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India Driving Guide 2020

Driving in India is not so different to driving in the USA, as long as you have an International Driving Permit and an understanding of the basic rules.

Lisa Brown

January 21, 2020

INTRODUCTION

India is home to one of the most vibrant cultures in the world. By visiting this country, you can experience their remarkable traditions. Tourists also love the ability to witness some of the most incredible monuments in the world, such as the Taj Mahal and the Ganges river. Because of the stunning beauty that this country has to offer, millions of tourists visit India each year. In fact, in 2018, tourism contributing a whopping $280 billion to the Indian economy.

To make sure that you experience all this country has to offer, you will have to make sure that you rent a car, which will make it easier for you to explore this country. If you do this, you will have the freedom to visit some local markets or spend more time in places that fascinate you. You won’t be able to do this if you book a guided tour, which has a rigged schedule that you will be expected to follow. However, before you leave for your holiday, there are things that you should know about driving in India. This information will ensure that you can stay safe when navigating the roads in this country. To help you, we put together this excellent guide, telling you everything you need to know about driving in India.

Renting a car will allow you to explore not just the big cities but also those all-important towns, villages and landmarks in India

Is an International Driving Permit required in India?

When you are driving in India, you will need to make sure that you have the right licenses, ensuring that you don’t get into any trouble with the police. It is also essential if you are involved in an accident, to establish that you had the right to drive the vehicle. Note that driving in India with US license is not legal. The type of license that you will require will depend on how long you intend to stay in India. The legal driving age in India is 18 years.

Longer Stays

If you want to visit India for over a year, you will need to apply for an Indian license. You can do this by going to either a Regional Transport Office (RTO), or by going to a driving school. There are a few documents that you will need to present. First, you will have to fill out an application form. Then, you will need to show your passport, proof of address, and submit a passport-sized photo. Finally, you will have to make sure that you get examined by a medical professional to make sure that you will be fit to drive. Once you pass the driving exam, you will be granted your license.

Shorter Holidays

Most tourists aren’t planning on spending a year in the country. If this is the case, you will need to apply for an International Driving License in India. Driving in India with foreign license is only permitted with an International Driving Permit (IDP). How to get an international driver’s license in India? Simply apply for an IDP online, which will make this process more manageable. To do this, you will have to prove that you have a driver’s license in your home country. You will also have to be over 18 years old. Once you become approved, the IDP will be valid for a year. You will be able to use this license in over 150 countries, making it perfect for people who want to travel frequently.

What to Do if You Need an IDP Urgently?

If you’ve arrived in India, and want to rent a car, you will have to present an IDP. If you don’t have one, this can be a big problem. Thankfully, you can solve this problem by fast-tracking your application, meaning that when you get approved, an electronic copy of your IDP will be sent to you, allowing you to continue enjoying your holiday.

If you forget or make a last minute decision that you want to rent a car while you are in India, it is possible to get an IDP through a premium fast track service, and it will be sent to you electronically in just a few hours.

Process of Renting a Car in India

Once you’ve obtained an IDP, you will be able to rent a car. In most cases, this is one of the first things that you will do when you arrive in the country. Thankfully, you will have multiple rental companies for you to choose from, with a choice of famous international brands, like Hertz, available.

What Documents Will You Need to Provide?

Before you rent a car, you will need to provide several documents for the car rental company. First, you will have to present a form of ID. In most cases, this will be a passport. You should be aware that the driving age in India is 18. If you are younger than this, you might not be able to rent a vehicle. Depending on the rental option you choose, you will also need to present a driver’s license. Finally, you will need to have a way of paying for a vehicle.

Car Rental Options

There are two options for you to choose from when renting a car in India. First, you can choose to select one that comes with a chauffeur, saving you from some of the dangers of driving in India. Alternatively, you can choose to drive the vehicle yourself. The best option will often depend on where you are traveling. For example, if you want to drive around the major cities and see the tourist attractions, you may want to rent a chauffeured option. However, if you intend to drive to more remote destinations, you may want to drive the vehicle yourself. Also, it would be best if you thought about how confident you are about handling the road conditions in India. If you feel nervous or unsure about the traffic rules, you may want to use a driver, and reduce the chances of having an accident.

