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Thursday, March 17, 2016

Two Wheeler Safety precautions for Indian cities

Commuting in any Indian city on two wheeler is getting riskier every day. Even though I could have bought a small car on loan, I am continuing to use a two wheeler for my daily commute, as two wheelers save lots of road space, consume less fuel, enable you to reach destination faster and are cheaper to maintain. But ever increasing number of two wheeler accidents on Indian roads worries me. Last month a techie in Bengaluru had his body split in half by an over-speeding truck. Many minor accidents involving two-wheeler keep occurring every day but seldom get reported. Because a two wheeler rider is exposed on all fronts (little helmet is not good enough), even minor incidents can prove deadly for a biker. At some point of time in future I might just buy a car purely for the safety of four walls it offers.
In order to be safe on Indian roads, you need to be extra sensitive to ever changing scenarios around you, be able to identify potential hazards and stay clear of the same. Unfortunately driving schools only teach you how to drive and NOT how to identify and avert potential dangers. Every article on road safety recycles the same old stuff- ride slow, follow traffic rules, keep servicing your vehicle- which is fine in theory but not practical enough to be street smart and be safe.

For now, I am sharing a real serious set of precautions every two-wheeler rider must take while riding in Indian cities. We can always blame the government, other road users for things that go wrong, but end of the day, what matters is if you are back home in one piece or not. Below tips go far beyond the typical “wear your helmet”, “service your bike” etc and are listed from my years of observation and practice, aimed to ensure that bikers stay safe in a mess of a traffic. If you find merit in my advises, do share this post with your friends, relatives and family members who might be on the road riding a two wheeler. These are focused on city ride for every day commute and not highway cruises.

One and only way you can be safe is by giving your undivided attention to the road and everything surrounding it. Do not think of office work, family tension or anything else that can distract you. Keep an eye on people and vehicles all around you while you ride. In particular, pay attention to below possibilities:

1. Respect big vehicles.
Bikers and moped riders are often known to squeeze in their vehicles in every tiny space available. For someone driving a big vehicle like bus or truck, two wheelers trying to get ahead back to back will make a bad situation worse. Big vehicles need more space to make a turn and they can’t wait there whole day for all two wheelers to pass. At some point a bus or truck driver’s patience runs out and he will be forced to push his vehicle forward and assume priority. When this happens, you don’t want to get squeezed by a bus or truck- so give them the space and priority they deserve. Do not go too close to big vehicles negotiating a 90 degree turn- the rear part of the vehicle may sweep excess area in opposite direction and might hit you if you are too close and ignorant.

2. Watch out for protruding objects from vehicles.
In India vehicles sometime carry cargo two- three times bigger in length than the vehicle itself. Iron rods, construction material like woods and such stuff are often packed precariously on a goods rickshaw or mini truck, partly protruding out on the road. Some people carry stuff like cycles, water cans, chairs etc even on two-wheelers.  These cargo can fall off or hit you accidentally. Keep a watch for such vehicles and stay a safe distance away for your own safety.

3. Watch out for bus stops
Buses may have to change lanes as they near bus stop, some idiotic passengers may jump out even before bus stops. Share autos may stop abruptly to drop off or pickup passengers. If you near a bus stop, take extra precautions.

4. Watch out for aged vehicles.
Keep an eye for vehicles that are extremely aged. Such rusted vehicles may not have proper brakes, tyres may be worn out, may not have their indicators working, mirrors might be partially or fully gone- all these mean more risk to you should anything go wrong. So maintain more distance and stay alert.

5. Look out for rash drivers.
Very frequently we come across riders and drivers who are either in extreme hurry or are manner-less to drive in a straight line/dignified manner. They ride/drive in a zig-zag manner at high speeds, changing lanes, honking loud, scaring other drivers, overtaking from any direction possible. One day these guys will definitely meet with accidents, because their survival depends on how accommodating rest of the road users are and not on how skilled they are in riding/driving.  But then, when you see such people approaching you, do not get tempted to enter into a race mode and compete with them or block their way to irritate them further etc. It might just be safe to give them way.

6. Do not follow vehicle ahead of you at its centre- align your two wheeler to either left or right wheel of the vehicle ahead of you
Indian cities do not have any separate lane for two wheelers, so bikes and mopeds get mixed with cars and vans and other vehicles. Often you will have to ride behind a four wheeler, sometimes at high speeds. There’re some big risks if you follow the car at its centre.

Risk 1:  Car driver will not slow down if there is a pothole which is in between the two wheels.  If you are tailing it at the centre, you will be treated with a surprise pothole, which can be deadly. Hitting large pothole at high speed can cost you your balance and throw you off the vehicle or might cause damage to the wheels of your bike. Unless you are very familiar with the road, you should be attentive to possible obstacles like pot holes. If you tail a vehicle behind its left or right wheel, then you are relatively safe- because if a wheel is to go over pothole, car driver will slow down, giving you a hint that something is wrong ahead. Or you will have some space to turn left/right and avoid rear-ending the car ahead of you.

