Planning a trip to a hill station this monsoon? Then you should be aware of some ghat driving etiquette that will help ensure that you have a safe holiday. Because driving on hill roads is entirely different to driving in the plains, and one has to adjust their driving style to suit these very different conditions.
We take you through some important steps that will help build your safety net in these parts.
1. Insurance and important documents
While no one wants to think that something could go wrong on their next road trip to a hill station, it is best to be prepared for the worst case scenario. Make sure you're carrying all your car papers, and that your insurance is valid. After all, it could be someone else's fault but in the event of an accident, you should be able to produce all your legal documents. This is especially true during the monsoon, when accidents can take place very easily.
2. Slow down!
It takes longer to safely slow down and steer in wet weather, since your inputs have to be much smoother. Be extremely gentle with the brakes giving it smooth inputs, release the clutch slowly between gears and don't be aggressive with the accelerator. Also, maintain a greater distance with the vehicle in front of you.
Photo credit: Flickr/Rejik
3. Check your tyres
Your tyres are the only contact the car has with the road, so they need to be in good shape. Try the standard one-rupee coin test to see how deep the tread is. If it's lower than 1.6 mm, you should replace the tyre.
4. Check your wipers
If your wipers are not in good condition, you will not be able to see out of your windscreen. It's as simple as that. And since we obviously need the best vision we can get, especially during a spell of heavy rain, it should be high up on your checklist.
Photo credit: Flickr/Nadircruise
5. Use headlights in rainy conditions
When visibility is poor because of rain, turn on your headlights (on low beam) as this will help other drivers know you're there. Also make sure that you headlights are in good working order - old, yellowed lens reflectors need to be replaced before the monsoon, especially since wet roads tend to absorb much more light than dry tarmac, thus rendering your headlights less effective.
Photo credit: Flickr/Cobalt123
6. In the ghats, the usage of right gears is CRITICAL
One can get away with things like driving in fifth gear at 40 km/h in the plains, but in the ghats you need to remain at least one gear higher than normal. While going downhill down a relatively mild slope, for example, try keeping the car or bike in third gear, because it gives you a little more torque and reduces the effort required by the brakes. NEVER coast in neutral because you are opening up opportunities for brake failure. For once, don't worry about fuel economy and concern yourself with safety instead.
7. Downshift regularly around bends
Shift down into third gear at least (preferably second in small petrol engines) for a sharp turn. This reduces the chance of you running wide around the corner. If you notice, several cars come around corners too fast, leaning heavily and run into your lane. This is because the driver is in too high a gear and struggles to maintain the right lane because of lack of torque.
8. Use the horn around blind curves
This is especially true during the day, when there is no headlight glow to warn you of oncoming traffic. Honking around a bend lets other road users know you're there, and gives them a chance to give you room to pass safely. If you hear someone else honking, horn back and slow down.
9. Give way to uphill traffic
This is the golden rule for the ghats because cars, bikes, and heavy vehicles especially coming uphill require a lot more effort to take off from standstill if forced to stop. Pull over and let them pass, even if it means you stopping and waiting from a distance.
10. Avoid all distractions
Both the stereo and the fellow passengers needs to kept at minimum volume, so exercise your right as a driver to make sure this happens. And don't answer your cell phone, even through the handsfree, if it's a heavy downpour and visibility and driving conditions are poor. You need to concentrate now, because yours and often other lives rest in your hands.
Photo credit: Flickr/Juliarowe
11. Be patient while overtaking
Unlike our highways, the narrower and often blindly curving ghat roads don't offer much view of the road ahead. So if you're stuck behind a slow moving truck, remain there until it's safe to overtake and you have enough room and visibility to overtake safely. Also, don't lean on the horn after you horn initially - the truck driver or bus driver knows you're there and will usually give you room to overtake. NEVER overtake around a blind curve because it might just be your last pass.
12. Driving through water
Driving through a flooded area can be extremely dangerous for your car, since all its expensive electronic control systems are put at risk, especially newer cars. As rule, don't attempt to drive through water that is higher than the bottom of your doors, or you could end up like the guy in the picture. However, if you deem it safe to go through the water, slot the car into first gear, keep the clutch depressed just enough to partially engage gear, and drive slowly through the water. This is to keep the exhaust gases moving out of the tail pipe. If water gets sucked back in, it could enter the engine and render it useless, requiring you to replace it entirely.
13. Pull over in a safe spot if you want to stop
Never halt your car in a narrow section of road even for a short while, because it could hold up traffic, or worse cause a serious accident. Turn your hazard lights on, and try to stop at a place where vehicles from both directions can see you, even it it means getting off the tarred surface on to gravel or loose stones.
We hope you are able to put these important techniques into practice during your next trip to a hill station, because they will decrease your stress, and allow you to enjoy your holiday.
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