SUV Drivers – Look Out

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India has seen an almost meteoric rise in the number of SUVs and compact-SUVs in the last few years. Perhaps the size fits in well with our gradually growing economy, disposable incomes, and egos. Among things that haven’t grown, is our sense of driving and responsible presence on the road.

India’s roads are getting more dangerous. And the higher seated position makes it tougher for SUV drivers to see, especially around the vehicle. Add to this the narrow, blocked or poorly-lit (and therefore unsafe) footpaths/ sidewalks, and you have more and more pedestrians choosing to walk on roads instead.

This is why it becomes even more important for pedestrians walking with small children, to keep them on your side that is away from the traffic. This also means moving them from one side to the other on dividers, when crossing bi-directional traffic. Or carrying them when crossing roads. It is tough enough for drivers of hatchbacks and sedans, thanks to the lack of lane discipline and distracted pedestrians. But it will be more dangerous if pedestrians bank on just the cautiousness of SUV drivers, given their limited proximity view from their high seats. And slightly more so with women drivers.

Sources said the observations will be given to the civic authorities to help them improve roads.

Source: link

The image above shows how you should never cross the road when accompanying children. You should be between the children and oncoming traffic.

Here’s an older post highlighting the risk [link here]

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Phone of Reference

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Phone of Reference

Last year, Mumbai’s traffic police enforced a ban on cellphone use while driving. It was backed by a fairly high fine. They even went a step further and banned the use of hands-free devices while driving too.

The extent of enforcing however, remains limited. The main reason for this is overworked traffic cops. And the fact that cops are often diverted to less important tasks including ensuring smooth flow of politician motorcade, etc. Then there is the blatant violation of this ban by literate and illiterate drivers alike.

Other countries have similar or slightly lax laws. Singapore and the US, for instance, allow the use of hands-free devices to make calls while driving.

Sometime last year I read an article that explained why it is a bad idea to speak on the phone while driving. Don’t remember the exact principles that governed it. But it stated that a driver speaking to co-passengers was completely different from speaking on the phone while driving. The latter being extremely risky.

Apparently, when you are driving and also speaking to someone aboard, you both are in the same relative plane of motion. Your mind is relatively present and aware. As are your reflexes.

However, when driving and speaking to someone on the phone, your mind gets into their frame of speed and reference. This means it takes you much longer to anticipate (if at all), and react to danger on the road.

Some of you might huff this off in disbelief. But here’s a seemingly comparable example I thought of. Yes, its yet to be tested or proven, but consider this. Compare two situations: one, where you’re singing a song while listening to it on the radio. The other, you singing while listening to the song using earphones.

Now let’s exclude any lack of talent or a ear for music and singing. You know you’d manage alright when listening to music on the radio, or for that matter, to someone singing around us. It might not sound great, but it is usually tolerable.

However, the moment you plug earphones in, we disconnect from our real frame of reference. Which could be why, that despite assuming we’re singing on Indian or American idol, that illusion gets shattered with someone pulling out a earplug and pleading with us to stop singing.

Commit to the habit of not answering or making phone calls or texting while driving. It really isn’t worth the danger.

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Why Are Americans consistently more Innovative and Entrepreneurial?

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“What makes America so much more entrepreneurial and innovative than India?” That question has been in my head for many years now.

Obvious recent contributions including FacebookTesla, and the immortal giants, GoogleAmazon and Apple come first to mind. But the world we live in stands witness to enduring American inventions – the airplane, credit card, transistorlaser, the computer and internet; with hundreds of inventions in-between.

Firstly, contrary to popular belief, the US is not the most innovative country in the world. They ranked 5th in 2015’s Global Innovation Index by World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). Results by other bodies too put them in a similar ranking.

Two factors seem to distinguish them from the rest. They are perennially innovative across all fields of work. And, creativity and entrepreneurial spirit runs deep in the veins of its masses. For nearly two centuries, it has been one of the most fertile environments for creativity and innovation. This has resulted in the most brilliant minds from the world over to steadily gravitate to it. To Innovate. To Create.

