Sunday, April 25, 2010

Can Expats Drive in India?

The short answer? Yes. The long answer? The current company lease on our car strictly forbids me from getting behind the wheel; however, driving in India has always been one of my secret little goals. (No worries, parents and in-laws before you read any further, it’s still an unmet goal). I don’t necessarily need to go overboard and drive myself 100% of the time; however, there are times when I miss the independence that driving affords. Our neighbors Pierre and Loes, who have been here for quite some time, have a driver during the week but drive themselves on the weekend. Yesterday, we went to lunch and hopped in the car with them. Shortly after we got home, I realized that it was the first time I had relied on any sort of transportation (besides walking myself to and from work) in the country of India that wasn’t directly provided by someone from India.

Seeing Pierre drive did make me think, how hard can driving be? I mean, I’ve now lived in Gurgaon for nearly four months so it’s not like I don’t know where to go. I’ve lived in India for nearly ten months of my life, so I’m familiar enough with the natural flow (or chaotic nature, depending on your attitude on a give day) of traffic and the general rules (perhaps "suggestions" is more appropriate?) of the road. Plus, much to the surprise of everyone that I talk to here, I’m one of the 47 Americans that still prefers to drive a standard transmission. Of course, you shift with your left hand here, but I’ve done that in Ireland before. With all that going for me, why wouldn’t I drive here? In addition, I honestly think that driving has become more westernized here. It doesn’t mean that people have gone all crazy and decided to follow all stop lights and drive in actual lanes, but I do have a theory as to the root of the change over the past five years primarily involving the economics of the country. To state the obvious, India is a wealthier country now than it was when I was first in India in late 2004. People are buying nicer cars and seem to be driving them more themselves. As a result, you have more actual owners of nicer vehicles driving on the road rather than more hired drivers of not-so-nice vehicles on the road. Who do you think takes more pride and care with their car on the road; the owner of a shiny new 3-series or some guy making $100 a month) driving a beat up Ford Ikon? (Note, I have no idea what the actual salary of a driver is, but I remember it being in the neighborhood of $60 a month in 2005, so I’m adjusting upward for inflation.)

There are other issues that would arise from driving, such as finding a place to park (one really, really nice thing about having a driver is that you get dropped off and picked up at the door); however, I think I’m getting closer to the point where I think I could get behind the wheel and successfully navigate the streets of Gurgaon - driving anywhere outside around a 5 km radius from the house would still be entirely out of the question...I mean, have you see the way people drive here?

1 comment:

  1. I think you are very brave for wanting to attempt any driving while over there. If/when you actually do, keep your head on a swivel!

    I remember when I was there the charter bus we were on got sideswiped, parked, by a 'city' bus and the driver just kept going.

    Be safe.