Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Driving On The Other Side Of The Road

These days I am familiarising myself with the rules of the road in the States and polishing my skills so that I am ready to take a road test and get a full license so that I can drive around on my own. There are some things I've learnt in the three hours I spent with my instructor and approximately the same amount of time that I spent practising with my husband in his car, and also when I was reading the manual and preparing for the written test for my learner's permit. The first thing that struck me was that these guys have such a well planned training programme developed for kids who want to get their first license. There's a certain amount of class room teaching and a fixed number of hours on the road that you have to go through. And then, you have to spend a certain number of hours practising with your parent or guardian. Now you don't have to do all that if you have previously held a license in another state or in another country, but if you're sixteen and want to drive yourself around, then you certainly do.

Then, of course, like everybody knows even if they've never been to the States, traffic is a lot more organised and follows the rules a lot more strictly than it would do in Delhi. Now I knew this beforehand, but it's a different thing to experience it from behind the wheel. I still tend to stop briefly or slow down at green lights to make sure nobody's jumping the red light in the other direction. In India, that was a useful and practical thing to do. Here, people will tend to think that I'm a little crazy, stopping at a green light. People over here use their horns only when they're really bugged, not to tell the driver in front of them to wake up and see that the traffic light has turned green. They have very clear right-of-way rules for for crossings with no red lights, and almost everybody obeys them. There are right-of-way rules for pedestrians. You have to let pedestrians and bicyclists pass. Your car touches a pedestrian, and you're in trouble. People stop in the middle of the road to let pedestrians pass. It takes some getting used to. Whether you're on foot or inside the car. For the first few weeks, when I was waiting to cross a road and a car stopped for me, I would wonder what I did wrong and why the person was stopping. This morning, I was coming out of a parking lot on to a main road with heavy traffic and a woman stopped so I could enter traffic. People do that often. And then you're supposed to wave a thank-you. People do that too.

It takes some getting used to when you've always been driving a car with a stick shift and suddenly graduate to an automatic. Not that you have to do anything extra that you didn't do with your previous car, but these automatics are so light, they fly to fifty miles an hour the instant you step on the accelerator. Or gas pedal, as my instructor calls it. The first couple of times she used the term, I didn't really understand what she was telling me to do. What do you mean, give it gas? Fifty miles per hour doesn't really feel like eighty kilometres per hour. It feels like fifty kilometres per hour. Because the roads are so much smoother, and the cars are lighter.

You know what I really like? Teaching people to drive is a perfectly respectable occupation that you can make a decent living from. And women do it too. That's one thing that India definitely lacks. It's a blue collar occupation. And people assume that women are just not as good at driving as men. Maybe I know why that happens in India, other than the fact that Indians are still very strongly of the opinion that men are much better than women at everything. Some people here are of that opinion too, but they don't show it that much. But the other reason that comes to my mind is that, based on my observations, girls tend to learn to drive at a much later age than guys in India, for various reasons. Even if guys don't drive cars, they ride bikes and scooters at a young age and get a decent amount of road sense. This is something that you acquire much better earlier in life. I've seen that girls who were two years younger than me and driving around for two years were better at it than I was, as I was better than girls two years older with the same amount of experience. Now over here, everybody learns to drive at sixteen. Boys and girls. Asians and Brazilians. In India, I saw a woman driving an SUV maybe three or four times in my life. Here, they drive everything. Not just SUVs. Cargo trucks, school buses, the works.

Oh well, I hope I am good enough to take my road test soon. Because this is a place where driving is actually fun.


Akash said...

Bhavya, a research has been published which highlights the point that women can't judge speed, size and distance at the same time so they can never be as good driver as men. And FYI, that research wasn't done in India.

neways, you and 50mph, I can't believe it until I see it with my eyes.

Bhavya said...

I don't believe everyone who goes ahead and publishes a research paper. I would like to see this paper you speak of and judge its credibility for myself. In this country and lots of other countries you can publish just about anything for a small fee. And it's perfectly legal.

And I used to drive at 80 kmph or even more even in India. And in this country it's a lot easier to drive a lot faster.