YouTube (albeit American), is filled with the ingenious creations of their average people. Remote-controlled cars, planes, and numerous vehicles and even other unimaginable contraptions built by average individuals like you and me. What makes them impressive is that they aren’t built out of a kit, but using even scrap or materials found around the house. And their customer experience practices have delighted and inspired the world, and set global benchmarks.

So while we can brush-off some inventions as exceptions; what explains the creative and entrepreneurial spirit of the common American?

In my quest to find something that the average American might knowingly or otherwise be doing differently to induce this trait, I quickly concluded it had nothing to do with their super-sugar coated cereals or microwave dinners.  😀

Heredity too didn’t seem like the answer, given the large mix of world population that goes in and out of the US. So how do they maintain a consistent level of creativity even with the influx of foreigners? Is something happening in the background, that nurtures creativity levels?

‘What else are they doing, that subtly but consistently fuels creativity?’

I felt the answer might lie in the power of the right brain. We know the right brain is the seat of creativity. And which in turn controls, and is stimulated by, the left side of our body. So are Americans doing something differently, that might be stimulating innovation?

Left-handed people for one, have been known to have a higher probability of being more creative than right-handed ones. Quoting someone anonymous on Quora, “Lefties have a greater chance of being a genius- or having a high IQ. Researchers aren’t sure why, but those who are left handed seem to make up a disproportionately large part of those who are highly intelligent. For example, 20% of all Mensa members are left-handed.”

But they comprise only about 10% of the world population.

So, assuming a normal distribution of left and right handed people across the world, 10% Americans aren’t conclusive proof of their general creativity. Even if that 10% included the left-handed John D. Rockefeller, Henry Ford, Bob Dylan, Walt Disney, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Tina Fey. Because, for each of them, there have been other innovators, creative people and entrepreneurs who are right-handed. So while left-handedness might give one an edge, what explains its considerable prevalence in the other 90% too?

Still stuck on the right brain and the left side of the body, there seemed to be sufficient studies concluding that when right-handed people use their left-hand more, it tended to improve general creativity. To what degree, is a great topic for a debate at another time. But if using the left side more fuels creativity, is there something Americans do differently than Indians, that might help?

Then a possibility struck. Can their driving give them some edge in being more creative? As absurd as it might sound, read me out.

About 65% of the world population today, lives in countries that follow a right-hand traffic rule (i.e. where you drive on the right side of the road, and oncoming traffic moves on your left), as opposed to 35% in countries that follow a left-hand traffic rule. India, influenced by the British, follows a left-hand traffic rule.

Right-hand traffic countries tend to have left-hand-drive cars, and in turn, use their left hands more, especially for continuous adjustments of the steering wheel. Opportunity to rest the elbow on the side of the door makes that a preferred hand from comfort and proximity perspectives.

But that would mean that 65% of the world should on average, be at least slightly more creative than the others.

So then the only remaining variable would be –how many people in each of those countries drive regularly? That brought me to the vehicular density of countries. Here too, the US seems to have the edge (whether for the good or not). It has the 3rd highest motor vehicle density in the world; that’s 797 vehicles per 1000 people! The first two spots are taken by San Marino and Monaco. Both of whom seem irrelevant to our discussion, given that these city-states have populations under 40,000 people. This makes the US the largest nation with the highest vehicular density. Contributors are the lack of a developed public transport systems outside of major cities, and cheap fuel.  This results in Americans driving cars for everything from buying groceries from nearby, to traveling to other cities and states.

So is it possible, that frequent use of the left-hand while driving, in a country with the highest motor vehicle density, contributes to their innovation and creativity in general?

Honestly, I don’t know the answer. I don’t know if driving of left-hand-drive cars is ‘the’, or even ‘a’ contributing factor at all, to explain their creativity, innovation or entrepreneurial spirit.

