealous! J

So, what do you need to do before you actually plan that driving vacation?

Plan ahead.

Here is what you need officially if you want to drive abroad:

A smart card driving license with the address exactly the same as on your passport.

I assume you have a passport!

An International Driving Permit [IDP]


What should you do to get the IDP?

You can directly go to the RTO covering your area and get it, or go through an agent, who takes you through many dusty and dirty offices to get your papers signed by indifferent officers in uniform.

Anyway, one visit to the RTO is a must to get your IDP. It is a small booklet actually, with your photograph and visa number etc, and has a validity of usually 6 mnths to an year from the date of issue. This site has some more details on the nitty gritty of getting an IDP. http://www.indiandrives.com/how-to-get-the-international-driving-licence.html


Ok, so now you have your IDP in hand. Congrats! What next?

Now is the time to plan the other bits to complete your memorable experience.

  • Which vehicle?
  • Which Road/route?
  • What to carry?


  • Which vehicle?

The vehicle you will be driving depends on how many of you are going to use it, and then on what you would like to drive.

Your IDP will also specify the class of vehicle you are permitted to drive. Your choice also depends on whether you are going to rent out a vehicle or use a relative’s. Among Rent a cars you can get a wide range of options and also optional accessories.

  • Which Road/route?

Nowadays, with Google earth and the internet, it is really a pleasure to see where you will be travelling and know what the highlights of that area are. The more time you devote to this, the better you will be able to enjoy your trip. Try to involve your family members if possible in this planning, as you visit the various places online and on Google earth, and the trip will really become a memorable one for you. Plan the places you would like to visit, check out the timings of the various attractions, as in some places in Europe the closing time can be as early as 5 PM, and they can be very strict on the timings too!

  • What to carry?

A GPS is most important! I use my Nokia phone as GPS and am extremely satisfied with its ease of use and accuracy.

I download Hindi and English with Street names language pack to hear the phone speak out every detail I need to know while driving, including warning me if I am going over the speed limit, and also of traffic cameras ahead J.

I find my Nokia 5800 and similar phones are much better than MapMyIndia GPS, and have used it extensively in Europe and India. If you have a Nokia phone with Ovi Maps, make sure that you download the map of the country you will be visiting by using Ovi Suite after connecting your phone to the PC using a data cable. These maps are invaluable, and free when you do it at home! If you use your GPRS or 3 G connection while abroad to download the maps as you travel [which the phone will do as it updates your position and finds no map data there], it will prove to be an expensive affair, as you will be charged for every Kb you download!

If you do not have a Nokia phone, you can get a GPS on rent from the Rent a car outlet. Make sure you know how to use it before you start driving!

It is always safer to pay extra for Insurance, and Child/Booster seats depending on local regulations which you can find out online. Also do check if you will need Snow tires depending on the weather and Toll Pass stickers.


Another important thing you must do is know the rules of the place where you are going to drive. In most places it is considered impolite to honk, so beware! Also, driving on the right side of the road can take a bit of time getting used to for us Indians! Other things like Lane driving, Stop sign, Speed limits, traffic signals, Round about rule, Parking, etc must also be studied properly.

While you are driving, if you miss a turn or an exit, do not panic! The GPS will recalculate and tell you where you have to take the next turn. Never back up or go in reverse on the highway or any of the roads. It can lead to a disaster.

Once you follow the rules, you will find that driving abroad is really a pleasure. Then you will also appreciate the needless tension that driving in India puts on you, often unconsciously, as you never know who or what will jump in your way as you are driving.

So enjoy your drive, and when you do come back I hope you are motivated enough to be the change in your local area towards a better driving experience in India!

Do let me know your feedbacks too: drspmathew@gmail.com


Dawn of Safe driving in India: Doctor’s responsibility

Having driven and seen traffic in developed countries, when I come back to India it has been a burden in my heart to see Indians drive ‘safely and easily’.
Most Indians do not realise the stress that we go through when on the road, either as a driver or a passenger, because it is said “You cannot understand what a lie is, unless you have seen the truth”.
Todays Times of India carried this on the front page

Road crashes to be 3rd biggest killer
Malathy Iyer TNN
Consider this: India’s killer roads have been registering an increase of almost 8% in the number of road accidents every consecutive year, according to an IIT-Delhi report. National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) says that 1.3 lakh people died and over 4.7 lakh were injured on the country’s highways and side-roads last year. And the World Health Organisation predicts that road accidents will rise from its present position as India’s ninth biggest killer to number three by 2020.

India drive safe campaign

Clearly, road accidents will be the new epidemic that doctors and town planers will have to address sooner than later.

Not only that, Doctors could be held responsible for patients driving with cognitive impairments too! All the more reason why Doctors need to come forward and take the lead in instituting Road Safety and Good driving training seminars etc.
If you are interested in joining me do send me an email.

Now there is more action taking place:
17th November 2011 Times of India front page:
10-fold rise in fines for traffic violations
Dipak Kumar Dash TNN

