Chennai traffic: Living proof of the chaos theory!

If there’s one thing about Chennai that drives me crazy, it’s the traffic. Not the density of traffic, mind you, but the utter disregard for traffic rules, safety or common sense on the roads everyday. The traffic police often stand around watching the chaos benignly, without doing anything about it. With a large number of new cars and motorbikes coming on to the road every day, unless something is done to bring about some semblance of order, we’re going see mayhem on the roads. Consider:

Buses and other vehicles routinely stand in the extreme left lane (the one meant for traffic turning left), then turn right into traffic going straight, cutting across the flow to take a right turn. This happens not just on any road, but even on the arterial Poonamallee High Road.

When a vehicle is turning say, left and has its left turn indicator on well before the turn, two wheelers and cars will still try and over take it on the left, cutting across the front of the turning vehicle even when its practically into the road its turning into.

Traffic routinely flows on both sides of dividers when there’s heavy traffic resulting in a grid lock. Then everyone tries to ‘adjust’ until a police man comes along to try and sort it out. This pretty routine on the IT corridor, especially where there’s a turn towards the Ascendas International Tech Park. With no traffic police in attendance.

The concept of ‘merging’ also doesn’t exist on our roads. So if you are joining another road (or merging with that traffic), as you do at the Anna Flyover if you’re turning left from Cathedral Road onto Anna Salai, you can expect that the traffic on Anna Salai will not allow you to merge but do their best to prevent you getting into the mainstream.

This happens even if you’re turning on to the road. If you wait for a break in the traffic, when you do find one and start moving forward, the oncoming vehicle will speed up to ensure you can’t turn in! If it slowed somewhat, everyone would gain, and in real terms, barely any time is lost or gained. In addition, when the oncoming car speeds up to prevent a car turning in, it becomes a contest for space, leading to dangerous driving.

Many of the people driving the majority of the vehicles are not drivers, but educated middle class people on the way to work or from it. And, of course, the two wheeler riders own their vehicles. Yet the moment the vehicle gets on to the road, it’s a free for all. Granted many people may not know many of the rules of the road, but a lot of what happens boggles the mind because its sheer common sense, or concern for safety, that should prevent them from doing some of what they do.

If you’re driving a car, it often feels like the two wheeler rider’s safety is your responsibility, because they ride in such a way that you have to avoid hitting them by braking sharply or moving aside. When this happens time and again, it can get pretty frustrating. Many car drivers also drive like their sole purpose in life is to over take the car in front, taking all kinds of risks to pedestrians and two wheelers to achieve this on crowded roads. Yet you’ll catch up with them at the next signal!

It would be so much easier for everyone on the road if the traffic followed the rules, flowed in an orderly manner, and waited patiently at a signal or when crowded to process through. The traffic police could help by regulating orderly traffic flow, and ensuring they let people know how they are expected to drive. Most of all, they should create wide spread awareness of basic road rules, and enforce them.

The real difference, of course, would be when everyone decided that no matter how the other guy drives, they are going to follow the rules, or be courteous to other vehicles on the road.

16 Comments so far

  1. Karthik (unregistered) on June 13th, 2006 @ 8:49 pm

    Traffic in Chennai is far better than most of the other Indian cities. Trust me when I tell u that. Chennai traffic is pathetic especially in the IT Highway(! – I dont why it is called so, since there is no road out there) People lacking common-sense is the big problem. Everyone knows most of the rules or as u point out correctly, they should care for their safety. In Chennai whereever u go, if u r travelling around the same time-period, the speed does not matters. The max difference it will give u is 5 mins. People should understand that 5 mins is not as important as someones life.

  2. Lavanya (unregistered) on June 13th, 2006 @ 10:22 pm

    >>People should understand that 5 mins is not as important as someones life.

    True but the point is we *are* the people. No offense meant Karthik, but I think all of us educated and aware people do not hesitate to break rules when we are running late for work. And what do we say? Everyone does it and you need to do so in order to carry on.

    What if, the next time, when someone behind honks real hard when the signal shows 3 more seconds for green, we stop and wait until we can go? Little acts like these, which will get us loads of curses from a majority of the crowd but might just make one other person realize that there are rules to be followed, are the need of the hour imho.

    So when we say people lack common sense, I guess we are talking about ourselves. It would be wonderful if we could all discuss this thing and see if some useful and implementable solutions can be thought of.

