Lessons in traffic discipline from Down Under

Traffic snarls are never pleasant, but if there can be so much discipline in traffic jams, I never knew. On our way to Paris by road, we were caught in a traffic clogged highway which is infamous for the worst traffic jams in Europe. During the peak rush hour in the evening, vehicles inched slowly in stop-and-go movement, but amazing was the army like discipline with which the traffic moved in an orderly manner. No bumper to bumper driving, all the vehicles moved in their own lane maintaining significant distance between one another. No overtaking, no lane changing, no honking. Unbelievable!

Another scene, albeit another location: in an Indian dominated suburb of Sydney, the driver, an easily identifiable Indian, waited patiently in his car, while we crossed the road majestically on foot. I wondered if he would have treated the pedestrians with the same respect back in India, quite possible the driver would have frowned, if not intimidated us.

I often wonder why there is so much chaos and complete anarchy on Indian roads. Why is there scant regard for pedestrians and traffic rules in our country? After all, the same Indians who care two hoots about the traffic rules in our own country follow the rules abroad.

Our chitchat with Indian families at a get-together in Sydney had much to throw light on the subject. It had barely been a month since fines on traffic violations had been raised steeply in India; quite naturally the discussions veered round traffic penalties in Australia.

A young Indian couple recounted how thrilled they were when they bought a car and went for their first car ride on the wide roads of Sydney. To give them company on the ride was a close family member from India, the proud mother of the lady. There was a lot of excitement, loud music being played in the car. Driving merrily, the young man was caught on speed radar exceeding the limit. The excitement turned into despair when a hefty fine was slapped on him for multiple violations like dangerous driving, over speeding, loud music, passenger at the back seat not wearing the seat belt. Four thousand Australian dollars! The blow was much bigger as it had not been long since they migrated to Australia and hence were still counting in rupees.  A fine of two lakhs in Indian rupees was a huge sum to give them many sleepless nights. Needless to state, the mother-in law was in a state of complete shock.

Another shocker for us: four friends including our son, minus their wives, were on a bachelor trip to the hills. The young man behind the driver’s seat was driving fast beyond the limit on an expressway. He was given a chase by the cops. Finally when the vehicle was intercepted, he sought to justify, “I was overtaking a vehicle and hence ….”  “No, you overtook not one but quite a few vehicles,” was the curt reply from the cops. Not only was the fellow charged with a heavy fine but also earned a number of demerit points. An accumulation of demerit points beyond a certain limit implies the suspension of driver’s licence, the most dreaded punishment.

Now, we realized why traffic rules are followed so strictly in Australia. Not only are the fines hefty but the only way to escape fines is to obey the traffic rules. And this has an implicit lesson for India: hefty penalties are not enough, more importantly we need the fear of law, strict and effective implementation of traffic rules in which technology can play an important role.


(Published in Chandigarh Tribune on 16 January 20120)


8 Replies to “Lessons in traffic discipline from Down Under”

  1. True picture of the scenario depicted in the article ! Well done . When I went to Sydney for the first time , about sixteen years ago I was stunned at how disciplined people were on the road . As per courtesy it is first right of pedestrians to cross the road. The car drivers are to wait patiently till all pedestrians have crossed safely! If they are school children crossing they invariably remove their hats and bow to the driver as thank you note for having given them the way ! Most interesting incident was when I was trying to clear driving test . Having scored 100 percent in virtual driving test I was confident of clearing it in one go . I failed the test because I did not maintain same distance from the cyclist as I would have maintained from a car while driving ! It is expensive affair getting the licence . How I wished the Australian inspector had tried to negotiate his way on road in Chandigarh !!! Very well written article Rama . Enjoyed reading . Keep writing.

    1. Yes Vini ,one is astounded by the discipline on the roads of Sydney.I have been to Australia only thrice but you are almost an Aussi . You know so much more than me. I must say you have put across your own experience brilliantly . Kudos to you .

  2. This is so true Ma’am. Living in Sydney, I have seen how disciplined, well-mannered and polite people are not just on the roads here, but in general as well. I have tried to improve my mannerisms further. It’s a delight to read your articles !

    1. Yes Aditi , it is indeed amazing to find people so disciplined there. I know you are so courteous and well mannered and if you feel there is so much to learn from them, I must say it speaks volumes about you . Blessings…

  3. This is truly written, ma’am. I appreciate how priority is given to pedestrians and cyclists. No incessant honking, parking only in parking zones, adhering to zebra crossing top my list. I saw similar behaviour across other western countries too where people sincerely follow the rules. Stricter laws, heavy fines and adequate monitoring can help to discipline the traffic in India.

    1. Thanks Ananta for sharing your experience and observation ….must have been astounding.I agree with you that we need heavy
      penalties coupled with effective and strict implementation of traffic rules in India for having some semblance of discipline on roads.We have seen it works … look at the traffic scene in Chandigarh…. far better than other parts of the country.

  4. The article is beautifully written.Our hearts go out to thousands of labourers who started on foot to be in their hometowns hundreds of miles away and some of them could not make it.It seems we will be better as human beings once the calamity is over.We hope Rama ji you will pen down some more articles which will give us lot of positive thoughts

    1. Thank you so much ma’am.We are feeling safe in our homes with no worry about the food or money, but it has been unspeakable tragedy for the thousands of migrants who lost their livelihood and were on roads with no proper shelter, food and transport after the lock-down. Right now it is life vs livelihood, but in the absence of jobs it will boil down to the question of survival for the millions of poor.
      Hope and pray the crisis ends soon.

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