Car Rental Fees

The rental fees that you can expect to pay will vary depending on the option that you choose. For example, if you decide to drive the car yourself, you will be expected to pay higher fees to compensate for the increased risk. Also, if you damage the vehicle, you might lose any deposits that you made. If you decide to hire a driver, the rental price will often include their food and wage. However, you might want to double-check this with the rental company. Also, the type of vehicle that you choose will impact the costs. Larger vehicles tend to be more expensive to rent and run.

Choose a Small Car

There are multiple factors that you should consider when deciding which vehicle you purchase. One of these may be thinking about the type of terrain you will be traveling over or the amount of space that you will require. However, it’s often a good idea to choose a smaller vehicle. The streets of India can often be quite small and narrow. So, a smaller vehicle will find it easier to get around. Also, as you drive, you will have to swerve around people. A small car can often be easier to control than a larger vehicle.

Returning the Car

After your holiday, you will have to return the car. Before doing this, the car rental company might require you to fill up the car with gas. If you don’t do this, you will incur extra fees. To prevent this, you should make sure to read your rental agreement carefully. Also, they will want to inspect the condition of the vehicle. If there is any damage, you may need to have it repaired. To ensure that you don’t get stuck paying for someone else’s mistakes, do an inspection yourself at the start of the holiday. As you do this, take a picture of any pre-existing damage.

Get Your International Driver's Permit in 2 hours

An IDP is a legal requirement to drive or rent a car in several foreign countries. It is also a United Nations regulated travel document for your safety and ease of travel.

What Side of the Road Do They Drive on in India?

As we’ll discuss, the traffic flow in India can be a potential nightmare, with a lot of erratic drivers. To make sure that you reduce the chances of having an accident, you will need to make sure that you are on the correct side of the road. In India, this means sticking to the left-hand side of the road, because they are a former British colony.

Driving in India Vs. Driving in the US: What’s the Difference?

When you drive your rental car off the lot and head out into the street, you will likely notice some significant differences between driving in India vs USA. As you adjust to this new way of driving, it’s essential to stay alert so that you can keep on the look for any potential dangers. To help you stay safe, here are some of the most significant obstacles that a US citizen driving in India should be aware of.

 

Potholes

When you are driving in the U.S., potholes and an uneven road surface are minor inconveniences. At worst, they can do some damage to your suspension. However, when you are traveling in India, potholes can be a much bigger problem. Poorly maintained roads might be responsible for ten deaths a day. The way that people drive around these hazards can often add to the amount of danger that you will face. For example, some people may swerve erratically in an attempt to avoid the pothole. Alternatively, people might slow down suddenly to avoid danger.

For this reason, you should make sure to carefully scan the road, looking for any potholes in your path, allowing you to exercise more caution in those areas. It would help if you were especially careful after heavy rains when the potholes become more difficult to spot.

Livestock on the Road

It would be best if you were also prepared to encounter more potential hazards on the road than you would in the U.S. For example, it’s common to see cows and dogs on the road. For this reason, you need to be prepared if you encounter one of these animals. First, you should be aware that these animals are highly significant in India. Injuring a cow is deeply offensive to Hindus. It’s common to wait for the cows to pass by, ensuring that no harm comes to the animals. Cows can often cause a traffic jam, but unless the cow moves along, there’s nothing you can do. If you can’t stop in time, you should swerve the vehicle, ensuring that the cow isn’t hurt.

Multiple Forms of Transport on the Road

Many people from the U.S. are used to dealing with cars, trucks, and bikes on the roads. However, in India, there are multiple other forms of transport. For example, it’s common to see people riding elephants or using donkeys to transport items. Remember that you will need to share the road with all manner of people and animals.

For this reason, you will have to make sure to stay alert, assess the situation, and take the best possible action. For an instance, if it’s safe, you may want to overtake a slower animal. In some cases, trucks or bikes may indicate it’s safe to pass them. Alternatively, you may have to move out of the way if the animal begins to act erratically.

