Driver Dependency

For a long time, my wife and myself were pretty independent, driving around on our own – no problem.

But, when we returned to India, an immediate dependency was created. That is called “driver dependency”. Initially, we were just not able to move around without a driver for our car, who can ferry us to any place we wanted to go to. The situation is not very different five years later (we complete full five years this month of living in Mumbai), we still depend heavily on our driver, or driver(s).

While getting around to nearby places is not an issue for me (I have re-gained control over the manual gear stick), driving in thick traffic even for five kilometres is a challenge, due to the constant balance that is required to navigate without hitting anyone or avoiding getting hit by others. It is stressful and strenuous, to say the least, as drivers create a minimum of five sinuous highway lanes from the three lanes that are designed to operate. Horns come in handy (!) – constant use of horns is expected, so when my car horn failed one fine day, I found it very difficult to drive even for a short distance !

However, my wife had used only automatic transmission, so she is not driving in India. The more critical problem for her is the navigation described above – tight and narrow traffic in roads full of potholes. So, she has diligently avoided driving. In a nutshell, we are very dependent on a driver to drive us around the city.

But what do drivers do ? They are never happy with their salary, even when we paid some 20% more than our neighbouring apartments for our driver. At one time, one of my neighbours even complained, saying that it would be better to do price control ! However, we found that money is not everything for the driver(s). We have had a series of drivers, so we have built a decent database of driver behaviour and performance !

In essence, drivers look for couple of key things: (a) they would like to time their entry into the job or exit, depending on the award of the bonus for the year, which typically happens around the Diwali time, and which is one month’s salary – they absolutely do not wish to miss the bonus payment ; (b) they want to take one month time off in a 12-month service duration: during this time, they want salary to be paid, which qualifies their leave as “paid leave”, and during their period of absence, you would be left to fend for yourself, looking for a temporary driver, who would charge market rates ; and, finally (c) the drivers do not want to start their days early – they wish to work for someone preferably from 9 AM onwards, or later, and work till late (say 8 PM), rather than start early at 7 AM and finish by 6 PM, like what we desired.

It took us a couple of years and some three drivers to figure all this out. Just raising the salary did not produce the desired response or loyalty, and it was difficult for us to believe that kind of behaviour. And, of course, there are absolutely no loyalties, unless if the driver is from your home town !

So, the dependency is bad, and the behavioural impact is very bad. But can we do anything to mitigate, in the absence of public transportation ? The only thing we can do, is of course, to learn to drive on the treacherous roads in the midst of uncouthed drivers, and traffic cops who are just waiting at all the turns to catch for the silliest of mistakes even when traffic signal lights are not working !

Welcome to driving in India.


Vijay Srinivasan
26th June 2011


One thought on “Driver Dependency

  1. We would like to thank you just as before for the stunning ideas you gave Jeremy when preparing her post-graduate research as well as, most importantly, for providing the many ideas in one blog post. If we had been aware of your website a year ago, we will have been rescued from the unnecessary measures we were participating in. Thanks to you.

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