India’s need for speed

NORBERT MILLAUER/AFP/Getty Images Where’s the most car-crazy place in the world? An easy question, right? Of course it’s United States, where the U.N. estimates there are 776 cars for every 1,000 people. But other countries are catching up. China has held the top spot for new-car sales for several years, and by 2012, India is ...

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597791_071207_india_05.jpg

NORBERT MILLAUER/AFP/Getty Images

Where's the most car-crazy place in the world?

An easy question, right? Of course it's United States, where the U.N. estimates there are 776 cars for every 1,000 people. But other countries are catching up. China has held the top spot for new-car sales for several years, and by 2012, India is projected to take over as the world's fastest-growing car market.

NORBERT MILLAUER/AFP/Getty Images

Where’s the most car-crazy place in the world?

An easy question, right? Of course it’s United States, where the U.N. estimates there are 776 cars for every 1,000 people. But other countries are catching up. China has held the top spot for new-car sales for several years, and by 2012, India is projected to take over as the world’s fastest-growing car market.

Indian officials are preparing for the jump. Along with the biggest highway-construction boom since independence, India will also be raising its speed limits from the current upper limit of 80km/h (48mph) to 100km/h (60mph), thereby lopping nearly 3 hours off the trip between New Delhi and Mumbai.

With all the highways and faster speed limits, India might have to come up with a better driver’s licensing scheme. That is to say, the country might actually need to develop one. No driving test is required to obtain a license despite India’s 96,000 traffic fatalities each year.

Cars seem to be a global right of passage for fast-developing countries, but with more cars and higher speed limits, critics are already complaining. With higher speeds generally comes lower fuel efficiency, increased carbon emissions, and higher global oil prices. Despite billions in new highway spending, increased public transportation is not in India’s plans.

China and India both seem to look at the U.S. transportation system as a model worth replicating, but it’s a system that was developed over 50 years ago at a time when oil was cheap and efficiency was not a concern. It’s time to get a new model.

Update: It seems that this post has generated a bit of criticism from The Other Side, which takes exception to my characterization of the Indian driver’s licensing system and the efficiency of motor vehicles. I’m not one to shy away from criticism so allow me to clarify two points:

  1. Mr. Kumar is absolutely correct in that India does indeed have a driver’s licensing system on the books. I was using a bit of blogger’s “poetic license” to say that whatever system is in place is entirely unsatisfactory; a point made in the original Guardian article.
  2. In regards to efficiency, one can debate endlessly about the engineering mechanics of combustion engines, the price of gasoline and the possibility that there could be great advances in alternative fuel technologies. But in the meantime, cars and trucks are still less efficient than transporting people and goods by other means, such as trains. The United States erred in investing heavily in highways starting in the 1950s when we could have instead promoted mass transit systems. India’s trains, from what I can tell, are in need of some serious upgrades. Of course, there will always be a need and a use for highways but, in my opinion, India shouldn’t attempt to copy our own outdated model.

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