  3. Erik (unregistered) on June 13th, 2006 @ 10:53 pm

    Here’s an example I saw up on YouTube of what you are talking about. Lots of commenters consider this better than stop and go traffic of the US. Interesting though.

  4. G V Balasubramanian (unregistered) on June 14th, 2006 @ 12:41 am

    Another thing I observed at Chennai. When there is no median and there is a traffic jam, all vehicles without any exception, in a bid to move fast go on the other end of the road which is meant for vehicles coming in the opposite direction. This results in the vehicle coming in the opposite direction not able to move and the situation worsens. The policeman will invariably not seen in such a situation. Sometimes the general public / auto drivers regulate the traffic and clear the blockade.

  5. R.S.MANI (unregistered) on June 14th, 2006 @ 5:44 am

    The people have no idea as for what the Centre Median is built; As a driver I have seen several times even educated youngs are climbed over the centre median and jumped the otherside not bothering the speedy vehicles. Once I stopped and asked such a guy, he cooly replied how far I have to walk just to cross the width of 30 to 40 feet. Who can educate them the importance of traffice rules/

  6. Keerthivasan (unregistered) on June 14th, 2006 @ 7:21 am

    Lavanya, you are right. The term people always includes you and me and others.

    Have you noted this pshycology ? a few guys come really slow on the road… say at 25 kmph. But they become restless all of a sudden in a accumulated traffic. they try to overtake and all, and after doing that get back to 25 kmph..

    People honk and irritate the guy whose bike got stuck and wont start.. it could happen to anyone.. people arent that understanding..

    People wont change all of a sudden, because they cant. They can only evolve.. and that takes time.

  7. Lavanya (unregistered) on June 14th, 2006 @ 10:03 am

    Keerthivasan: I agree with you. Particularly the example of the 25 kmph guy. People drive/ride at different speeds too and sometimes it is irritating when someone is moving really slow bang in the middle of a rather empty road.

    Chennai is a city of many different ex-villages (and please do not get me wrong here) and I think the roads that we see now were originally built to cater to a small area. Traffic snarls apart, it is charming that our city has grown organically. I find well-ordered wide roads (each a carbon copy of the next one) and perfectly aligned buildings rather artificial. The city’s essence gets lost in all that ordering somehow. I am glad that has not happened to such a great extent in Chennai.

  8. Karthik (unregistered) on June 14th, 2006 @ 11:13 am

    I understand that people includes Me, You and Everyone :) The point I wanted to make is that generally people(that includes me if u r wondering :) lack road-sense. If I say ‘We lack road-sense’ that would disqualify me on talking about such thing ;)

    And lacking common-sense or road-sense or sensibility et all does not depend upon education. It depends upon the individual.

    I believe the youtube video is of a traffic junction and if I am not wrong it is inHyderabad (Me having problems with flash :( Atleast Chennai is not that bad.

    Bala: Most of these guys(including me if that makes me politically correct :) who jump median(literally) are doing so because of ignorance as u rightly say. But educating them.. might not be possible since the target group is very huge and there is no single means to spread awareness. To start with we can target specific groups (like this blog for instance targetting bloggers – tnx to David :) Similarly we can spread awareness with-in the groups that we belong.

    Lavanya: Thanks for bringing out a different insight of Chennai :)

  9. Chandler64 (unregistered) on June 14th, 2006 @ 11:17 am

    I love the Indian way of thinking.
    I love the Indian Noice making culture.
    It is a unique celebraqtion of Life!
    Everyone knows how to make their own
    sign ature in sound saying ‘I am coming thru’..

    Just because the neo-sophisticated can afford Motorized local motion , discuss they do about
    Traffic rules, courtesy, blah blah..
    How about the othe 70% of the Indians
    who don’t care a hoot and they want
    their children to cross the street
    from their Home to school across the street.

    I say import some Eyerawkey’s to train
    the local students how to use India’s own
    Sivgazi Fireworks in the middle of the
    road whenever they want to cross the street!

