Apparently driving is messed up in a lot of countries

Date:June 6, 2006 / year-entry #190
Orig Link:
Comments:    25
Summary:From the reactions to my entry on driving in Taiwan, it appears that driving is pretty messed up all over Asia. Here's a video of driving in India that was popular a while back. This comment comparing Taiwan driving to the Philippines reminded me of a conversation I had with some Filipino tourists when I...

From the reactions to my entry on driving in Taiwan, it appears that driving is pretty messed up all over Asia. Here's a video of driving in India that was popular a while back.

This comment comparing Taiwan driving to the Philippines reminded me of a conversation I had with some Filipino tourists when I was in Taiwan. We were on a bus as it was negotiating traffic, and I asked them, "Is driving in the Philippines as crazy as here in Taiwan?"

They answered, "Oh, no. It's much crazier."

Comments (25)
  1. Blip says:

    The traffic density is not very high, driving would probably improve if they get a few days of gridlock :)

  2. Dileepa says:

    Driving in India is "Synchronized Chaos".

  3. Phylyp says:

    I think the scariest thing is – I saw the video and wondered what the big deal was about it.

    But then, I drive a 2 wheeler in India.

  4. Gene says:

    About driving in India: "You never want to share the road with someone who truely believes in reincarnation"

  5. James Schend says:

    Adam Corolla’s thought on his morning show is that the difference is that we Americans have been driving for generations, we’ve seen tons of people die in accidents, and we’ve established relatively good tests and licensing for drivers.  Plus there are a lot of other ‘good example’ drivers on the road to follow.

    Meanwhile, the drivers in these countries are usually first-generation drivers, don’t have good testing, and don’t have any ‘good examples’ on the road to follow.

    I don’t know if that theory is true, though, because driving in France was utterly insane compared to the US, and they’ve had cars as long as we have.

  6. Cooney says:

    we’ve established relatively good tests and licensing for drivers.

    Where? Seattle is unique for having the wussiest drivers in the country, but they still have their share of stupidity. It’s not as bad as Boston or, god forbid, Florida, but we have them.

    Most irritating thing about seattle: 3 cars keeping station on the highway going 60mph with a mile of clear road in front.

  7. Dean Harding says:

    I remember a trip I took to India. We were driving on a mountain road, and instead of staying to the left, our driver just drove on whatever side of the road was more convenient. If we came to a corner (and this was a mountain road, so there were a LOT of blind corners) he’d just beep the horn to warn anyone coming the other way.

    In fact, horn-beeping seems very popular over there. In Australia (and in the U.S. too) it means "you idiot, get out of the way!" or "you idiot, move faster!" or just "you idiot!". But there is means, "hello, how are you?" or "it’s a nice day, isn’t it?" or maybe "look! I have a horn!"

    The cars have hundreds of dents from the dozens of minor accidents they’re in every week…

    Driving in France isn’t quite as crazy. The roads never seem to have any lanes marked (except at stop lights) and the people are MUCH more aggressive, but in general it’s still fairly ordered.

  8. steveg says:

    I enjoyed a couple of near-death experiences crossing roads in Ulan Bator a few years ago, that’s probably the worst I’ve seen — made most of Asia look tame (haven’t been to India, I should really).

    The biggest difference I’ve noticed between the Europe + Aus vs Asia is the way traffic merges on highways. In Europe+Aus (and I expect the same applies in north America) is the traffic on the smaller road gives way to traffic on the larger road. In Asia [it appears] it’s the responsibility of the traffic on the larger road to give way to traffic merging from the smaller road.

    It’s crazy! Nobody seems to even look before merging with a highway.

    Too many people die on roads where we think we drive properly, how many must die in others where we frown upon their driving habits?

  9. Dean Harding says:

    According to these pages:

    Australia & U.S. get 1.8 and 2.0 deaths per year per 100,000 population respectively. The Phillipines gets only 0.9 per 100,000. India gets a bit more with 6.3 per 100,000. But Malaysia gets a whopping 30.6!! And Taiwan is up there, too with 13.9 per 100,000.