Street Vendors

You may also need to keep an eye out for street vendors. When your car is stopped in traffic, people might wander in between the vehicles, offering items for sale. There is a range of issues that you may encounter, anything from food items to bracelets. The most important thing to remember is that you are under no obligation to buy anything that you don’t want. Also, if you feel the price is too high, you can ask for a better deal. In most cases, these vendors will be willing to negotiate with you.

More Crowded Streets

Another big difference is the number of people on the road. The streets in India are highly congested, with all types of vehicles using the streets to get around, meaning that you may need to expect longer travel times to reach your destination. As we’ll discuss, in this type of environment, it’s important to drive defensively, allowing you to make your way through these highly congested streets in a safe manner.

Broken Down Cars

In the U.S., when a car breaks down, it’s common to move it onto the shoulder of the road to allow other vehicles to get past. However, this isn’t always possible in India, as the shoulders might be dangerously rough. For this reason, some people opt to leave their cars in the middle of the road. To protect themselves, they might place a circle of rocks around the vehicle. Though it can be inconvenient, you will need to navigate around these vehicles. Also, it would help if you were careful about moving fast when the car has been fixed. In some cases, people might want to move the rocks back to the side of the road, which can add additional hazards to your route.

What Are the Most Important Road Rules to Remember When Driving in India?

As you can tell, there are multiple significant difficulties between driving in India Vs United States. However, for your safety, there are many important driving rules in India that you should try to follow.

Drinking and Driving

When you consume alcohol, it affects your perception and your ability to focus, and it can increase the chances that you will have an accident, especially on the busy roads of India. You should be aware that the Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) limit in India is 0.03%. If the police find that you have consumed more than this, they have two options. They can either imprison you for up to 6 months or give you a fine of up to 2,000 Rand (133.29$). If severe enough, they may decide to do both. These penalties can get worse if you are a repeat offender.

Overtaking

As you drive in India, there are multiple situations where you will need to pass another vehicle. Before you do this, you should consider the overall road condition. If you are on a curve or don’t have a clear view of the road ahead, you may want to wait. Once you are ready, you will need to pass the vehicle on the right, which is one of the most common rules broken in India, but it’s still crucial that you do it correctly. If you don’t, you may incur a fine from the police.

Right of Way

When you are in India, you should be aware that, when stopped at an intersection, the drivers currently on the road have the right of way. Due to the unpredictability of Indian traffic, you should be sure that there is a break in the traffic on both sides before you proceed onto the road. In most cases, this means making sure that traffic is clear in both directions.

Emergency Vehicles

In most other countries around the world, when you see an emergency services vehicle approaching, it is your responsibility to pull over to the side and let the vehicle through. If you are stopped in an intersection, wait until you know where the vehicle is headed. Once you know its position, you can decide whether to stay stopped or if you can move off without blocking the vehicle’s path.

Talking on Your Mobile While Driving

When driving in India, you must remain alert at all times. You won’t be able to do this if you are talking on the phone. For this reason, it’s recommended that you pull to the side of the road during the call. Also, if a police officer spots you talking while driving, you might face a harsh fine.

Use Your Horn

In the U.S., drivers rarely use their horns; however, in India, this is a vital driving tool. In general, drivers will only take responsibility for the cars that are in front or to the side of them. For this reason, you should use your horn liberally, allowing other drivers to know that you are approaching them. If you don’t do this, you risk getting blamed for an accident as you didn’t provide the other driver with enough warning. While no warning can potentially start a fight, you may find yourself paying to have the damages repaired.

Seat belt Laws

When you drive in India, it’s vital to take all the necessary safety precautions. In most cases, your car will have been fitted with a seat belt. If this is the case, be sure that you wear it. Besides, in most states, you must use a seat belt. If you don’t, you can be fined by the local police.

Get Your International Driver's Permit in 2 hours

An IDP is a legal requirement to drive or rent a car in several foreign countries. It is also a United Nations regulated travel document for your safety and ease of travel.

Will You Understand the Driving Signs in India?

