Driving in India?

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Driving in India

If you are an adventurous spirit, driving in India might be the thrill you have been looking for. If not, you should get a professional driver to navigate you through the congested streets and their unwritten rules. Our driving guide for expats gives you a good idea of what to expect.
Traffic conditions in India often tend to be chaotic.

At a Glance:

  • India’s roads are one of the most dangerous in the world, thanks to speeding, careless driving, and poorly maintained roads.

  • Driving in India can be loud, messy, and chaotic to say the least. Look out for cows, other livestock, and pedestrians weaving in and out of traffic.

  • If you wish to stay in India for longer than a year and import your own car, be prepared to apply for an Indian driving license and pay high customs duties.


India being the world’s second most populous country, it should come as no surprise that driving in India means getting used to crowded and heavily congested roads. Driving is rather dangerous, particularly in India's big cities, like Mumbai, Delhi, and Kolkata. That being said, driving in rural areas of India carries its own individual challenges: namely, potholes and animals.

In 2015, over 146,000 people died in road-related situations, according to the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways for India; that amounts to 400 traffic fatalities a day! In 2013, the World Health Organization even estimated the number to be more than 207,000 deaths a year. When it comes to road traffic deaths per 100,000 population, with a rate of 16.6, India is beaten only by Thailand, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Nepal in the South-East Asia region, according to the World Health Organization’s 2013 report.

It is difficult to reduce the amount of accidents on the roads for a number of reasons: many motorists do not obey traffic laws and there are very few pedestrian crossings, which makes both driving in India and being a pedestrian rather dangerous. The only good news is that people’s awareness has been raised in recent years, leading to the founding of road safety groups such as ArriveSAFE and Safe Road Foundation. The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways is committed to halving the number of deaths on Indian roads by 2020, having signed the Brasilia declaration in 2015 in support of this goal.

If you do not want to rely on public transportation to get around, it is highly recommended that you hire a chauffeur who has a couple of years of experience. They will have a better grasp of what driving in India is all about as they are more familiar with the rules of the road. Due to India’s low wages, these drivers are affordable and, more importantly, they will get you to your destination in one piece.

Hitting the Road in India

If you are set on driving in India yourself, you will have to share the road with rickshaws, speeding trucks, mopeds packed to their maximum capacity, dozens of other cars, and animals. You’ll also find pedestrians wandering the road, since pavements are few and far between and often terrible quality. Traffic in India’s gigantic cities is also very noisy: many Indian drivers honk their horns relentlessly. Contrary to the standards you might be used to in your home country, a horn is mainly used as a means of expressing oneself while driving in India — conveying every kind of emotion while using a single instrument. Some might also do it just for the sake of it. There is nothing to be done about this, except hop on the bandwagon and honk your horn!

Despite the country having the second-largest road network in the world, India’s more than 5.4 million kilometers of roadways are often far from well developed. Potholes, speed breakers, shards of glass, and cow dung are just some of the things you may find on the road while driving in India. Additionally, flooding may occur, especially during monsoon season (June–October), which will in turn cause sewers to overflow — this can drastically slow down the pace of driving. The marriage, birthday, or funeral procession of an important person in a larger city may similarly cause an eternal traffic jam with lots of honking horns.

Safety Advice for Driving in India

A vital piece of information for safe — or at least, safer — driving in India is the unofficial pecking order for the right-of-way: cows (because they are considered holy), elephants, large trucks, buses, SUVs, cars, mopeds, rickshaws, bicycles, handcarts, and, lastly, pedestrians. Many motorists play “chicken” while driving, meaning that they will drive in the middle of the road, challenging oncoming traffic to move aside into the ditch. Try not to get involved in this game, and if your driver does it, just look away and hope for the best!

The key to safe driving in India is to come armed with patience. Engaging in road rage is extremely dangerous and will get you nowhere, except perhaps into the nearest hospital. Keep your eyes peeled and be ready to break, swerve, and accelerate all at virtually the same time.

If you happen to be involved in an accident, try to settle it with the other driver as quickly as possible. Avoid drawing the attention of other drivers or pedestrians. They will usually take the side of the Indian driver or the driver with the smaller vehicle, and this may erupt in a fight.


We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete. 

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