Risk 2: Sudden braking of vehicle ahead: If you are tailing a car at the centre and it brakes hard, you will not have room to avoid an impact. If you follow behind left or right wheel, then you will have partial view of obstacles ahead of you and may have some space to steer your bike in the event of emergency.

7. Road conditions
Road conditions matter much more to a bike rider than a car driver. Loose sand can make a bike skid. Protruding cable or other sharp objects can topple your vehicle. Unscientific speed breakers and pot holes or man holes can make you fall off your bike, objects dumped by the roadside might force you to change lanes, banners and other obstacles can cause hazards- so it is important to be attentive to these varying conditions- more so if you are not used to commuting on that route every day.

8. Know your vehicle. Different bikes will have different stopping distances, different safety features. If it is not your own bike, you may not be very familiar with its conditions- It is very important to have good understanding of the vehicle you are using and factor appropriate safety margin (max speed, distance between you and vehicle ahead of you etc). Ride first few kms carefully so that you get acquainted to the bike. A misjudgment can cause you dearly.

9. Try alternate travel options other than using your bike/moped- Public transportation may not always be as bad as it sounds- during mid-afternoon/off peak hours buses are more convenient than riding a bike. May be you can carpool with some of your colleagues. Occasionally try alternate modes and decide if any of them are better than two-wheeler option.

10 Your own safety gear- helmets are designed for a reason- it may spoil your hairstyle or it may be irritating to carry around- but when an accident happens, it can make all the difference between life and death. So take it seriously, wear it and buckle it. In order to survive the mad world of Indian cities, two wheeler rider should be lucky all the time, whereas to meet with an accident, it is enough if you are unlucky just once.  Shoes and jackets are recommended, but sometimes full formal safety gear is not practical for everyday office commute- you take a call. 
11. Safe Speed
I wouldn't say go slow. Safe speed is a factor of a dozen parameters- road condition, bike condition, weather, no of lanes, no of vehicles, rider's experience and expertise, day/night and so on. As a responsible rider you should be able to decide what speed is the upper limit for the scenario you are in. Ride within that limit.

12. At the signal
Expect a few people to jump signal- watch out and do not be in the middle of the road if signal has just turned red from orange...

Being prepared
For a moment imagine what would happen if you were to meet with an accident and had to be hospitalized- will strangers on the road be able to easily find your emergency contacts? Is there a friend/colleague/family member who is aware of your movements and will raise a flag if you are delayed beyond reasonable time? Do you have a basic first aid kit? Is your blood group called out in DL or some other document in your wallet? What kind of insurance cover you have for these eventualities? Are you aware of main trauma centres around your regular route (say home to office)? If you have convincing answer then you are relatively better prepared

Recently Govt of India is thinking of making headlights Always ON on two -wheelers. Headlights are to be kept always on in western countries- but that is because of some key reasons
- Two-wheelers are very few in number compared to cars, so car owners won’t be expecting a biker around
-  Weather is usually foggy, so headlight helps.

In Indian context it may not be relevant as all drivers are used to possibility of two wheelers around.

No amount of preparation can assure 100% risk free ride on Indian road. There is always a risk- but this risk can be minimized to a large extent using above tips.

Did I miss anything? Any other practical tips to make every day commute safe for two wheel riders?

Even if half the bike owners upgrade to cars, our roads will be choke to death. City administration should focus on making public transportation and bike riding safe and convenient. But I don't see that happening any time soon.

Ride safe people.

Also read: Dirt biking experience in Kolar * Bullet- really worth? * Bike vs Car- which is better? * Safe driving tips from Ford DSFL * Road Safety in India- missing links  * Tips for night driving * Safe braking distance

13 comments :

Agn! Sharman said...

Awesome article and a must read for two Wheeler users in India.

Anonymous said...

Excellent points! I have one advantage of using 2 wheelers: a bike is a smaller target, hence harder to hit; they can easily squeeze in to small gaps and avoid collision :P

While there are upmteen no. of entry level hatches available for a few lakhs, the safety that they provide compared to bikes is only marginal, and primarily it is against environmental hazards (i.e. rain, dust, sand, etc like you mentioned). Indian small hatches undergo so much cost cutting that safety is sacrificed. Check out the crash test results of some of the popular hatches sold here and you won't ever want to sit in these death traps that exude an aura of false safety: http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/indian-car-scene/147299-indian-nano-alto-figo-i10-polo-fail-global-ncap-safety-test.html

In the event of a collision, badly designed cars can actually be much more dangerous than a bike in the certain situations. For eg., say you are on a two lane road and there's an oncoming truck. A KSRTC bus suddenly swerves from behind that truck to overtake him.

1) Bike - you have a higher chance of finding space on the extreme left side of the road, and avoid a head on collision. If the handle or mirror gets clipped, you will fall, slide/roll on the road for sometime and end up with lots of scrapes, and perhaps a few broken bones.

2) Car - you need much more space as even the smallest car is significantly wider than a bike. You can either run off the road, or brake and pray the bus goes back to its lane. If you do collide, your tin box will crush around like you wouldn't believe. Ironically, all the material around you that you thought would protect you is what will hurt you: the steering will hit your chest if it does not have a collapsible column. The front passenger will either hit the dashboard or fly out of the windshield. The rear passengers who refuse to wear seatbelts will fly and hit the backrests of the front seats.