However, in the absence of other conclusive factors, doesn’t it beg another look?

 

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Image: source

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To Drive or not to Drive?

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50 Years of the Mini, Goodwood Revival 2009

Image: source

To Drive or not to Drive?

There was an extremely interesting article on Business Insider recently about the future of driving. Transport saw one huge jump when horses as modes of transport were replaced, barely a century ago. And now. we are at another crossroads. The big question is about whether to replace the driver or not.

The article approaches the subject of drivers and cars themselves, from multiple points of view. One, being that of Morgan Stanley’s auto analyst who sees a future that works on an Uber kind of model, where you and me don’t own cars, but merely use them as a service when needed.

The next view comes from that of a Citi analyst, who feels owning cars is an irreplaceable part of our lives. Even if, for most part, they’re just sitting there doing nothing.

Into the mix, come companies of the future, like Tesla and Google. Google, with their Google Chauffeur (the software that runs their self-driving cars), seems future-safe, whichever direction the future approaches from. And Tesla, which might seem to prefer selling cars to individuals, with the total numbers being more than it being offered by companies as a service. Especially with the company’s ginormous capacities for manufacturing rechargeable batteries. When looked at in totality, reducing future car transport to a service might not be too bad after all.

While this shift will take some time to come, what, according to you, might be a better way to go forward? Would it be the Uber kind of model, where you can hire a car (self-driving or otherwise)? Or would you rather own the car, and the costs that come with it, and use it only for a fraction of the time?

You can read the whole Business Insider article here: Tesla is in the middle of a debate about the future of driving

Mercedes self drive

Image: A Mercedes-Benz self-driving prototype

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Two Sides of The Same…Country

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Two Sides of The Same…Country

Little over a decade ago, I had just learnt how to drive a car, and, sorry; I must learn to be specific. I had learnt to drive a car in India. Yes, here, it takes more effort, selfless commitment, definitely more skill, and sheer bravery to even just want to learn to drive a vehicle here, let alone actually drive.

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Not even attempting to give you an idea of what it takes, here’s a picture I took on a holiday in Rajasthan a few years ago.

That said, every once in a while, random scenarios would pop up in my head. About what if I was driving and ‘this’ happened, or, how would I react if someone on the street did ‘something like that’. It was probably a natural part of getting accustomed to the newly acquired skill and to getting used to how perspective changes when you are behind the wheel.

I remember one of the ‘possible scenarios’ was about who would be to blame. Say, if a vehicle was driving within the speed limit, and if it were to inadvertently hit someone who decided to dart across the street at the last second. It would give the driver almost no time to react. So could the driver be blamed for the fault of a reckless pedestrian? One who, well knowing the risks, still decided to test their luck? The answer came back a resonating, ‘no‘. The driver could not be blamed. I then reassured myself with the example of trains. Trains travel at specific speeds, and have considerably large stopping distances. So if someone decided to cross the track when a train was close, and got run over, it couldn’t possibly be the engine driver’s fault? Knowing well that crossing tracks is unsafe, and that crossing streets recklessly, equally so.

It all seemed fine. Till yesterday. Yesterday, a speeding train in the state of Bihar in North India, ran over 37 [yes, you read correctly; thirty-seven] pilgrims who were crossing the track at the time. It was tragic. And it was the fault of the pilgrims. But for those who of you who don’t know what followed, angry crowds nearby went on a rampage, setting the train on fire, and attacking and killing one of the engine drivers, leaving the other one in a critical condition. [the news article]

So my theories on ‘who’s to blame’ went out the window. India. A superpower. Among the most promising economies, is still incapable of identifying who’s at fault in something as obvious as this unfortunate incident. It also gives one a glimpse into who we are. Not who we are capable of being, but instead, of who we have stooped to become. Hopefully not for long though. Knowing risks, we’ll still expect the other person to take preventive measures, while we try to kiss a runaway train, while we try to break Border Collies speed records while crossing before speeding cars. Yes, that’s who we have somehow become.