New Delhi: Thirteen years since the last revision, brace for paying 10 times higher fine for violating traffic rules. The Union law ministry has given its assent for a quantum increase in fines to promote safe driving and curb soaring road accident deaths.
For instance, for commonplace offences such as jumping a red light, driving without wearing a seat belt/ helmet, the revised fine will be Rs 500 against Rs 100. If the same offence is committed again, the offender will have to cough up between Rs 1,000 and Rs 1,500 each time.
A senior official of road transport and highways ministry said the revised penalty for violations will be incorporated in the Motor Vehicle (Amendment) Bill, which will be introduced in the winter session of Parliament that begins on November 22.
Though the ministry had prepared an expert committee report for overhaul of the existing Motor Vehicle Act in February, none of the recommendations will be incorporated in the proposed bill.
Road, transport and highways secretary said that they want to amend the Act since it been long overdue. “In subsequent phases, more changes can be incorporated,” the official added.
HC wants sr cop for traffic
The Bombay High Court wants a senior officer to exclusively deal with road safety and traffic discipline in order to solve the city’s traffic woes.P 6 Stiffer fines could deter violations
New Delhi: Stiffer fine could deter traffic violations. Hopefully, overspeeding can be checked by raising the fine from Rs 4,00 to Rs 1,000. While, the penalty for every subsequent offence is likely to go up from Rs 500 to Rs 5,000, efforts have been made to prevent drinking and road accident fatalities. The ministry proposes to hike the penalty up to a twoyear jail term and Rs 5,000 fine, or both.
The proposal focuses more on habitual offenders. For example, if a person is caught driving without registration or permit, he could face penalty of Rs 20,000 or one-year imprisonment, or both for subsequent offence. Experts are sceptical, arguing that nothing can change drivers’ behaviour. “Every offence is the first offence… there is no question of stiffer penalty for a subsequent one. We need to record the first offence and the enforcement personnel must have the details available while on the move,” said S P Singh of IRTFT, an advocacy group on transport issues. TNN


Add: 6/1/2012

The Road To Safety

Good governance is key to making traffic conditions risk-free and convenient for people

Bornali Bhandari and Diya Dutta

The week is being marked as Road Safety Week. Ironically, India is the world leader in traffic-related deaths – 1.05 lakh in 2007, going by the WHO’s Global Status Report on Road Safety, 2009. This number rose to 1.33 lakh in 2010, according to the National Crime Records Bureau. True, India is better off than some other nations: estimated road traffic deaths per 100,000 population were 16.7 in 2007 while the average number for low-income countries was 21.9, middle-income countries was 19.5 and high-income countries was 10.3. Also, 85% of the victims were male and 75% within the age group 15-49. And the total number of road accidents was high, at 4.3 lakh in 2010.
Why is the situation so bad? The main reason is lack of governance on Indian roads. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development defines weak governance as governments that are either unwilling or unable to assume their responsibilities. In the case of Delhi, this argument may be viewed as a stretch given recent policies undertaken by the government, including introduction of the use of Facebook by Delhi traffic police, increased police presence, proposals to prosecute drivers caught drunk etc. But none of this is enough.
Rather, good governance should be defined to include efficient planning; transparent laws and their implementation; planned roads taking into account the behavioural patterns of users and traffic flows; consistent width of lanes; working traffic lights with sensible signalling; properly trained drivers; and monitoring by well-trained, well-informed and well-mannered police.
Poor governance has led to formation of traffic-related habits that are hard to change. For instance, many drivers do not drive in a lane nor signal their intention to change lanes. First, do clearly marked lanes even exist? Second, have these drivers been trained to change lanes in a safe manner? Evidence from a paper published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics (2007) shows that
using an agent to get a licence is encouraged in Delhi and it is possible to get a licence without taking a driving test. People pick up driving skills later.
Even assuming people are formally trained to drive, does the training manual go into details about, say, changing lanes? The Oregon (US) Driver Manual 2010-11 says, “Before you start to pass, be sure you have enough room to complete the manoeuvre. If you have to cut back into your lane too soon, you risk sideswiping the vehicle you are passing.” Ill-trained drivers, however, think driving just involves rotating the steering wheel and honking to manoeuvre a way through traffic. Even with driving classes, training manuals need details. For example, Delhi traffic police’s list of road signs on its website is woefully inadequate. And how many of us are even aware of the website? A related point is that most trainers are themselves ill-trained.
The 2009 WHO study shows India receives a low 2.0 score on laws related to drink-driving, motorcycles and helmets – the irony is that 21% of road accident deaths involve two-wheelers. Clearly, policing is a joke. At major intersections, traffic police merely stop people from crossing red lights. There is need to mark lanes for particular directions at every conceivable point, teach people how to drive properly and penalise them if they don’t follow directions. But just penalties or the mere presence of police on the roads are not deterrent enough.
As for crumbling infrastructure, road lights often do not work and traffic lights, symbols or road directions are often hidden behind trees or posters. A crucial point that the authorities miss is that urban planning in India is inefficient. A common feature seen in both Delhi and Bangalore – the worst cities in terms of share of traffic-related deaths in India – is that they have built stretches of roads with flyovers but forgotten to build infrastructure for pedestrians. This, despite the fact that 9.1% of road accident deaths involve pedestrians. Yes, some places have subways – which are often dark or flooded – and overbridges along a stretch. But these are limited in number or unenticing. Habits are hard to change when the assumption is that existing infrastructure is crumbling.
Government intervention – that is, good governance – is the key to combating the menace of chaotic road traffic. People, for instance, will always try to beat a red light because they want to reach their destinations faster, not thinking about its negative impact on society. So, policymakers need to recognise that time is a resource constraint and road planning must address the issue of making optimal use of time spent on the road.
Public policy including road planning must reflect ground realities taking into account users’ behavioural patterns. Lanes need to be sensibly marked, and road signs, speed limits and traffic lights placed everywhere, including neighbourhoods. In fact, people need to get into the habit of expecting good, sensible infrastructure and planning. Moreover, there is need to systematically train people, both users and the police, in laws and regulations. A carrotand-stick policy should be used to encourage good behaviour in both motorists and pedestrians. Information about laws and rules pertaining to driving and related issues should be made available at accessible sites and people made aware of this. Finally, the government must operationalise these policies. That will mark a true transition point for road traffic in India.
Bhandari is fellow, National Council of Applied Economic Research, and Dutta is research scholar, JNU.

Stop, look and especially listen