Eerily graceful Indian traffic merging

This footage from an Indian traffic cam depicts some of the most skillful, hair-raising, gutsy and balletic lane-changing and merging I've ever seen. It's like watching a hive-organism coordinate some kind of distributed intelligence dance. Link (via Making Light)


  1. It looks like the system works, but it sadly doesn’t. From the linked article:
    “Last year around 95,000 people died on the roads in India, ranking India currently second only to China in terms of annual fatalities. Safety experts predict that because China has begun to introduce effective measures to reduce its traffic casualties, India will this year overtake it to occupy first place.”

  2. There’s nothing graceful, coordinated, or intelligent about it. It’s an intersection with no lights or signs and everyone just trying to get through without hitting someone else but not wanting to stop. It’s a motorized version of a hallway junction in a high school

  3. Yes, based on the lengths of the videos (2:13 for the original vs. 1:06 for the linked one), it was sped up by a factor of two.

  4. Based on a minute’s Googling, India had 20 deaths per 10,000 motor vehicles in the late 90s. The equivalent figure in the US was 2; in the UK it was 1.5.

    Considering also that the video is speeded up two-fold, rather than a “hive organism” acting on “distributed intelligence”, I’d judge that what we’re seeing is the polar opposite: a load of pushy twats playing chicken.

    In a hive organism, the interests of actors are aligned, fostering cooperation. This traffic cam shows an iterated game of bluff and counter-bluff between entirely selfish actors. It’s a population being fisted by the invisible hand.

  5. Are all those traffic deaths in India from accidents or from asphyxia? The black clouds of diesel exhaust are unbelievable. We drove three hours through the Thar Desert, not even in the city, and were charcoal gray by the end of the ride.

  6. Or a little more like lots of people just dealing with what’s put in front of them moment after moment, not think much beyond survival and moving forward. That could be someone’s ballet though.

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    nd s cntry wrth vstng fr nyn tht’s rlly ntrstd n sng nthr cltr. Vstng plcs lk rp, strl, Jpn, mrc, Cnd, s lttl bt lk nt vstng nthr plc t ll: w’r ll prtty smlr n lt f wys, cltrlly spkng. Gng t bg cty n nd wll lt y knw rght wy tht y’r rlly n cmpltly dffrnt cltr. Sm f th ncst ppl n th wrld, bt sm f th cltrl hbts wll drv y nts.

  8. Come on, how can you NOT notice that it wasn’t sped up for more fun ? Why do you even NEED to refer to Youtube comments ? Just look at the damn video (how people walk, cars stop, etc.) It’s like in old b/w movies which were ‘sped up’ to save film. Here the speed-up saves your time =)

  9. I agree with ROMWELL. All you need do is look at the pedestrians to see it’s been sped up.

    I experienced traffic like this in Vietnam a couple of years ago and at first I found it daunting, yes, but after a while, you realise that it’s happening at much lower speeds than city traffic in a more developed country (the basic unit of Saigon traffic is a Honda 50cc bike doing about 15 Kmh) and that everyone else is used to it, so they know what’s going to happen next, even if you don’t.

    All you have to do is behave predictably and you’ll be fine. What’s “predictably”? Well, that’s for you to work out.

  10. somehow, this reminds me of the choreography in the last scene of Jacques Tati’s Playtime featuring cars driving in a roundabout and looking like a carousel…

  11. Looking at this I thought of something Sanjeev Bhaskar recalled about driving in India. He said that people have a habit of driving at night without headlights, either because they’re broken or they don’t want to “wear them out”. He was driving one night with his cousin and had to stop when he saw a light approaching ahead. The problem was he didn’t know if it was a scooter or a truck with a broken headlight. He described the dilemma to his cousin who added “…Or two scooters transporting a wardrobe.”

    Ah, here it is [YouTube]. About 5-6 minutes in. There are some other funny observations about Indian road safety. Worth watching.

  12. Posting from jakarta: It all looks good now, but once the traffic gets dense enough this intersection will be a nightmare. No lights, no police, every man for himself. I’ve been in some lockjams caused by these kinds of unregulated intersections. They don’t solve themselves, unless the flow gets below some threshold (but it is easier to start jams than to end it!), or police shows up.

