Liz Dobson: Dangers of Indian takeout

By Liz Dobson

Liz Dobson learns the tricks of driving in India at the Ford EcoSport launch

Drivers in India take a loose view of lanes and overtaking. Photo / Liz Dobson
Drivers in India take a loose view of lanes and overtaking. Photo / Liz Dobson

At car launches the driving instructions you're usually given before you head off in the vehicles are to stick to the correct speed, don't drive dangerously and be courteous. Except in India.

Instead, the "safety" briefing we're given before we drive Ford's new micro SUV, the EcoSport, around the seaside roads of Goa are: the white line may have faded through villages so drive in the middle of the road; ignore road signs - they are probably old and just haven't been removed; locals overtake on blind corners so slow down; always give way to cattle.

"Everyone can pop out from the side of the roads," says the local instructor, "so everyone who wants to be on the road will come on it."

That includes the sacred cattle, stray dogs and scooters carrying families - mum sitting sidesaddle cradling a baby while the toddler sits between dad's legs.

Correct speed? In the city it's 40km/h and on the highway it's 60km/h but "you can drive up to 100 or even more", says the instructor.

And the final instructions: "Driving in India is like a macho experience - they come, you come, you pass."

The drive in the hotel bus from the airport to the Goa launch venue was enough to give us a taste of what was to come during the following day's drive: you honk your horn when you want to overtake; toot to thank a driver for moving aside; long honk to tell the driver ahead that they had better move over so you can overtake on that blind corner, and honk as you take the bend, to warn the unseen traffic you're heading into their lane.

To make sure we survived the drive - or, more importantly, the eight prototype vehicles survived as they were needed for the 150 motoring writers during the 11-day international launch of the India-made EcoSport - a pilot vehicle led the way on the drive route with Ford hatchbacks intermixed with the vehicles, and a camera crew in a separate off-roader that often dangerously overtook on blind corners.

Driving in convoy may sound like a foolproof plan but having 15 vehicles driving nearly bumper to bumper along urban roads was no deterrent to local drivers. Instead, they would honk, move into the opposite lane, ignoring the oncoming motorbikes/smaller cars, and push into tiny gaps between the Fords if a truck, bus or bigger vehicle was heading towards them.

The most frightening sight was a bus overtaking a truck slowly up an incline as a car came towards it, with the car driver texting.

I quickly learned that to survive the drive was to "be" a local - so hand often pumping the horn, I overtook any slow-moving car even if there was a scooter in the other lane. Hey, the motorbiker knew the drill and was on the far left of the lane anyway. I even indicated, which may have caused confusion as only once did I see a non-motoring writer use it. Not even the bus drivers used it as they pulled up to stops.

After the initial shock of the road chaos without the road rage, I began to enjoy the road trip - though there wasn't much time to enjoy the views. Instead, I was constantly on the look-out for those wayward sacred cattle. Somehow I think the locals would forgive me if I hit a scooter, but not if I hit a cow.

- NZ Herald

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