When driving, you have to know the correct procedures. You don’t want to end up facing the wrong way and have to try to move against the traffic in India. For this reason, it’s essential to take note of the most common road signs and what they mean. Thankfully, most of the signs in India will be familiar to people from other countries. Anything that you don’t recognize should be reasonably self-explanatory.

Some other signs, though, may be slightly more confusing. For example, if you see a sign featuring a black arrow with a red diagonal cross through it, this signifies that it is a no-through road. Also, you may see a black fence in a red triangle, which indicates that there is a crossing ahead. When you see this, you should slow down and begin to drive more cautiously.

 

Car Insurance:

Driving in India with US insurance or insurance from any other country wouldn’t be of any use as almost no car insurance company provides coverage outside the home or neighboring countries. It is advisable to get an insurance inside the country of India.

What Are the Speed Limits in India?

When you are traveling in India, you must stay within the speed limit. Not doing this could be a significant problem and could cause you to be fined by the police. However, it can be very confusing for drivers, as the speed limits can vary dramatically. In some cases, the same road can have multiple speed limits, which can be very confusing for drivers. To make it easier for you to understand this system, let’s look at some of the factors the Indian authorities use to determine the speed limit.

How Busy the Road Is

One of the most critical factors that the government considers is how many people use the road. The more people who use the road, the lower the safe speed will become. Often, they will rely on local experience to tell them which routes are the most popular.

Proximity to Populated Areas

Like in the U.S., Indian authorities also consider how close the road is to built-up areas. For example, they will likely enforce a lower speed limit around schools and hospitals to be sure that pedestrians can safely cross the road.

Number of Accidents in the Area

The more accidents that occur on the road, the more dangerous it is. A high accident rate could be caused by an inferior road surface or the number of cars on the route. The police will often seek to reduce the speed limit in these areas to ensure that people will be safe.

The Type of Vehicle

In India, the type of vehicle that you are driving will determine the speed that you are allowed to travel. For this reason, you will often see split signs, with two different speed limits. For example, on the top of the sign, you might see the speed limit for a car, while the bottom section will have the speed for a bus or bigger vehicle. When you see these signs, you will have to follow the correct speed limit for your type of vehicle.

Measured in Km/Hr

When traveling through India, you should be aware that the speeds will be posted in kilometers instead of miles per hour. If you are renting a car, the speed gauge should already be set in kilometers per hour. However, you may want to double-check this with the car rental company to make sure that you are traveling at the right speed

Get Your International Driver's Permit in 2 hours

An IDP is a legal requirement to drive or rent a car in several foreign countries. It is also a United Nations regulated travel document for your safety and ease of travel.

Are Indians Dangerous Drivers?

When driving in a foreign country, it’s essential to adjust to the new road conditions, and it is especially important in India. Due to the amount of traffic on the road, and the vast array of hazards you face, this country has one of the highest road tolls in the world. Sadly, an average of five people die each day as a result of road accidents in India. A few simple actions you may want to take will help you be as safe as possible on the roads.

 

Pay Attention

The best way for you to stay safe is to give your full attention to the road. Remember that you may face a range of hazards, from potholes to rocks. Spotting them early, and moving out of the way, may save your car from substantial damage. Also, it would be best if you remembered that not everyone would be following the road rules, meaning that you will have to be prepared to deal with drivers swerving into you unexpectantly. In conditions like this, you will need to be as alert as possible

Take a Defensive Driving Course

In India, defensive driving is vital. You will need to be aware of everyone’s position on the road and be ready to take evasive action to avoid an accident. Before you go on holiday, you may want to take a defensive driving course. This course will show you how to deal with some of the rougher surfaces that you may encounter when driving in India, thus making it easier for you to make decisions very quickly.

Avoid Busy Roads

It can be a significant shift between driving in the U.S. and driving in India. For this reason, you may want to stay on more quiet roads. Though it could mean taking a slightly longer route, it will also ensure that you could avoid some of the most trafficked areas, and it is especially important when you first get the car. Often, it can take a few days for you to get used to the way that the roads work.

Avoid Driving at Night

Night driving in India is especially hazardous. It’s common for people to avoid using their headlights in an attempt to save money. Also, when driving on the highway, some drivers put their high beams on when another vehicle is approaching, and this can blind you, making it harder for you to focus on the road.