However, and incidentally yesterday itself, there was a story that ended the day on a note of optimism. Bombay’s public bus transport service, the BEST, has been infamous for menacing drivers who break signals, who have run over pedestrians, and damaged vehicles as well. In my family itself, we have two to three horrifying incidents to narrate. Of how BEST’s impatient drivers have damaged our cars just because they were in a blind frenzy to zip through bus stops and go home.

best-bus
BEST_Bus_Mumbai

But last night was different. I was driving mom to the market to pick up some groceries. The road I was on, required me to take a right turn to get into the market lane. However, before I could take the turn, there were vehicles coming from the opposite side, and passing my car on my right side. I had to wait with the indicator on, as 5-6 cars whizzed past. A BEST bus was approaching too. While I could have quickly made the turn, knowing them well, I decided to wait for him and the few cars behind him to pass. However, to my complete surprise, he stopped the bus, and signaled for me to take the turn, while cars patiently waited behind him. Still confused, I made the turn, mom still wondering if that had actually happened. Thank you, Mr. BEST driver, for the pleasant surprise.!

Well, we all have it in us to change. We all have it in us to make a positive difference. It all comes down to us deciding to make that choice.

I’ll leave you to think about this, with a quote immortalized by Rocky Balboa in Rocky IV.

“If I can change, and you can change, everybody can change.”

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Drivin’ me Nuts.!

you are driving one morning to work. nice weather, relatively low traffic. ‘i’m finally going to reach well before time’, you think to yourself. just at that moment, a speeding cab whizzes to your left, suddenly cuts you without a signal or warning. you snarl, and then immediately think that it feels like a really great day, full of positives, so you wouldnt want to ruin it by getting into a foul mood over a crazy driver. you near a signal, nearing a car in the next lane, who appears to be somehow drifting towards your lane. you honk lightly. you think he’s getting back into his lane but just as you’re real close to his car, he honks back and swerves in your direction. your brakes screech the car to a halt, and your still wondering if that actually happened.
Grrrr..!! that does it. that driver’s going down, you tell yourself, as you floor the accelerator and veer into the last lane and align yourself in perfect striking position.

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Drivin’ me Nuts!

You are driving one morning to work. Nice weather, relatively low traffic. ‘I’m finally going to reach well before time’, you think to yourself. Just at that moment, a speeding cab whizzes to your left and cuts you without a signal or warning. You snarl, and then immediately think that it feels like a really great day, full of positives. So you wouldn’t want to ruin it by getting into a foul mood over a crazy driver. You near a signal, nearing a car in the next lane, who appears to be somehow drifting towards your lane. So you honk lightly. You think he’s getting back into his lane but just as you’re real close to his car, he honks back and swerves in your direction. your brakes screech the car to a halt, and your still wondering if that actually happened.

Grrrr..!! that does it. That driver’s going down, you tell yourself, as you floor the accelerator and veer into the last lane and align yourself in perfect striking position. Then you suddenly realize that you’ve rattled the nerves of that middle-aged lady whose trembling hands just about managed to swerve out of the way of your car screaming through. So you slow down, and try and get back your cool. Though its not happening. the music playing doesn’t seem to work its magic either. You get to work, your mind imagining you perhaps strangling the driver who dared to cut you.

I’m sure you can relate to at least most of that.

I got my driving license sometime in 2001 i think, though I’ve been crazy about driving well before I could pronounce “car”. As a toddler, I’d sit on my dad’s lap while he’d drive, and I’d hold the steering and pretend to drive.

Then, when i was halfway through school, I’d change gears on my relative’s jeep, while the driver drove and took care of the foot pedals.

Anyway, almost soon after i learnt how to drive, i came to realize that the way people drive has a strong correlation to their personality and behaviour patterns, and also the peculiarity of people in that region.