    The data is a little old (2000) but I don’t think it’s changed that much…

  10. MisterDuck says:

    I once made the mistake of renting a car with several friends and driving to Barcelona from Montpellier, France.  

    Oh man, was that ever a serious error.  Never, ever again.  The round-abouts are sheer terror, and finding parking strongly resembles a combat sport.  So my new mantra on driving in foreign countries is that I don’t.

  11. Norman Diamond says:

    Tuesday, June 06, 2006 8:53 PM by MisterDuck

    > So my new mantra on driving in foreign

    > countries is that I don’t.

    My feeling is nearly the opposite.  Driving in many foreign countries would be easier than driving in Japan.  There are exceptions though.

    By the way there was a period of about two weeks when drivers were obeying red lights at an intersection near my office.  The reason was that there was a police officer standing near one of the signals.  After she left, drivers returned to their usual behaviour.  There’s a police box around 500 metres from that intersection.  Well of course usually Japanese police have better things to do, such as stopping bicycle riders and checking for ID if the riders’ faces look suspiciously different from Korean faces.

  12. xge says:

    It is strange that nobody mentioned China. When I looked at the video, it took me quite a while and I had to read the text to realize that it was in India. The scenario looks exactly like here in Shanghai. The traffic rules are negotiated right on the spot and at the moment while driving. It is even worse in other cities in China. I’ve seen taxi drivers driving at high speed in the opposite direction and honking at the fast incoming cars to yield in a small city in North-West China.

    It is the same city that my brother in law got his driver’s license without even taking the test by paying 1800Yuan($230) to a broker. The cost for getting a license the normal way is 1500Yuan, which means with less than 300 Yuan, the police can and are willing to spare you the road test.

    It is also the same city that issued the license to the driver who drove a kinder garden bus full of kids onto a pedestrian side walk and killing more than 15 people last year in a city in South-East China. The police report later said that the driver was just too nervous to break.

  13. steveg says:

    Dean Harding’s links above are quite interesting, the sites also have deaths per 10,000 vehicles. Here’s a sample that covers most countries mentioned so far.

    Tonga 52.1
    Mongolia 30.2
    China 26.1
    India 20.3
    US 15.8
    Australia 10.8
    Canada 10.3
    Malaysia 8.5
    Japan 7.9
    UK 6.1
    Singapore 3.5

    xqe, when I backpacked through China I took trains or flew. I’d heard too many stories about bus crashes.

    I find it interesting the US is so high up. Maybe because car usage is higher that other developed countries? Seatbelts?

  14. IndianDriver says:

    This hilarious article was written by a Dutchman who spent two years in Bangalore, India, as a visiting expert. A little long article but worth reading it!!!

    Driving in Bangalore / India

    For the benefit of every Tom, Dick and Harry visiting India and daring to drive on Indian roads, I am offering a few hints for survival. They are applicable to every place in India except Bihar, where life outside a vehicle is only marginally safer.

    Indian road rules broadly operate within the domain of karma where you do your best, and leave the results to your insurance company. The hints are as follows: Do we drive on the left or right of the road? The answer is "both". Basically you start on the left of the road, unless it is occupied. In that case, go to the right, unless that is also occupied. Then proceed by occupying the next available gap, as in chess. Just trust your instincts, ascertain the direction, and proceed. Adherence to road rules leads to much misery and occasional fatality. Most drivers don’t drive, but just aim their vehicles in the generally intended direction.

    Don’t you get discouraged or underestimate yourself except for a belief in reincarnation; the other drivers are not in any better position. Don’t stop at pedestrian crossings just because some fool wants to cross the road. You may do so only if you enjoy being bumped in the back.

    Pedestrians have been strictly instructed to cross only when traffic is moving slowly or has come to a dead stop because some minister is in town. Still some idiot may try to wade across, but then, let us not talk ill of the dead.

    Blowing your horn is not a sign of protest as in some countries. We horn to express joy, resentment, frustration, romance and bare lust (two brisk blasts),or just mobilize a dozing cow in the middle of the bazaar. Keep informative books in the glove compartment. You may read them during traffic jams, while awaiting the chief minister’s motorcade, or waiting for the rainwater to recede when over ground traffic meets underground drainage.