For this reason, it’s generally recommended that you avoid driving at night wherever possible. If you have to use the roads, try to travel a little slower, giving yourself more time to react to any potential hazards. Also, stick to well-lit areas, to increase your visibility.

Take Note of Emergency Numbers

Before you leave for your holiday, you should take note of the emergency numbers. Recently, they have had an overhaul of the system, meaning that calling a single number will connect you with most emergency services. However, you should be aware that there may be an eight to ten-minute delay before you connect with anyone, so it’s best not to wait if you need help. The helpline number is 112. However, you may still want to take note of local phone numbers, just in case. You may also want to be sure you know where the nearest embassy is. In times of emergency, the consular staff will help you.

Learn Basic Hindi

When traveling through India, you should be sure that you have the necessary communication skills. This is to ensure that you can understand any disputes, giving you the best chance of resolving things peacefully. Though English is a primary language, you may also need to consider learning some basic Hindi phrases.

Talk to the Locals

At the start of your journey, you may need to purchase a map, which will show you the local roads, ensuring that you don’t get lost. You can also show this to the locals to help you plan your route. They will often have a great understanding of the area, showing you the roads that you may need to avoid. In most cases, all you need to do is ask, and they will be happy to help you out.

What Happens if You Get Stopped by the Police in India?

Getting into trouble with the law in a foreign country can be a very frightening experience. Thankfully, you have strong protection. Let’s look at some of the rights and responsibilities you have when stopped by the police in India.

Pull Over and Be Respectful

When you notice that a policeman is signalling to your car, you should pull over to the side of the road where possible. Once you’ve pulled over, the officer will walk over to your vehicle. In most cases, they will explain the reason why you were pulled over. However, if they don’t, you can ask them respectfully for clarification. If you feel that there is a valid reason why you committed the traffic offense, you should explain. In some cases, the policeman may let you off with a warning.

Check to See if They Are a Police Officer

Before you hand over any critical documents, you should be sure that you are talking to a real police officer. They should be in official uniform. You will also need to be sure that they are displaying their name and buckle number. You should also be aware that they need their e-challan machine or official challan book before they fine you. Depending on the severity of the offense, you may be able to pay for the fine on the spot. In more severe cases, you may need to go with the police officer to the local station. While they can’t force you from the vehicle, it’s best to comply with their requests, or you could make your problems more severe.

You Can Have Your Breath Tested

The police are entitled to ask you to perform a breath test if they suspect that you are driving under the influence. In most cases, they can get this result very quickly. If you fail the roadside test, you will be led to the police station, where they will perform a second test. If you fail again, you will need to take the penalty.

In most cases, this means that you will have to pay a fine. The more serious the offense, the more you will be expected to pay. If you refuse to pay this fine, you may become a wanted person, which can cause you to get into even more trouble with the driving law in India, as an arrest warrant may be issued.

You Have the Right to a Lawyer

If you get into legal trouble, remember that you have the right to remain silent, and this will ensure that you don’t accidentally say anything that might incriminate you. If you get placed under arrest, you will have the right to a lawyer present when you are questioned. Like in the U.S. legal system, if you don’t have the money for a lawyer, one will be provided for you. If you find yourself facing serious penalties, you may want to be sure that you request the presence of a lawyer. They can explain the legal system in India for you.

Exploring the Beauty of India

India is truly one of the most beautiful countries in the world, causing thousands of people each year to come and experience this spectacular location. Everything from the stunning natural wonders to the rich history can be viewed. To be sure that you experience all this country has to offer, you should consider renting a car. Doing so will allow you to stop and explore any location that captures your attention. With over 1.2 million market stalls there will be a lot of unmarked attractions. While India can have highly volatile roads, it’s hoped that these tips will give you all the information you need to drive confidently in this country. So, book your Indian holiday today and experience the stunning beauty that this country has to offer.

Don’t believe everything you see in the movies. Indian drivers might have a few bad habits, but aggression is definitely not one of them, so drive with a smile on your face and enjoy the open road.

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