This is the general sentiment of foreigners in India and even NRIs who return to India. It is only once we experience something different and have a reference point of comparison, we realize what the actual differences are. These few traffic and pedestrian rules may not be followed in many parts of India, and will be useful from a safety standpoint when coming to the USA.
Always Wear Your Seat Belt
If you are a driver or front seat passenger, always wear your seat belt. There are fines for getting caught not wearing it. If you get in an accident and don’t wear it, your car insurance will increase. Each state has different rules for the ages of the backseat drivers having to wear seat belts. Many states have a rule of under the age of 13 have to wear a seat belt. Children under particular heights and weights have to use booster seats. Infants and toddlers must use car seats. It’s illegal to place booster seats or car seats in the passenger seat. They must be placed in the back seat.
Do Not Overcrowd Your Car
The number of passengers in a car is limited to the number of seat belts available. Do not exceed this number because it can result in a fine.
Follow the Speed Limit
Speed limits are clearly noted on signs. Unlike some places in India where different vehicles have different speed limits, this would be rare or non-existent in the US. Every vehicle is treated equally. The speed limit for one vehicle applies to all vehicles. Some areas may have a minimum speed limit. Exceeding the maximum speed limit or driving below the minimum speed limit can result in getting pulled over by the police and getting a ticket. Also beware of speed limit changes in construction and school zones. Breaking the law in these areas is more serious on various levels, resulting in higher fines and penalties depending on the state you are in.
Stop Fully at all Stop Signs and Red Lights
In some areas of India, people come to a rolling stop at red lights and stop signs. Though this can happen in the US, take note that many intersections in cities may have traffic cameras recording your movements and especially noting your license plate number. All they have to do is look up your license plate number and send you a ticket in the mail so it is important to stop fully at all stop signs and red lights.
Do NOT Pass School Buses with Flashing Red Lights
A school bus has two colored flashing lights. The first color to flash is orange to warn you to slow down, soon the door will open and kids will get out. The second color light to flash is red. Red means STOP. If you pass a school bus with flashing red lights from ANY side, you will get ticketed and in some states you can be put into jail too.
Only Pass on the LEFT side
Unlike in India where you can pass (overtake) on either side going in the same direction; in the US we can only pass on the LEFT. It’s illegal to pass on the right. The right side is often called the ‘shoulder’ or the ‘side of the road.’ The shoulder or side of the road is not meant for driving.
Use the Shoulder for its Intended Uses
The shoulder of the road, a concept not readily understood within most areas of India, is common on US roads. The shoulder is the area of the road extending past the white line and to the unpaved ground. The shoulder is reserved for emergencies. If your car breaks down, ‘pull over’ or move your car to the side of the road. If you need to make a cell (mobile) phone call, pull onto the shoulder. (It is illegal to talk on your phone and drive in most states and you can get heavily fined and have points on your license which effects your driving record; which can increase your car insurance). It is always important to remember to turn on your 4-way flashers (hazard lights) when parked on the shoulder of a busy road so that other drivers are aware you are there to avoid an accident. You would do this during the day or night times.
Getting Pulled Over by the Cops
Another use for the shoulder is to pull into it if you get pulled over by a state trooper. If you are driving and notice a police car coming up from behind with the lights flashing and siren blaring, pull over. View some videos on etiquette tips for handling this situation.
Pull Out Into the Road F-A-S-T
In India, people have a habit of slowly inching into the traffic. This is not a common practice in most areas of US. People already driving on the road will not slow down to allow you into traffic. Be sure to turn on your blinker (indicator) and wait for a break in the traffic. If you pull out slow into traffic and oncoming traffic collide with your car, you will be at fault and your car insurance premiums rise. Additionally, always take care to use the correct blinker when turning or pulling out into traffic. Accidents that are found at fault of the driver not using their blinker will be fined and reported to their insurance company. Drivers found at fault for accidents generally notice a rise in insurance premiums, are responsible to pay for damages of the other driver’s cars, and may have points put on their driver’s license.
Use Four Way Flashers for Indicating a Problem
If your car is not working properly and you have to drive slower than most drivers on the road, put on your four way flashers. This indicates to others driving up quickly behind you that you are going slower. If you are unable to keep up with the traffic and there is a shoulder, it’s appropriate to drive short distances on the shoulder with your four way flashers on.
Give Right of Way
Some of the tips I have already given in this post teach about right of way. There are many rules for giving the right of way. Take note that giving the right of way is not only important for other drivers but pedestrians and cyclists also.
Pedestrians are, by law, to cross in designated crosswalks. When approaching a cross-walk in a car, slow down. If anyone is walking in the cross-walk stop completely and let them cross. If a driver hits a pedestrian in a cross-walk, that’s a major offense; the driver is at fault. However, in most cases hitting a pedestrian outside a crosswalk, though punishable, the punishment will also fall on the pedestrian for breaking the law and not crossing in the cross-walk. (Those not crossing in the cross-walk are considered ‘jaywalking’. This is an offense in most cities; punishable by high fines and in rare cases, jail time.) This video sums up nicely the problems drivers and pedestrians face while crossing the street outside the cross-walk.
“Looking Both Ways Before Crossing”
Whether driving or walking, Americans are taught to ‘look both ways’ before crossing the road or making a turn.
In India, people seem to park their car in any open place, and double and triple park in some cases without penalty (that I have seen, maybe there is in places I haven’t seen). Parking on many roads would be done on the side of the road or on the shoulder. On major highways and toll-roads parking on the side of the road is generally prohibited. Parking on bridges is also illegal in many areas. Double or triple parking seen in cities is done by delivery people, but if normal drivers do it, they are ticketed and it can weigh against their car insurance and points on their driver license. Also assure where you park in cities is allowable and look for any tolls that need to be paid. Some cities stagger parking- parking on one side of the road is allowed one day, and on the other side of the road the other day. Carry dimes and quarters for parking meters and parking fee booths. Some sophisticated meters may allow credit cards. Not all parking garages will allow payments in credit card. Take note that many cities have ‘traffic police’- cops specifically assigned to check parking meters and ticket those who do not comply to the parking rules and fees.
Always, always maintain car insurance. Do not let it lapse. When visiting India do not cancel it. In many states a car without car insurance is considered illegal. Many Desis rent apartments or homes, in most states keeping an uninsured car on someone else's property is considered illegal. It has been known that landlords, when they find out about uninsured and unregistered cars will have them towed away. Sometimes the owner can recover the car for a fee, sometimes they cannot. Each state has different rules regarding this. Find out at your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).
Additionally, don't forget to visit the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) when moving to another state to get a new driver's license.
I know there are a LOT more driving and road safety rules I can share with you to keep you NRIs safe in the USA, but these are the main ones that come to my mind now.
Jennifer Kumar provides training and consulting to help your India based team members succeed while onsite in the US. Contact her for cross-cultural session options.
Editor, Jennifer Tam, helps entrepreneurs with business planning and forecasting.
Speed limit - rodeomilano @flickr
Parking sign - basykes @ flickr
Do's and Don'ts for Interacting with Police When They Pull You Over
How to Cross the Steet in the USA
Can I drive with my Indian driving license in the USA?