04 May 2013

Sriram Narayanan on: speeding

You drive slow? Congratulations. You get a shawl, a garland and a memento from the gods of our roads

Sriram Narayanan
Car image

I should be in prison right now. Or I should voluntarily be paying money as retrospective fines. Because I have – on countless occasions – sped, driven rashly, cut lanes, overtaken from the left, even run red lights. Which is not the horrible part.

What is, is that I have perfectly reasonable justifications for doing all this. I have run red lights at spots where signals are placed right behind lampposts or tucked behind a tree. I have also run red lights because a local politician’s birthday was around the corner. And the perfect way to celebrate is with hoardings in front of – you guessed it – red lights.

I have overtaken from the left because someone in the fast lane is doing 40kph and behaving like he will be struck by lightning if he gives way. I cut lanes when three vehicles occupy three lanes – one doing 20kph, another doing 22 and the third doing 25. And when you see me manoeuvring around the gaps left by these lumbering, safe drivers, you will perceive me as rash – the definition of which is not entirely clear. Even to the traffic department.

Which brings me to speeding. Last month, a car in the fast lane on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway veered over the divider on to a car coming from the opposite direction. The results were not hilarious. But the measures taken following this incident are. If the police think you are speeding, they will jump in front of your car and stop you. But if you are going too fast for them to risk their lives, you are left alone.

So if you are doing 90kph, that’s 10 over the speed limit, you will be caught. If you are doing 190, you might escape. The smarter brains came up with the 30-minute master plan. If the time you take between the two tollbooths on the Expressway is 30 minutes or less, they will consider you to be speeding and worthy of a fine. So for all of you who like to be on the other side of 100kph, stop in the middle, empty your bladder, fill your car or just have a long meal. Your money is safe.

I have tried sticking to speed limits in Mumbai – 80kph on a six-lane road like the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, 50kph on the eight-lane Bandra-Worli Sea Link, 30kph on the four-lane JJ Flyover, or 25kph on the six-lane Vashi creek bridge… and these speeds on these roads make me feel as if I am walking in my car, Flintstone style. Yet, the impractical speed limit is the only knee-jerk reaction we always come up with.

It doesn’t matter if you’re doing 40kph on the fast lane and talking to your co-passenger. It doesn’t matter if you use the fast lane for purposes other than overtaking. It’s nothing grave if you’re driving in the middle of two lanes. Taking u-turns where there aren’t any goes a long way in lengthening the life of our fuel reserves. And driving with the high beam is ideal for your own safety – the road ahead turns all bright. What’s that? Oncoming traffic’s getting blinded? Not a problem. Because there are quite a lot of us who drive in the night without any lights and extend the life of our car’s electricals.

People who drive on the wrong side on the Expressway, and trucks watering plants on the divider pose absolutely no hindrance to road safety. Not one bit. In fact, none of the things I mentioned threaten road safety at all. Only doing 81kph or more does. When an SUV hit a car carrying MSRDC engineers who were ‘inspecting’ accident-prone spots on the Expressway, it was obviously the SUV driver’s fault in assuming that since there were no warnings or cones on the Expressway, it meant there was no one on the job that day.

As a driver, all you need to do for safe roads is drive into a tunnel – slowly, of course – put on your hazard lights and throw up your arms. We will all drive safe ever after.

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We make a trip to the north-eastern end of the country to meet a real Jeep, in one that keeps it real from the current crop