Indiascape - Driving in Chennai

If you have a heart of steel, are adventurous in spirit, have incredible reflexes, have a good understanding of chennai slang and swear words, have a pocket full of cash ... only then I would advice driving in chennai! Chennai traffic is the classic example of the survival of the fittest. The right of the road belongs to the mightiest.

The water tankers topping the list. They supply the dearest commodity water to millions, and are both the most sought for and the most dreaded... they are the menace of chennai roads. The long distance trucks follow close - and move similarly at unbelievable speeds. The rest of the traffic move out and make way for these contraptions. Then come the public transport - bus service. In the peak hours, these buses are loaded to dangerously full with a sideways tilt - always on the verge of toppling over these buses move preacriously at a tilt of 45 Degrees.

Then there are the share autos/ vans which are to the say least murderous! The are driven by men/ kids who look underage. They stop bang in the middle of the road as soon as they spot prospective clientelle to woo them for the ride... These rides are a tryst with destiny to say the least.

Then there are the auto rickshaws. The less said about these guys the better. They think they own the roads and city. If they are empty, you can almost always spot them creeping along the side of the road looking for a "sawaari". If they are moving, they are snaking through traffic causing the maximum noise pollution with their spluttering engines - pushing the engine to maximum throttle. And almost always egging for a fight with fellow road occupants. If they are unloading their passengers, then they are ofcourse haggling them for money and some of the passengers are naive enough to try and argue with them and make them listen to reason!
Then come the cattle. Thankfully these have now been forbidden from the most populus traffic areas, but in other places there will almost always be a drooling cow/ buffalo standing in the middle of the road refusing to move either way. The image here shows stray cattle innthe middle of a busy highway - GST Road

Then the people... they come out on the road from nowhere. They will wait for a car to come before they decide to cross the road testing if the car has good brakes... They will walk on the side of the road with a huge rod or some such contraption on their head and keep scaring motorists by swaying their head this side and that! Also every once in a while they will turn and send a spray of some red goo from their mouth to the face of the unsuspecting motorist on the two wheeler. If you manage to survive all this chaos, there are the roads themselves - filled with potholes, cobbles, patchy roads with almost always some road work or the other going on and eating up part of the road. This doesnt get completed for years together. I have left out the lay man on cars and bikes not because they are perfect, but because they are the most victimised. No one ever follows the rules of the road in chennai, and the less said about that the better for our sanity! Finally I err if I do not mention the traffic police. They stand at the corners of busy intersections, not to regulate traffic but to catch hold of an unsuspecting motorist and procure wads of cash from him. They understand the rules of the road perfectly well and never stop a big vehicle - only the bikes and small cars. They will also stand at the corner of a one way road effectively hiding the sign which says "one-way" and argue with you not on reading the sign, but on your knowledge of chennai! There was one guy who we paid 50 bucks for watching our car parked in a no parking zone on the busy mount road during peak traffic, while we spent half an hour at a nearby store.... such is their sense of duty!

Driving advice : Install a second horn in your vehicle that has a loud sound similar to the one in the tanker lorries (fire engines in US) - with the huge "BAAAM" sound. That helps. Constant honking is very effective, being rude and behaving like you own the road will give you a place in the road. Get a bigger SUV or a car - we had a mahindra scorpio (used by politicians in chennai), that gets you some respect. In the front and back of your vehicle, have the flag of the ruling party/ indian flag. And if you hit/are hit by another vehicle, this almost always happens - be voiciferous and loud and use a lot of chennai slang. You will be let go!!! Surviving chennai traffic is an accomplishment worth appreciating!! Good luck!


Hip Grandma said…
This is true not only chennai but every town/village in India.The bigger the city the more chaos.BTW thanks for your input at my blogspot.Welcome to more.
Gomathi Sarma said…
Hey - a very nice blog and talks about the reality. I still remember, around 3 yrs back - when my bro was returning from office, he bumped onto a buffallo. (Effect of no street lights added to the black color of the buffallo.. )
There are signals these days.. but then people are not ready to use that.
Preethi said…
yeah happened to my uncle too... he had a fractured hand because of a buffalo.. scary!!
Na.Su.Krishnan said…
Preethi..Thanks for bringing me here. This reminds my one year stint at Chennai. That daily bike stunts to office...

Faced little trouble in the beginning. Things were in control after learning the special art of driving in Chennai. Of course chennai slangs are a must, driving license comes next.
Preethi said…
I love the city so very very dearly that i find it impossible to see anything wrong. Although this very divine me will change when i'm behind the wheels!! he heee. Grew up there and i'm missing the hustle and bustle. Ur fotos have captured it all.
This site has been created with the purpose of providing driver education and training to all Indian road users. It is by far the most comprehensive website providing training in defensive driving. Learning simple road habits can make our roads safe and also free up congestion caused by traffic chaos.

At present 17 driver education videos aimed at changing the driving culture on Indian roads are available. The video are unique in that the footage is real life action from streets of London. We have copied the Western habits: Replaced the dhoti with denim, high rise buildings for Indian cottages, burgers and coke instead of Indian breads and perhaps sugarcane juice. Surely we can copy the Western ways of travelling too.

To watch the videos, interested readers may visit:

The videos cover the following topics:

Video 1: Covers the concept of Blind spots
Video 2: Introduces the principle of Mirrors, Signal and Manoeuvre
Video 3: At red lights, stop behind the stop line
Video 4: At red lights there are no free left turns
Video 5: The Zebra belongs to pedestrians
Video 6: Tyres and Tarmac (rather than bumper to bumper)
Video 7: Merging with the Main road
Video 8: Leaving The Main Road
Video 9: Never Cut Corners
Video 10: Show Courtesy on roads
Video 11: 5 Rules that help deal with Roundabouts
Video 12: Speed limits, stopping distances, tailgating & 2 seconds rule
Video 13: Lane discipline and overtaking
Video 14: Low beam or high beam?
Video 15: Parallel (reverse parking) made easy
Video 16: Give the cyclist the respect of a car
Video 17: Dealing with in-car condensation
Michelle said…
You write very well.

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