What’s peer pressure got to do with traffic?

Bangalore’s traffic is governed less by traffic signals than by peer pressure. You can notice this mostly at the big signals, like the one at the intersection of Residency road and Museum road.

Engines start growling when the signal timer counts down from 10 and by the time it reaches 3 or 4, vehicles start moving. Red is yellow, yellow is green, and green is, well, green. This also happens in the view of the traffic cop who doesn’t do anything, probably for fear of getting run down.

If you stay at the signal without moving because you’re waiting for green, you’ll get auditory (honks) and visual (glares) feedback. I know, because I’m one of those people who usually waits.

Then, there’s the other side of the story–when the signal’s already yellow (and there’s enough time to stop), the vehicles accelerate and shoot through the now-red signal.

We should be seeing accidents regularly, because a vehicle that’s moved early would bump into into one that’s run a red signal. But, I’ve not seen it happen even once.

There’s a method to the madness–by moving in bunches, the vehicles create a “critical mass” that is intimidating and only the big boys (e.g. BMTC buses) can take them on. Factor in inertia (of the big guys) and possibly the wisdom of crowds and you could have an explanation for what happens.

It still doesn’t excuse breaking the law though

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5 thoughts on “What’s peer pressure got to do with traffic?

  1. Today morning, a cab driver tried to rush past the signal, 10 seconds after it turned red. Almost mowed a few people down, who were trying to cross the road (the pedestrian sign said I could), and almost got mowed by a BMTC bus!

    Have been hit when I stopped at a red signal, have got glares & honks when I don’t move when the signal is showing 10 seconds or less. I know the feeling dude.. :-)

  2. Yeah, I get the honks and glares on a daily basis. And if the honks and glares don’t work, they move to the next level of coercion, i.e., bumping you from behind. So if you move forward before the signal turns green, you’re likely to get hit by the guy who has the right of way, and if you don’t, you get hit from behind. Basically, you’re dead meat…

    As for the “critial mass” part, I’ve had to stop on several occasions when I had a green light because the guys behind the red signal got impatient and decided to go through anyway. It’s usually the bus drivers who start this, and God help you if you decide to proceed through the green light (Yeah St. Peter, I had the right of way!).

  3. I have been riding my two wheeler for the last 7 years in B’lore and each time I am glad I’ve reached my destination in one piece.

    I can totally relate to your experiences at traffic signals. Following traffic rules in B’lore kind of makes you the odd wo/man out.

    I’ve given up the hope that I’ll someday get used to driving on the roads here. Maybe I should just get myself a chauffer driven car :)

  4. I’ve never been bumped, though today a car kept honking at me and “forced” me to move ahead. The signal was red, I presume he wanted a good view of the traffic movement. He passed me later, when the signal turned green–I didn’t look at him. Then, after a couple of signals, I was right behind the same car. All that huffing and puffing and still not much progress.

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