Driving in Israel – the Reality

OK, so you think you can handle driving in Israel? You’re just about to sign that Israel car rental deal and got a big smirk on your face? I’d love to say “Yeh, go ahead, it’s a breeze”, but I’ve been driving in Israel way too long…and I did say that this site also delves into the bad side of Israel, which driving, unfortunately, falls into…

Listen, it’s not easy, it’s a real challenge, and, just when you think you’ve got it sussed, you’ll be surprised, rather nastily unfortunately.

This isn’t the place to go all morbid and churn out a list of numbers of deaths and accidents, if you really want those numbers you can always search for them out there on the Web. But I have decided to give you a list of all the issues that you will undoubtedly face when driving in Israel, see below.

A quick aside – this amazingly short and accurate guide to Driving Etiquette in Israel, from the BBC no less, is probably of some humour to Anglo drivers in Israel…and check this hilarious opening paragraph from the Israeli Police website about driving in Israel; there surely is some tongue firmly planted in cheek here…isn’t there?:

Driving a car is a complex task, demanding coordination, keen senses, concentration, and alertness. While driving, the driver processes a great deal of information, both in operating his vehicle (accelerating, slowing down, turning, etc.) and in studying the surroundings (traffic lights, pedestrians, junctions, other vehicles, etc.).

Anyway, let’s get down to business:

1. Blocking junctions: I love those kind, considerate drivers that block junctions during rush hour. Don’t they get it that they are bringing traffic to a complete standstill? But hey, give them some credit, the light was green 5 minutes ago. And while we’re still in the credit department, trying to establish a new world record in seeing just how close they can get to the car in front without actually touching is actually much harder than it looks…

2. Toot yer horn: “All together now, der der der da da! All together now, der der der da da!” Perhaps I’m underrating the typical Israeli driver’s instinct and perceptive skills, but it never ceases to amaze me how the driver 10 cars back knows that the light is going to change from red to amber…

3. Indication: There is definitely some kind of inbuilt aversion to using the indicator. You might get impressed when you are waiting at a junction/roundabout and a procession of cars turn at the junction at which you are waiting. 95% of them won’t indicate. I waited at the roundabout next to my house this morning: 13 cars turned, 12 didn’t indicate. And be careful when you indicate to move into the next lane – the driver who you intend to move in front of may just put his/her foot down to close the gap into which you are trying to move! “What??!! Are you trying to move in front of me?? No chance! I’m no sucker!” We can now safely add the word “courteous” to the string of adjectives not applicable to Israeli drivers…

4. Taxi drivers: Well, I could write a page or two of juicy items, but I’m going to stick with my own personal favourite: Ever noticed that whenever a taxi is going dead slow he seems to have a passenger? Could it be that he is trying to milk a few extra shekels out of his fare as he slows down to a crawl at every junction/traffic light? Am I just assuming the worst…? In contrast, you can safely assume that a taxi driving full pelt is fareless…sit back and watch as the taxi driver seeks out his next fare in complete disregard for others on the road.

5. Stealing a few metres: I have a special fondness for those rush hour drivers that move into the run off lane/emergency lane to steal a few more metres. I get to see this so many times at La Guardia (heading southwards) though I’m sure it’s prevalent throughout Israel. This little driving manouevre makes me want to become a policeman…a nice blue shirt with handcuffs dangling from my belt would suit me so well. “Excuse me sir, would you mind explaining why you were driving in the emergency lane? I can’t locate any flashing lights on your roof. Let’s call it 750 shekels and I’ll even give you a break from driving if you insist on being funny.”

6. Merging lanes: Dear oh dear. You have to agree, merging two lanes into one is a very tricky task. The mentality of the Israeli driver ensures that he/she will tailgate the driver in front, so as to ensure that noone can move in front of them. It’s a war out there and noone wants to lose. As a result, two lanes that should slowly merge into one become gridlocked.

7. Lane control: Fast lane? Ah, OK, that means I can go extra slow and even appear oblivious to the cars flashing headlights behind me. I pay my taxes (just don’t mention the wife’s ‘part-time’ job…) so I’m entitled to drive in whichever lane I choose.

8. Anticipation: I was taught (back in the UK – my father is actually a driving instructor!) to anticipate the road ahead. This means you look ahead, not just the next 10 metres, but at least the next 100…It always astounds me how many drivers fail to see the tractor/taxi picking up a fare/parked lorry ahead until the last second. Then, without indicating of course, they suddenly cut in in front of you…

9. Scooters: As a scooter rider for a number of years in Israel, I have to say it’s dodgy out there (I’ve had a nasty tumble on my bike, painful). I really wouldn’t recommend this rental option, however brave and experienced you may feel you are. But my issue here is the 50cc guys who insist on driving on the motorway. These guys travel at a hefty 60-70kmh, so basically take over a lane, but they are not allowed on the motorway. Not allowed – ahhhh, “not allowed”, a concept completely foreign to the Israeli driver…

I hope this list hasn’t put you off completely, but you should be aware that driving in Israel really isn’t easy. And with the good transport links in this country, and taking into consideration the small size of Israel, it’s easy to get around without taking that car rental in Israel…

Enjoy your travels, whichever way you choose to go!

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