    Occasionally you might see what looks like a UFO with blinking colored lights and weird sounds emanating from within. This is an illuminated bus, full of happy pilgrims singing bhajans. These pilgrims go at breakneck speed, seeking contact with the Almighty, often meeting with success.

    Auto Rickshaw (Baby Taxi): The result of a collision between a rickshaw and an automobile, this three-wheeled vehicle works on an external combustion engine that runs on a mixture of kerosene oil and creosote. This triangular vehicle carries iron rods, gas cylinders or passengers three times its weight and dimension, at an unspecified fare. After careful geometric calculations, children are folded and packed into these auto rickshaws until some children in the periphery are not in contact with the vehicle at all. Then their school bags are pushed into the microscopic gaps all round so those minor collisions with other vehicles on the road cause no permanent damage. Of course, the peripheral children are charged half the fare and also learn Newton’s laws of motion enroute to school. Auto-rickshaw drivers follow the road rules depicted in the film Ben Hur, and are licensed to irritate.

    Mopeds: The moped looks like an oil tin on wheels and makes noise like an electric shaver. It runs 30 miles on a teaspoon of petrol and travels at break-bottom speed. As the sides of the road are too rough for a ride, the moped drivers tend to drive in the middle of the road; they would rather drive under heavier vehicles instead of around them and are often "mopped" off the tarmac.

    Leaning Tower of Passes: Most bus passengers are given free passes and during rush hours, there is absolute mayhem. There are passengers hanging off other passengers, who in turn hang off the railings and the overloaded bus leans dangerously, defying laws of gravity but obeying laws of surface tension. As drivers get paid for overload (so many Rupees per kg of passenger), no questions are ever asked. Steer clear of these buses by a width of three passengers.

    One-way Street: These boards are put up by traffic people to add jest in their otherwise drab lives. Don’t stick to the literal meaning and proceed in one direction. In metaphysical terms, it means that you cannot proceed in two directions at once. So drive as you like, in reverse throughout, if you are the fussy type. Least I sound hypercritical, I must add a positive point also. Rash and fast driving in residential areas has been prevented by providing a "speed breaker"; two for each house. This mound, incidentally, covers the water and drainage pipes for that residence and is left untarred for easy identification by the corporation authorities, should they want to recover the pipe for year-end accounting.

    Night driving on Indian roads can be an exhilarating experience for those with the mental make up of Genghis Khan. In a way, it is like playing Russian roulette, because you do not know who amongst the drivers is loaded. What looks like premature dawn on the horizon turns out to be a truck attempting a speed record. On encountering it, just pull partly into the field adjoining the road until the phenomenon passes.

    Our roads do not have shoulders, but occasional boulders. Do not blink your lights expecting reciprocation. The only dim thing in the truck is the driver, and with the peg of illicit arrack (alcohol) he has had at the last stop, his total cerebral functions add up to little more than a naught. Truck drivers are the James Bonds of India, and are licensed to kill. Often you may encounter a single powerful beam of light about six feet above the ground. This is not a super motorbike, but a truck approaching you with a single light on, usually the left one. It could be the right one, but never get too close to investigate. You may prove your point posthumously.

    Happy Driving @@@@@@@@@@@@@

  15. Erwin Alva says:

    If you’ve got the money, you can get a driver’s license in the Philippines.  You don’t have to worry about eyesight, written, or driving tests.  Just pay up and you’re all set.  We even had a highly-publicized incident where a *blind* person was able to get one!

    That’s *one* reason driving there is crazy.

    See also:

  16. Nikolay Botev says:


    Seeing this video immediately reminded me of a simulation I had watched a while back that shows cars passing through an intersection without traffic lights. All the cars are controlled instead by an Autonomous Intersection Management system (AIM). This is a research project developed by some folks at the University of Texas at Austin and they still have the videos here:

    Check them out! The similarities between their AIM simulations and the India driving video on youtube are unbelievable!