    Other fun stuff include arterial, 4-laners continuing into a piddly 2-lane, unregulated lane switching (especially buses), and people refusing to use the left lane because buses, angkots (small, privately-operated shuttle cars) hog the left lane, going slow and stopping (waiting for passengers) as they please. And then after they have enough passengers they will switch lanes, because they, too, don’t want to wait for other buses and angkots that are stalling for passengers. There’s just so many obstacles. Not to mention the road layout, which in a lot of cases promote bottleneck and jams. Good thing we drive so slow. And wait until Bajaj Motor corp ramp up their motorcycle productions here, cause we sure don’t have enough motorcycles in the street!

  13. Reminds me of traffic in the Philippines. Same kind of driving. I thought I was gonna die every time I went out. When I got back to where I was staying after a day out, I’d blow my nose and it looked like I’d been snorting charcoal dust.

  14. Arifin has is right. I live in Delhi (where traffic is much better than other cities but still scary).

    I just took a trip up to Corbett Tiger reserve via car. You can be traveling at 60mph on a divide highway and have a cart pulled by a water buffalo “pull out” in front of you. Drivers constantly drive the wrong way down the divided highway, when truckers get tired of driving or are outside of towns where they are not allowed to drive during the day, they simply stop their trucks in one lane and park.

    If people would just follow common sense the traffic wouldn’t be as bad but when you have a bus line in Delhi (Blue line) that kills 2 or 3 people everyday and nothing is done, I don’t see the traffic situation improving anytime soon.

  15. #11: Old movies (I mean silent movies) do usually appear to be played back too fast, but it wasn’t done to save film.

    Mostly, it was because camera/projector speeds weren’t truly standardized up until sync sound was introduced, so a myriad of camera speeds were used. 16 or 18 fps was rather common, and the fast motion effect wasn’t an issue until projectors started being run at 24fps exclusively… lots of 16mm projectors still have variable speeds.

    Plus, Many earlier cameras were hand-cranked, making things even more erratic.

    just fyi.

  16. @14 – I was about to post the same comment. I thought I was having deja-boing-boing-vu for a second.

  17. I remember this was one of the first Boing Boing posts I saw, back in April ’06. This sped-up version isn’t as good.

  18. Living in Mumbai, the part the really amazes me is that the cows have no trouble navigating through the traffic.

  19. (#22 posted by knellotron) Thanks ! I knew that they were using 16fps instead of 24fps probably to save film, but I didn’t know that there were multiple-speed projectors (which is reasonable, like 33/45 rpm disk players). Are timing problems reeally that noticable with hand-crank cameras ?

  20. Oh c’mon – this has been doing the rounds of the net for the last year. Way off the pace, BoingBoing.

  21. yeah, it’s pretty old, but I can’t see how that makes it bad…certainly generated a lot of comments again.

    @#13 Ambrose

    That is so true. When I stepped out of my hotel in Hanoi, jet lagged and all, I had no idea how I would be able to cross that street in front of me…which looked like some gigantic raging moped river.

    I studied the locals for a bit and it’s a pretty simple approach…you just walk without looking, everything flows around you.

    After 2 days I had my own moped and it really was a joy to ride around in the city. However, when riding through the country side, I saw some pretty nasty accidents. I don’t think the loose style of a city moped works when driving a semi-trailer on some badly-paved rural “highway” at maximum speed.

  22. That India has a higher fatality rate for vehicular traffic is no surprise — look at how many of those vehicles are little scooters.

    Say what you will about the intersection or the speed of the film, but I’d be astonished and gratified if I saw U.S. drivers handling cooperative merges that well.

    As for the clip being old: It was new to me. Cory thought it was worth posting. If some of you have seen it before — well, congratulations to you.

    I once did a weblog post that was a roundup of cool old stuff “everyone has seen”: the exploding whale, using liquid oxygen to light a barbecue, the original Hampsterdance, the upside-down tugboat, “Dogs in Elk,” and other classics. Sure enough, lots of people hadn’t seen them.

    In an unstructured non-hierarchical information-rich environment, having some degree of redundancy is not only inevitable, it’s desirable. Nobody catches everything the first time through, and there’s no universal consensus on the best possible place for something to appear.

  23. I’m currently traveling by motorbike through India with two friends. Prior to departure we’d watched the original version of this video to prepare ourselves somewhat for what we were about to face. It helped, but cannot begin to convey the overwhelming, constant panoply of death that Indian traffic throws at you from all directions. If we survive, I will post some HD footage that I’ve captured. In the meantime, I’m microblogging the trip on Twitter via SMS, coverage for which is surprisingly omnipresent here.

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