For instance, in Mumbai (India), where I’ve driven the most, cars on the road tend to make maximum use of the road. Three lanes could accommodate up to 5 rows of cars and still have place for a bike with saddle bags on either side to smoothly ride through.

Now while I say this after driving/ observing only certain parts of India, am sure if anyone paid enough attention, a pattern would emerge for the population at different locations, across the world.

A foreigner visiting India had observed that Indians, while driving, make full use of the road. So if there were no road dividers, cars would “expand” to the opposite side of the road as long as there was no on-coming traffic, and then get back into their side of the road while some vehicles whizzed past from the opposite direction, and then get back to using part of the opposite side again. Talk about adjusting to the surroundings.!

I noticed another interesting habit in the town of Mangalore, and in the city of Bangalore, and am quite sure it must be highly prevalent. If one wanted to turn right at a crossroads which had a small circular garden or something similar at the centre, they would normally be expected to drive around the circle in a clockwise direction to get to that particular turn. However, most of our great people would instead find the shortest path… making the right turn just before the circle…I mean who cares if you’re staring at a bunch of alarmed drivers coming head-on.

That reminded me of this joke i read sometime back. A man is driving on NH1 when his wife calls him. “darling, be careful”, she says frantically, “I just heard on the radio that there’s a madman on NH1 driving in the wrong direction. Please be careful.” Her husband replies, with a hollow laugh, “your damn right about that, but it’s not one madman, but hundreds of them!”

Another strange driving habit, very similar to our corporate circles, is people’s reaction when being overtaken. Some people drive at a slow 25 kmph. And with a gap between them and the vehicle in front being big enough to fit an A380 (Airbus). Now you are somewhere between these two cars, in the next lane. You have turned on your indicator to signal you’d be moving in between the two cars.

Soon as you’ve given the indicator, the car behind you and in the next lane, rockets to 60 kmph. The driver desperately tries to keep you from getting into their lane. You barely manage to save scratches on your car, wondering if the driver left his senses back home that morning. Its very similar to the behaviour of crabs in a bucket. Even if they aren’t trying to get out, they’ll do everything they can to prevent others from getting out. If you’ve driven in India long enough, you’d know over 85% of the people never use indicators.

I assume its for one of two reasons; first being, ‘why bother signalling, if the other driver loves his car, he’ll slow down anyway’, or, because he/ she’s dead sure the car behind will speed up, so instead, its better to suddenly cut lanes while no one’s expecting it.

Nothing’s more horrifying that a parked car suddenly darting into your lane on what seemed to be an empty lane till then.

Ok, maybe that’s not horrifying enough. Try this instead. You got that same parked car suddenly taking off on the extreme left, going 0-30, and darting to first lane to make a U-turn. These drivers expect everyone else to be driving at 20 kmph with a foot ready on the brakes. Or they consider themselves immortal. And you thought Milla Jovovich had a hard time in Resident Evil.

All these trends/ characteristics associate closely with what Indians have been known to be like. Now I’m not generalizing. And while I take pride in being an Indian, am just pointing habits/ behaviours we must strive to change.

And while your at it, try get hold of the book “Games Indians Play – Why We Are the Way We Are” by V. Raghunathan, to get some more perspective on the general attitude.

Anyway, I’ll get back to what I was talking about (I tend to deviate from topic quite easily).

Indians (me obviously included), are always in a rush to get somewhere. So much so, we tend to cross the zebra crossing, or stop over the crossing, while waiting at a signal. Every second counts, I suppose. The closer you are to the starting line, the quicker you can leave on green. Then it doesn’t matter if you continue to drive at 25 kmph in fast lane from there on. We’d still prefer to be right there, first car to move, when the light goes green.

