it's pretty large document, but you can look at the amount of fatal accidents involving three-wheelers which are very common in inner cities, but very rare on national highways is low, while the amount of trucks is high.
i am not saying that traffic in an Indian cities is safe. but from my personal experience, while i never had an accident involving an other party here in Europe, it would not take longer than ten minutes until i crash into an other vehicle should i try to drive a car in Ahmedabad for example. and it would be completely my own fault. the only thing i dare is driving a motorcycle in rural areas. if you would throw a bunch of Westerners into the Indian inner city traffic i am sure the vast majority would fail miserably. crossing roads by foot is hard enough for the first few times.
Three wheelers are indeed very common in the inner cities, but inner cities are weird, trafficwise and hardly representative. I'll give some examples why looking at rickshaw related fatalities to determine driver competence is perhaps flawed:
- Rickshaws are not cars: They are three-wheeled mopeds. They lack the speed and the bulk of a car, which makes them inherently safer-to-get-hit-by, while rickshaw passengers and drivers are safer during an accident than on a regular moped because a rickshaw has more wheels (3 wheels are much more stable than 2) and a much better safety structure shielding the inhabitants. Rickshaws are mopeds with extra safety for the driver & passengers, it is likely they will do better than both cars and mopeds all other things being equal.
- The rickshaw environment is not representative for "traffic". As you already noted they are almost completely limited to the inner city. Indian innercities are often gridlocked. A rickshaw that has little space to move is unlikely to hit, let alone kill, anything, and in a gridlocked environment, nothing heavy is likely to hit the rickshaw (mopeds and motorcycles are more mobile which makes them (ironically perhaps) more likely to be involved in inner city accidents). Fatalities are likely to be low in inner cities regardless, because even in a non-gridlocked city, high speeds are unlikely (speed and mass are huge factors in accidents and fatalities, you can be hit and killed by a car going 10kph, but a car going 100kph is much more likely to do the job).
- Rickshaw drivers don't make that much of a fuss about fender-benders. Generally, small-time accidents such as these go unreported, because for all involved parties it is cheaper and faster to just pay up or give up, rather than getting the police or insurance companies involved. Rickshaw incidents therefore may suffer from under-reporting.
- I couldn't find information regarding actual rickshaw numbers and actual rickshaw kills, though I must admit I probably didn't look hard enough (I am unconvinced that they can serve as a proper illustration). The article provided only gives rickshaw fatalities as a % of total fatalities, which is meaningless without an actual rickshaw count and other information.
I don't think looking at rickshaws in this report gives much useful information regarding driver competence.
In preventing accidents, time is of the essence. In preventing traffic deaths, decreasing force is vital. In both "time available for action" and "total force applied" the speed of the involved vehicles plays a major role, as does the reaction of the driver (breaking earlier reduces speed, which reduces force on impact). Once again, an attentive driver will on average respond quicker and more accurately than a distracted driver, which is why distractions for drivers are a liability in traffic, which is the focal point of this thread.
This is, however, not necessarely the point you are arguing against. Your point, if I understood it correctly, is that in a high-input environment, the brain will adapt to process more information. This is only true to a limited extend.
Yes, putting a westener on the Indian roads means she/he will have a harder time than the Indians themselves until she/he adapts. This is a matter of experience. Things that are unlikely to happen in Europe, are common in India, and, being from Europe, I'd have a hard time anticipating such occurences with the necessary accuracy, forcing me to use a much higher safety limit than the Indians. However, this also works the other way around. An Indian that applies the "traffic rules" he's used to in India, will find that Europeans behave differently, which increases his/her chance of having an accident in Europe (it's amazing how many tourists completely overlook cyclists in Amsterdam when determining whether it's safe to cross the road). Being put in a different traffic-culture, and therefore being "out of your element", increases the chances of misinterpreting or missing something, with all the expected problems.This is not a problem restricted to Westerners in India. I do suspect Indian traffic requires more active attention than elsewhere, but active attention cannot fully compensate for smaller margins of error and higher numbers of possible mistakes. Indian traffic is, when it's moving at least, more dangerous than for instance the UK.
However, I will not say that Indian traffic is without rules. Indeed there is some weird organisation to the Indian city "chaos", in fact, it is this organisation and the fact that Indians are used to it, that prevents a lot of additional accidents. A lot of what we know and what we filter is processed unconsciously. Experience is key, the unconscious patterns are very important and much of what we do has been decided unconsciously before we even become aware.This, however, has not too much bearing on the topic. Yes we can learn to do a lot of things unconsciously, but this topic is about something which is inherently a conscious process, social communication, which disrupts a mostly unconscious process (driving). Conversations are not predictable enough to handle on auto-pilot, and even if they were, they would be more information to process unconsciously and the unconscious, lke the conscious, does not have unlimited processing speed. And speed and time are oh-so important...
Which is why, as I mentioned, HUDs MAY be a good thing, but only if they help you drive (navigate, monitor speed, etc.). They are a bad thing if they help you do something other than that.
(p.s. I don't think it's likely that you will crash your car in 10 minutes in Hyderabad, atlhough it sometimes feels that way when you see the driver at work. You may crash if you immediatly ty to copy everything the Indians do, but if you stick to European rules and "common sense" until you figure out which gambits are "safe enough", you are unlikely to get hit and unlikely to hit anyone, although you will get to your destination slower. When it comes to safety, I'd prefer sitting in a car in the urban chaos over driving a motorcycle in rural areas.)