How to ensure a safe auto journey in Bangalore

Traveling in autos in Bangalore without any issues is a very tricky thing - but certainly not a rocket science. If you know what to look for and what to avoid, you will have a safe journey.

Disclaimer : Some autos are rented by the driver hence some of the logic explained below may not apply. However it is always the combination of these factors. These guidelines are for me and my type of folks, rest need to customize it or discard it. Obviously this isn’t a scientific study and many are stereotypes created with my biases. But these are empirical observations which have worked for me. This is written with a need of self-preservation, of peace of mind and dignity and not to offend anyone. Finally this writing assumes the driver to be a male as I haven’t come across a female auto driver yet in Bangalore.

For the past two years, I have been commuting using bus and auto. My car sits in my garage and I take it out once in a while to keep the battery alive. In autos I have had more or less pleasant experiences chatting with the driver, discussing current events and philosophies and sometimes just minding my own businesses. Recently after experiencing the auto journeys in other states I came to a conclusion that Bangalore auto drivers are angels in comparison.

When I shared this with some of my friends they all looked at me as if I am from Mars and recounted the horror stories of overcharging, rash driving, ogling, rude behavior and other irritating and some times criminal behavior. Although I could relate to their stories from my past experience long time ago, I realised that I have had absolutely great experience in the recent past. Then it hit me, over the last two years I have mastered getting good behavior out of ordinary ones and weeding out and avoiding the bad ones. So I sat down and thought about all the things I do and here is the list of my commandments or auto protocol.

Appearances don’t deceive, in case of autos. File pic.

The idea is to choose the auto and not let the auto choose you. Obvious ones like proper license plate, uniforms and other legal-related signs are important. This is above and beyond that.

Casually stand on the roadside without looking directly at autos, or approach the auto from the back. Observe the auto, look for posters, writings, pictures, driver’s dress, mirror fitments, music boxes and what the driver is doing (reading, looking at people, smoking, chewing tobacco etc). With some practice you will be able to do this with finesse. 🙂 .

1) Religious motifs:  If the driver has the Kumkum or Namaz topi, or Cross, it is usually very safe to take this auto. I have gotten 100 percent good behavior from such folks.

2) Movie insignia: If the auto has pictures, or some form of allegiance to Darshan, Ambareesh, Upendra or Salman Khan, avoid such autos. If it has Shankar Nag, Rajkumar, Vishnuvardhan it’s a good sign. Strangely I haven’t seen too many heroin’s pictures. Pictureless autos also indicate a very no-nonsense mind.

3) Age of the driver: Middle-aged auto drivers are usually very well behaved and cultured. They are from an era where social propriety was deemed higher than money. If the driver is dressed with Khaki uniform open like a coat and collars up etc, be cautious. Obviously not all young ones are bad, but look at him to see signs for unbalanced raw youth (what we call “Padde hudugaru”). Some of the signs are explained below.

4) Writing on the auto wall: Many autos have very biased and anti-women writings relating to movies, usually accompanied with a picture of knife and blood (Why do they allow them?). This indicates the driver/owner has had bad experiences – such as jilted love – and  they tend to be irrational, driving fast and basically being angry at everyone in the traffic. So avoid them.

5) Smoking: If the driver is smoking, avoid, but he sees you and immediately quashes it, that is ok – you can safely take that auto. I also avoid tobacco-chewing fellows as they constantly spit on the road getting on my nerves and compelling me to lecture them – hence present a possibility of confrontation.

6) Avoid auto stands (not the pre-paid ones): In such places, auto drivers are usually in groups; you will be outnumbered and psychologically overpowered into making a wrong decision. My suspicion is, most of them are also local jaunts for jobless youth of that area. Go little ahead and wait for an empty moving auto.

7) Reading: If the driver is either reading news paper or tucked some news paper in his auto, thats a positive sign. They tend to be very well-behaved and usually dole out oodles of moderate philosophy.

8) Music: If loud music is blaring the latest item song, avoid such auto. If there are some nice mild songs or even classy FM, go in.

9) Mirrors: Some auto drivers have a third mirror in front of them so that they can look at the passenger, presumably to hear what they are saying in terms of direction. But some are used to ogle at the passengers. So watch out for the angle. The mirror should be positioned in such a way that only if he looks up he should be able to see you.

10) Love/Lust signs:  If the auto has love signs, picture of lips (usually on mirrors) and scantily clad women, obviously use caution. Use the 1-9 above to judge and balance this.

Finally, speak in Kannada. Nothing softens and chastises them like matronly tone and some chaste Kannada words, like en Anna, en Appa, and if he is elderly, addressing them as Swamy (Koramangalakke bartira Swamy?). Using plural/bahuvachana (respectful prefix of bartira instead of Bartiya?) would make a huge difference as well.  If you can’t speak Kannada, using other languages with good soft tones and non threatening gestures will help.

This was originally published in Manjula Sridharan’s blog, and republished on Citizen Matters with her permission.⊕


  1. S.R.Ayyangar says:

    Good observation & down to earth suggestions for commuters.
    Satirically, here is a my blog post on Bangalore autos-

  2. Ravi says:

    I completely agree with the tips and thumb rules provided in this article.

