Delhi Lamborghini crash? It’s not about the car

Attention Delhi drivers: It's not about the car. Like Lance Armstrong says, the guy in control means more than the machine. And there's only one cure for terminal stupidity, as discovered by the driver of a Lamborghini who died Sunday after nailing a bicyclist and plowing into a bus stop.

It sounds easy enough to figure out. But if you look at the Indian papers today, you'll see a dozen-odd articles (in many cases, several in the same paper) that blame the car. Sports cars aren't suited for Indian roads, because the spoiler doesn't offer enough ground clearance, is one explanation. The engines are too powerful, is another. Dealerships don't offer special training for drivers, is a third.

The narrative of the subtext is a strange one: We should all be going crazy salivating over the rush of new sports cars, high-end motorcycles and the like that are flooding the market, it seems to say. But India isn't ready for top-class stuff because it's government is incompetent, and there are always poor people in the way, or at least idiots who ride bicycles because they like trees and so forth.

How about this one: If you drive like a moron just to see how fast your car will go, chances are you will die or (even more likely) you will kill somebody.

My thoughts on sports cars were formed by a former teacher of mine (also a psychologist), who used to say that driving such a vehicle was “another way of walking around with your pants unzipped.” (Presumably, if the car in question costs in excess of $400,000, it is like walking around with 100,000 pairs of pants unzipped.) When drivers used to inch around the circle drive of our school, he would hold up a small, handwritten sign that read: “We see you.”

But let's be more charitable to Italian engineers. If it's a problem with the design of the Lamborghini, then how did a regular, garden-variety vehicle plow down two pedestrians out for their morning walk Monday? Oh, in that case, it was the owner's “car cleaner” out for a “joy ride”…. As if the average car owner, or professional chauffeur – both words I am using very, very loosely – is any better.

Only the Hindustan Times gets it right, saying, “when it comes to road safety, many Indians are indiscriminate risk-takers.” But even here, the target is misidentified as India's bad roads (“if you drive over the speed limit on our inadequate roads, death is certainly in the passenger seat with you”), expensive and fast cars (“there have been several crashes of high speed luxury cars mostly at night”) and the supposedly weak traffic rules (“this has not lead to any serious soul searching about our lax laws”).

Five minutes on any road in India, and you'll see a dozen cars driving the wrong way, two-dozen making illegal U-turns, three-dozen cars blowing through a red light to make a so-called “free left” without stopping to check for oncoming traffic. But that's not the problem. If they had better roads, or better cars, or at least louder horns, everybody would be safe.

This is actually part of a trend I've noticed in writing about India's roads.

Another example lately is the abuse heaped on pedestrians who have been mowed down while wearing headphones (a string of three or four in recent weeks). They should be listening for the blaring horn, so they can dive out of the way, is the apparent logic.

Still another one is the automatic assumption that the person behind the wheel of the largest vehicle is responsible whenever somebody (usually a motorcyclist) is killed on the road. Let me tell you something, bikers: You drive more dangerously than anybody else, taking foolish risks all the time. And that extra-loud horn that Bajaj has seen fit to install is not a forcefield.

Fortunately, this is a problem that comes with its own solution. The only trouble is that, according to Charles Darwin, it will take several millennia to come to fruition.

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