In short, bikes have a higher probability of letting you escape from tricky situations. But in case of a mishap, a *good* car can absorb most of the impact energy and save your life. Assuming you were wearing your seat belt, of course.

A pre-owned well built car will, in all probability, be safer than a shiny new entry level hatch.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Thanks Agni

@Anon- This post is about city ride- where accidents are usually small impacts and collisions not head on collisions or other major accidents as in highways. Probability of a truck/bus hitting the car/bike is high, but completely crushing the car and its occupant is very low, but bikers can get killed with simple impacts because other vehicle may run over them etc

Yes, both bikes and cars have some pros and cons.

D.Nambiar said...

Well thought-of points.
Great post!

The wild said...

STEP1 : To get a license legally and by passing the test and knowing road traffic rules.

I am not exagerating more than 75% of people who have license(including 2,3,4,n+ wheelers) ,have got it illegally -dont know the basic road rules.For eg while turning right ,you need to ensure you keep to the left and within the divider line and not make a turn veering into the oncoming traffic-More than that people argue when you stop and try to explain them that they are not following traffic rules -just one example.


Basic commonsense is lacking -judgement of speed ,road conditions ,own vehicle condition is very poor.Also in case of poor weather.Regarding Headlight mandatory ON is only for new vehicles sold on or after Jan 2016 ,checked online for UK.

Use of Indicators -all vehicles two wheelers and four wheelers dont know that there is an indicator existing on their vehicle and what is the use of Indicator.You will be surprised even high end cars such as Audi,BMW and other SUV make sudden turns when the least they can do give indication for both oncoming and vehicles coming behind them of the intended turn they plan to make .

Use of Mirrors - Again most people use it to put make up or comb hair,they dont understand or never use their mirrors to check their surroundings while driving.So much accidents can be avoided if people used their mirrors.

Expect people by default to jump signals ,it has become common ,so if you get a green signal watch out for geniuses jumping signals since as you rightly said we have to ensure our safety

On a personal note -beware of smokers both in cars,two wheelers and other vehicles.The problem is more stark with people with cars who think they own the road with big vehicles ,once i narrowly missed the cigarette ash being dished out royally from a car while driving a two wheeler ,the road and our face has to face the brunt of the such heinous and callous people and yes beware of drunken drivers after hours /late night.

Speed -sorry for the bizzare comparison but nothing can be more stark than this -the difference between a monkey and man given a motorcycle is the man is expected to ride it taking all road rules and other precautions ,including speed limit ,the monkey would continue to ride at top speed regardless of anything,so the human is expected to be logical make commonsense and logical decisions to make a difference to all human lives around him.So many accidents happen due to overspeeding in the city.

Although on highway - On a recent trip to Mysore - while i was driving -out of nowhere a huge granite stone has been placed in the middle of the road by a graceful farmer -no notice of any sort -it was pure luck that the stone height just about passed below the car chassis.Imagine a two wheeler hitting this stone.

Every tom -dick and harry wants to drive slowly at their own pace on the right lane -no matter how fast the vehicle which is coming behind them ,not one vehicle gave way for overtaking,even though the left lane is fully crystal clear ,so the people who break the rules are now the norm ,people who follow it are an exception .

Destination Infinity said...

One more: When you want to stop in a signal that has just turned red (and people are hurrying to cross the it in spite of the red), try to go to the extreme left or right and put your right hand up to indicate you are stopping.

I am considering wearing rider jacket and gloves in addition to helmets. Do you think that will help in the safety perspective?

Destination Infinity

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Thanks DN

@The Wild: Thanks for additional inputs. Yes, those who obey rules are made to feel like an fool, as everyone else is violating them.

@Rajesh: It will definitely help, but putting them on every day for every small ride may not be convenient. When are you getting your new bike?
Yes, thanks for mentioning signal jump

Bushra Muzaffar said...

The points are so apt...but riding a two-wheeler in a bigger city seems so dangerous these days. 'Woh hamara zamana tha' when riding a two-wheeler was safe and fun. Across India I have seen people have very less respect for traffic rules. A massive sensitization program should be mobilized in this regard. Your article is a good starting point in raising awareness. #doingourbit

Ami said...

Nicely captured. Though personally, I am of the opinion that two wheelers are just not safe anymore on the Bangalore roads. Not because the rider is careless but because the others are negligent.

Sarika said...

Excellent tips for bikers. I have seen many bike accidents happening in India because the Saree or Dupatta of pillion rider gets entangled in the rear wheels. Checking tire pressure is also very important as one can lose control of the bike in a sudden puncture.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Thanks Sarika.
With increasing alloy wheels, risk of dupatta getting entangled is little less, but yes, this risk is there.

@Ami-Yes, most of the tips in this post are to advise riders against the potential risk due to other vehicles and their movements

@Bushra-cops should either start penalizing offenders heavily or start rewarding those who obey rules. Today there is neither and those who obey rules are made to look like idiots by those who break it and get away

Anonymous said...

Very nice article.Thank you for your effort.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Thanks