    Few other tips based on my experience,

    1. Prefer green autos
    2. Avoid analog metered autos
    3. If the driver asks second question about the destination he is going to ask for extra fare
    4. Avoid autos with colored lights inside the cabin
    5. Avoid auto stands as much as possible
    6. Avoid if there is another person in the driver seat along with the driver
    7. Auto drivers tend to stick to the locality where they live. You can find that using the registration plate which has KA-01, 02 etc

  3. Palahalli Vishwanath says:

    Nice set of dos and donts. I agree in general with wht is written. Yes, people with Namaz topi always oblige. they are also very courteous. I have used autos almost regularly for the last 10 years. May be 1000 + trips. I had bad experience only twice. Once he ran away with my money ! . If it is a long journey and if you know the city, you can gauge whether the meter is ok/or the driver is taking you for a round. What one can do is to get off and take another auto. Also women travelling alone are advised to sit as much near the exit as possible. I find the major problem is charging more than what the meter shows. I have met with bad behaviour very few times. It also helps to shoot the breeze with the driver. I speak Kannada and it has probably helped

  4. Natarajan Iyer says:

    Simple Tip for a safe journey with Bangalore Auto Drivers

    The writer of the article seems to be out of touch with Ground-Reality Economics of the strata of society that fetches auto-drivers. I suggest she spend some time interacting with the rural
    crowd on the out-skirts of Bangalore. She would realize that the cinematic depitlction of rustic villagers is horribly mis-leading. They can give the harvard economist a run for his financial know-how and acumen since these people are least bothered about diplomacy beyond it’s natural limits and they always interpret a spade as a spade unlike city bred ones who relish cheating their mind with their own mind and enter into a self created hypnotic state waking up like rip van winkle after twenty years when the world around them has changed by leaps and bounds.

    No rajkumar no shankar nag no ambarish cinema actors as pointers to behavioural patterns… ” To the auto driver, it is all about his family, Bills to be paid, Food expenditure, Bribe to the Police,…etc etc etc… So bear this in mind and instead of arguing with the man who is mentally in a different world than yours, pay the extra money if need be and keep moving. If he gets physically violent or verbally abusive with unparliamentary words visit the local police station. The local police have excellent methods of dealing with these fellows.

    Under general circumstances, do not waste your time, money and energy in hooking on to the auto drivers with your arguments. That is exactly what he wants. He is enjoying the show and spot-light that is usually not available to him in main-stream society.

    WOMEN beware, no anna brother etc etc as suggested by the writer. To the raw auto driver rogue it is all about prying eyes roving around to catch a deep neck or exposed body part… These rogues remain so… when CEOs in firms womanize, these fellows are no better and these fellows are products of such influence through movies, etc etc.. So WOMEN beware all the while.

    Now for the core issue, let me be blunt here…Most of the auto-drivers are rogues. Renting out autos for prostitution,… etc etc etc the list goes on. Speak to some auto-driver of the 1980s or to a police man or peek out of your car at unearthly hours near the city railway station etc etc and you can see the dark faces of these blaggards.

    Spot a girl or woman in a flimsy clothing and these fellows would volunteer to ferry them.

    It is better that you MAINTAIN PSYCHOLOGICAL DISTANCE from these fellows.

    Quick tips :

    ” Avoid Loose Talk and Small Talk ”

    ” Except for speech related to directions to the destination, do not speak to the auto driver ”

    ” Do not haggle over the meter fare. You cannot avoid a few rupees being over-charged to you. So, just pay and keep moving ” ”
    From role of ex- convicts, earlier the quick entry into main-stream society was by way of turning auto-drivers.

    Those fellows still constitute a major chunk. So, Beware.

    Many auto rickshaws are owned by private individuals such as Inspectors, Politicians, Corporators, Private Individuals etc etc who rent it out to these fellows at the rate of Rs.150/- per day.

    Knowing that fully well and envious of the economic well-being of the owner, these fellows purposely create problems hoping desperately for a fully-blown incident that would get the auto-rick into the police station or RTO

    Youth from surrounding towns of Bangalore visit Bangalore, drive autos, earn quick money, spend the cash on Wine and Women and sumptuous non-veg delicacies and ram the auto at an obscure location or even sell the parts and run away to their home towns.

    Some fellows have had the gumption and sadistic pleasure to park the autos right next to the police station and exit. The owner arrives to lodge a complaint only to find his rick parked right next to the police station with deflated or missing tyres, audio system and parts.

    These rogues will remain rogues.

  5. Rakesh HP says:

    LOL for the article especially Religious motifs but impressed with comments. I loved comments better than article.

  6. Jayaprakash Kulkarni says:

    High time that government drops this socialistic concept of auto system where drivers are exploited with low earnings. We should rework the citizens transport system in Bangalore. Just like airport taxis are now owned by few companies with 100 fleet of cars. First create a transport regulator Bengaluru Transport Regulatory Authority(like TRAI). Second, include BMTC, Taxis and Autos. Third, based on estimated demand of auto revenue auction the licenses to 2-3 companies with a large fleet of auto’s with annually increasing minimum wages and health insurance for drivers in the contract. Fourth, place low cost tech GPS based trip meters with centralized call center booking. Fifth, phase out existing owner operator autos and ask fleet companies to buy autos and employ them.

  7. keerthikumar says:

    If it is bad luck get a bad auto driver end with problem, about 20% auto drivers are rude in behaeviour and they don’t have courtesy to talk, this is very only auto association have to guide the auto drivers,

  8. vikky sharma says:

    When you see someone being assaulted by Auto drivers Pls do stop and help. Since most IT employees are not bothered about others, No one bothers about them. Learning kannada is welcome but may not help. Only way out is to help others , it may take 10 mins of your time but will make life safer for all. Just go and stand and form a group …a single person surrounded by auto guys shouting is the trick to intidimate. Think about it

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