    *MK parties will support, Oppose, agitate,
    appoint, their uncles, cousins, nephews,
    as ministers for each slice of the
    Low(or Hi depending on what you smoke)way
    until Traffic stops completely. Who knows
    it may bring down the price of Gas (Petrol
    to some and Dizzl to others) and there in
    the end ‘Nirvana’ for the freewheelers

    Don’t forget Keep those traffic flowing
    you need to get there ….somehow five
    minutes sooner than your nemesis at the

    Do walk Home safe on the Road, since the
    nite-shift workers on the Skooters are
    sharing the side-walks with Jasmine garland

  10. Karthik (unregistered) on June 14th, 2006 @ 12:33 pm

    Hmmm.. lets see.. Here is a person talking about other ppl who write about non-issues like traffic(atleast for that person) and keep ignoring the other 70%(as he/she chooses to call them). Well well.. Here is a person who talks about the other 70% sitting somewhere far away and reading something which he/she could have avoided reading and hey I can write watever DAMN I choose to write about. If you have problems dont read it.

  11. shek (unregistered) on June 14th, 2006 @ 1:27 pm

    A reader once had this to say in the Reader’s Mail column of The Hindu newspaper:”The best solution to tackle the traffic problem in Chennai is to ban two-wheelers.Bike readers show scant respect for other people on the road and cut their way through gaps available between two cars.”

    Now what kind of respect does this reader expect from bikers like me?Does he mean we have to bow our heads each time we pass a car?And what’s wrong in cutting through gaps between cars?You are doing it because you are able to do it with your bike.Probably that reader’s frustrated and jealous that he’s not able to do the same with his car.

    I cant imagine Chennai roads being devoid of bikes.Bikes add to your dressing style.Moreover activities like bird-watching and chick chasing can never be accomplished using cars.

  12. david (unregistered) on June 14th, 2006 @ 4:31 pm

    i’m glad that the post has struck a chord in so many people. i completely agree with lavanya-we are the people who make up the city, and the way we behave on the roads or elsewhere will determine the culture of the city.thats the spirit in which the post was done. the frustration stems from the fact that we are, as a city, very good in so many ways-except the traffic! lets come up with ways whereby we can positively influence fellow citizens without being judgemental. ‘im sure that, over time, people will see the light.

  13. suppamani (unregistered) on June 16th, 2006 @ 12:47 pm

    NO thinking of educating – only by imposing stringent punishments as per traffic rules would discourage the disobediance of the rules. Once the rules are followed 50% of the problems would be solved

  14. Lavanya (unregistered) on June 17th, 2006 @ 6:51 pm

    @Karthik – you are very welcome :)

    Suppamani’s perspective throws up an interesting point. Every time there is some serious issue, I notice that one set advocates a fear-instilling approach. Don’t spare, scare. Fine them, make things so stifling that they cannot escape, cause them even more stress as they look around for punishers before they try new tricks to outwit the system…

    In my opinion, such forceful tactics work for short periods and never in the long run. They underestimate the common man’s capability to understand and willingly follow. In India, we all have a tendency to clean our home of the rubbish and dump it on our neighbour’s doorstep! I think if a genuine sense of responsibility and belonging for one’s city can be created in its residents, there will be far more preemptive solutions than problems.

    Talking about solutions, what do all of you think of “share” helicopters (like share autos) with helipads atop strategic buildings to facilitate easy movement? :)

  15. suppamani (unregistered) on June 17th, 2006 @ 8:05 pm

    By implementing and enforcing the law only you can get good results – A lot of time more than 50 years have alrady been given to learn the rules – No results – by giving lesser punishments one or two times and by the by imposing severe punishments even upto suspending or cancelling the driving licence only such traffic irregulations would be curtiled. Then only others can have a safe travel.

  16. Lavanya (unregistered) on June 21st, 2006 @ 8:14 am

    Suppamani – I agree that implementing and enforcing the law leads to more comfortable living. However should the law profess suffocating punishments or should it offer constructive solutions is the question.

    Notice how a strong sense of belonging to one’s family makes one protective of it? I believe that such a feeling towards one’s city must be cultivated for that city’s vitality to be sustained.

    It is fine to talk about Chennai’s problems because, like any other city, there are issues here. However, a complaining perspective will only blind us to the possibility of creative solutions.

    All I am saying is that instead of hammering a restrictive solution down the throat of the citizen, it would be good to get him/her interested enough to volunteer solutions.

Terms of use | Privacy Policy | Content: Creative Commons | Site and Design © 2009 | Metroblogging ® and Metblogs ® are registered trademarks of Bode Media, Inc.