In this part of Surviving On Indian Roads (SOAR) series, we will be touching upon a subject that is not discussed very often but is extremely important to ensure your safety while riding. As a country, we are known for the most number of road-related deaths in the world. One of the major contributors is the presence of animals on Indian roads. These innocent beings are often found crossing or comfortably resting (in the case of cattle) on the tarmac, as there is hardly any road infrastructure in the country which accounts for animal safety. Adding to that are owners of domesticated animals who allow them to roam free without accounting for unfortunate situations.
Posing as a hazard to themselves and road users, unless your cautionary list as a rider accounts for possible encounters with animals, your road-safety checklist for Indian roads is only half complete. As a rider, although there are only preventive measures you can take, there is a way to tackle this hazard by pre-empting the situation. Let us consider conditions where you are likely to encounter an animal on the road and how you can navigate through it safely, without harming the animal or yourself.
Man’s best friend is unfortunately , the one you will come across most of the time while riding on Indian roads. These four-legged creatures can cross your path, either while crossing or loitering on the road or while chasing you away from their territory, if you are riding through a sleepy street in the middle of the night.
In the first instance, if it is riding within the city, the signs which must raise your level of alertness about the presence of dogs are garbage bins which are located right next to the road, tiny lanes which weave through houses on both sides, and roads which don’t see a lot of activity. On the other hand, if you are riding on a highway, watch out for intersections that pass through towns and villages. Do not discount their presence even if the road cuts through with only a few houses on either side.
To minimise the risk, when you approach the situations as mentioned above, slow down to a speed from which you can come to a halt immediately and safely. If, for some reason, you are being chased by a pack or just one stray dog, do not increase the speed and try to escape. Bring your two-wheeler to a halt, and they will automatically stop barking and get on with other things. Move out of their territory at a snail’s pace, and you’ll be fine. In an unfortunate situation, if a stray dog jumps in front of your bike all of a sudden, just maintain your line and do not panic. Try reducing the speed if possible, or pray that the dog will move out of your way. Never try to evade quick animals with fast reflexes such as dogs, cats and small pigs without slowing down. These relatively agile animals are known to change direction very quickly. If you are trying to evade them by taking the route behind them, they might promptly make an about-turn and run backwards, causing an accident. With animals, always slow down and allow them to pass safely. Predicting their movement and trying to evade them accordingly can turn dangerous.
Buffaloes, cows, bulls, donkeys and mules are often the kind of animals you are likely to come across on Indian roads. Unlike dogs, which are tiny, swift and can spring a surprise out of nowhere, these guys are easy to spot from a distance, given their size. You will find these animals on Indian roads in most cities, resting on highways that pass through fields and villages, roads that are closer to temples, and on B-roads which don’t see much traffic, where the owners often herd them together on the way home or towards the grazing area. On some roads which connect villages in the hinterland, you might even come across chicken or ducks. nWatch out for them as these are sources of income for villagers, and if you knock one down, they can ask you for compensation or, worse, get violent. Always keep an eye on the median, where cattle often rests and grazes on the plants meant to obstruct the dazzle from oncoming traffic. If you spot an animal in a standing position, be extra careful, as it can make its way onto the road and take you by surprise. As mentioned earlier, never try to predict animals’ behaviour - always be cautious, and slow down when you spot them.
Until now, we were considering situations that involved domesticated animals. Let us discuss wild animals now. They display predatory behaviour the most if they feel threatened. These are the kind of animals you are likely to come across while riding through forest reserves, areas that are far away from human habitation, and through sections that have been marked for animal crossing.
If it is a forest, you are riding through, strictly abide by the rules, which are usually mentioned on a precautionary board before entering the area. If it is a busy highway, where a section has been marked for animal crossing, be alert and on the lookout for any unusual activity. Avoid riding through such sections after sunset and around dawn. Even during the day, try to stay with traffic, if there is any.
When it rains, snakes cross the road as they come out of hiding. Keep an eye out for them, and if you spot one, allow it to get to the other side. All these are innocent beings who are unaware of their surroundings and don’t know how to react when faced with big, loud vehicles on the road. If you come across a situation on the road which involves an animal, be slow, cautious, kind and considerate. Think of your and the animal’s safety, and allow your wisdom to guide you through the situation.