I’ve seen cars literally squeeze through gaps between cars. Some drive halfway up a sidewalk, or drift to the wrong side, just to be first at a signal light. However, after the lights turn, somehow, they don’t bother getting even close to the 50 kmph speed limit. They’re driving at their pace, with not a care in the world, even at 9 am on a weekday. Brings me to wonder why then, do they take all the effort to get to the front row.

Now this one absolutely takes the cake when it comes to driving in India.

Recollect how some cars try to get to as much in front as possible, while waiting at a signal?

There’s another really funny trait among many of our drivers here. Some people end up going so far ahead at a signal, that the signal is actually behind them. I mean, “what the ****!!”. So when the lights go green, they depend on a car behind to honk, to let them know that they can move. So if the cars behind weren’t in a hurry, cars could be waiting for as long as 10 seconds, before moving. Believe me, its a hilarious sight to see.

Imagine something like that happening in Formula 1. An over-eager-to-win F1 driver driving past the racing lights and stopping, before the race started. All I can do is hope we all drive a little more responsibly. And be a little more accommodating, on the road, at work, at home, everywhere.

http://shrutinshetty.blogspot.com/2009/09/drivin-me-nuts.html

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Ease up…On the Throttle

Ever been late to get somewhere, and you got stuck behind a car driven by an old woman or man, or maybe even a learner who’s instructor managed to pick the same road on the same day when you were late and crossing it. Or even the one who’s so busy chatting with their co-passenger, that driving becomes almost an external, disconnected event for them.

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Ease up…On the Throttle

Ever been late to get somewhere, and you got stuck behind a car driven by an old woman or man, or maybe even a learner who’s instructor managed to pick the same road on the same day when you were late and crossing it. Or even the one who’s so busy chatting with their co-passenger, that driving becomes almost an external, disconnected event for them.

And what do we do in turn. Blaring horns, jumping the car menacingly at them, or even swerving dangerously close to them when we finally manage to overtake.

Am saying this coz I’ve pretty much done it all when it comes to bullying the day dreamers on the road.

But recently I realized; I guess after my mom n dad’s repeated advice started sinking in. We can’t change the world. At least, definitely not by bullying them around. Ok, might I clarify, that I’ve never bullied old people or women drivers, or old people and women in general. It’s usually taxi drivers, or the lost drivers who temporarily suspend all road rules and regulations while they pass by. Or the occasional owner of cars, who probably didn’t have to ‘earn’ their license to drive.

Anyway, back to what I was saying. I realized that we can’t change people by going at them menacingly, or by cutting ahead of them. Now while I have realized it, it still does take a while to implement. Coz the average Indian driver can come up with a million different ways to drive you crazy, literally.

The way I’ve started working on easing up, is in stages. You could try it too. Firstly, say you’re driving back home after work. You’re not exactly in a hurry to get anywhere then. So why not let that car in the next lane move up in front of you. Or why not let the car that’s two lanes to your right, cut three lanes without indicating, and take the turn coming up to your left. Or be a little patient with people learning how to drive, or those not very confident about their driving, even if they’re going at 15 kmh.

After all, learners deserve a chance to learn without the fear of being shouted at, without the deafening sound of many horns, and without having vehicles move threateningly close to them. Same goes for ladies, and the old folk too. And more so for out-of-towners. I’ve noticed that people of cities aren’t particularly ‘friendly’ to vehicles and occupants of cars from another city.

Then I plan to address the main problem. To develop driving etiquette. To be patient with the crazy drivers on the road and not curse them. Not to overreact to their ignorance, lack of confidence or outright disrespect for traffic rules.

Maybe everybody deserves a second and third chance after all.

And with us ‘reactors’ not ‘reacting’ to crazy driving, that itself would reduce the total number of ‘crazy drivers’ on the road. And that way, hopefully, one day, the number of patient, mature and responsible drivers will slowly start outnumbering the crazies and force them to get their act together too.

That’s what hope and patience are all about I guess.

That, or I’m getting old real quick.

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