Friday, November 04, 2011

The gentlemen of the highways...

I’ve been traveling extensively since I was a kid. When we were small we rarely spent a weekend at home. Weekends were synonymous with travel. We hit the road every weekend and I went to school on Mondays with a note to explain missed weekend homework. Karnataka has something called Dussehra holidays that comes as a welcome break during October. Dussera hols lasted ten days and we traveled a little further like Darjeeling or Jaipur or Kashmir. Summer break usually meant a holiday in Kerala or abroad. My Dad’s love for driving has seen us driving through pitch dark jungles roads, getting a puncture in deserted places and getting stranded on a mountain with a ruptured fuel pipe. But he was an experienced driver and had a remedy for every eventuality.

Nowadays when I read about highway accidents I wonder how my Dad managed to drive almost on every road in South India without a scratch. Road trips always remind me of long distance (LD) lorry drivers. And this post is about these people, who have actually carved out a kind of Highway Code that ensures that accidents are rare. Accidents do happen but a lot of people don’t know that if you follow the highway code you can ensure a safe journey, unless someone deliberately rams into you.

The highway code is simple. Overtake when the LD lorry driver tells you to and more or less follow his instructions that he will give you through hand signals. This means if you are trying to over take a slow moving LD lorry, you make your presence felt by appearing in his rear view mirror and honking. If the road ahead is clear he will tell you to overtake with a wave of his hand. If not he will tell you to wait by holding up his hand. This basic procedure can keep you safe on the road. Whenever he over took a lorry, dad would give a ‘thank you’ with a short blast of the horn. I would watch keenly to see the driver acknowledging it with a nod and just as quickly returning his attention to the road. Small courtesies, but these matter a lot on the highway. On our travels we have met only friendly LD lorry drivers and most of them will tell you that it is newcomers to the highways who cause accidents. Long distance lorry drivers have carved a discipline on the road over years of lonely long distance driving.

Once we were climbing down a mountain and mist swirled up making visibility almost zero. A lorry driver going downhill spotted us and told us to drive close behind. We climbed down the steep mountain without a scratch. Making friends and talking to people helps. And when these drivers see a gentleman talking to them with respect they will go all out to help. Sometimes I think the highway code is nothing but a gentleman’s code. And only true gentlemen recognize that.

Of course there are some precautions to be taken on the highway. Like when you see our good ‘ol reliable and trustworthy KSRTC or a BMTC, you should get down from the vehicle and run like mad and not stop till you have reached a hill or a high place. Come back later with a tow away truck to take the wreckage of your car to the nearest garage. It will be neatly pulverized into a more manageable size with a little bow on top to show there are no hard feelings. Their reliability and trustworthiness in hitting you even if you were parked a mile away from the road is legendary.

If the highway was used only by the LD guys, or if everyone driving on the highway used the Highway Code, we would have safer highways.