    I guess the guys doing the AIM work didn’t know about India driving when they started work on their projects :)… Or manybe they modeled their algorithms on the behavior of India’s drivers? Who knows :P

  17. Jayakrishnan K says:

    Looking at the video, I wondered what the fuss was about. Doesn’t even look like rush hour. Considering the kind of traffic I have to put up with to get to office in morning, this is a piece of cake. But then I live in India and have been driving here for past 16 years :-).

    When I visited U.S. couple of years ago, the first thing that struck me was the orderly conduct of the drivers. Something I had never seen before. I said to myself, "Man, I could drive here with my eyes closed. It’s so much easier."

    It was also during this visit that I first came across the raised face out full palm which I learned meant "thank you", which every driver seems to use. Interestingly in my 16 years of driving in India, I never had a driver thank me in this manner.  Interestingly I am considered a safe driver by my friends and collegues because I insist on driving by the traffic rules and would not break them even when everyone else is doing so.

    Another incident that comes to mind relates to a couple of us (MVPs) from India waiting to cross a street in Seattle downtown area. We started walking when the "WALK" sign went on. About a quarter of the way across the road, we hear a truck coming by and the noise indicates that the truck is accelerating. All three of us stop dead on the road and step back (none of us had even seen the truck). The truck passed us by on the nearby road in complete compliance with the traffic rules. In India if we didn’t step back, we would be dead.

    It was then that someone remarked that you can take an Indian out of India, but you can’t take India out of an Indian :-).

  18. Hayden says:

    The rules of driving in India are simple. Everybody else on the road is in your way of you  getting to your desired destination. Out of my way, timewasters! I have important things to do! Peep! peep!

  19. Dan McCarty says:

    Reminds me of a similar video I saw about Russian driving, which my officemate can confirm is absolutely true:

    What the heck is wrong with these people?  They’re not even crashing for a good reason!

    Having grown up driving in the Philippines, I’m not surprised by most traffic I see these days.  The rules of the road there were simple: don’t hit other vehicles, and don’t hit people.  Apart from that, anything goes.  Red lights were suggestions.  ;-)  It’s usually a pretty efficient system of transportation, with the exception of Manila.

    BTW, those traffic stats are going to be wildly inaccurate for anything but Western countries.  There’s no way to reliably report that kind of stuff in developing nations.

  20. Cooney says:


    > When I visited U.S. couple of years ago, the first thing that struck me was the orderly conduct of the drivers. Something I had never seen before. I said to myself, "Man, I could drive here with my eyes closed. It’s so much easier."

    This begs the question: ‘did you try?’

  21. Aswin Gunawan says:

    Just like defensive programming, defensive driving is a thing you practiced religiously in order to survive in chaotic developing countries’ traffics. You trust nobody is going to yield or give the right-of-way to you, thus you do the extra checks or just follow your survival instinct.

    In "orderly" countries like US or Australia, you are taught to trust people doing the right thing. But if they don’t, you don’t have the defensive or survival skills to avoid the fatality.

    That’s what I felt anyway by driving in both worlds.

  22. JamesW says:

    @Dan McCarty

    ‘Reminds me of a similar video I saw about Russian driving … What the heck is wrong with these people?’


  23. I went to Vietnam last summer, and I have to say I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Nobody observes any traffic rules, there are 5 times as many motorbikes than cars, and 2 times as many bicycles than cars.

    Crossing the road even at pedestrian crossings when traffic had a red light was a nightmare. Fortunately I had a native learn me the basics, and the trick was not to get in the way of the cars (they won’t try to evade you), but walk steadily forward. Motorbikes and bikes will (usually) drive around you. And if you stopped you would have lots of trouble starting to walk again.

    I found a few videos of this on Youtube, but this one was by far the most descriptive. This was how driving was done most of the time, and the other videos I found had lower-density traffic than I ever saw in the cities;

  24. Duncan says:

    The traffic in Beijing is so bad that it has spawned a whole new theory – the wave particle duality of Beijing traffic:

  25. Nisha says:

    Did you check up

    Trust me if the previous video was hillarious, this one is going to rock you, like nothing else.

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