Driving in Chennai is basically insane. To the untrained eye, the roads look like total chaos and constant accidents waiting to happen. But somehow it works and people do get around -- there is a method to the madness.
People are under the impression that driving in Chennai is faster and sloppier than in the US -- just out of control and lawless. Not so. It's actually something of a work of art. A Jackson Pollock maybe, but still a work of art. Once you experience its wonder, you start to see the subtly in the difference. Maybe subtly is a little too subtle.
They don't drive faster. If anything, due to the smaller roads and massive obstacle course you must navigate -- and often yield to -- the speed isn't impressive. The roads are too congested to speed up and too filled with obstructions for which you must brake. A bit like bumper cars without the bump.
If anything, the driving is better, more nuanced -- at least once you understand that most common driving laws aren't observed. It's all about jockeying for position, and that takes skill and aggression. And sometimes driving down the wrong side of the street.
So what makes the driving so crazy? Two main things. One, the horn is used to warn anyone or anything in your way, that you're coming through. Now multiply that beep by a million. Annoying! Two, drivers don't ever look back, nor are they expected to. You only need to yield to traffic when making turns, merging, etc.. If you want to switch lanes, no need to do anything but turn the steering wheel. Which means you will cut off anyone behind you -- so they would be taking a big risk to try to pass you. What do they do? Pass anyway! That's when the honking comes in handy, when you're tying to pass someone or warn someone (usually a drifting bus) that you're there -- and don't want to be run over.
Driving is a noisy hydra of automobiles honking and weaving. Throw in the variety of vehicles (water trucks, dump trucks, buses, vans, mini delivery trucks, cars, taxis, government cars, motorcycles, motor scooters, auto-rickshaws, bicycle carts, carts pulled by animals, bicycles, people walking, wandering cows, goats, dogs, roosters) and you have a riotous, out-of-tune symphony of traffic.