No longer an Oleh Chadash 4a Things I learned – Driving in Israel

Israel has one of the highest automobile accident rates in the world. I think there are many reasons for this and I will discuss my thoughts in this post. Part of it is, I think, the Israeli attitudes. Israelis, especially the male variety, are very macho in their own way – “nobody tells me what to do or how to do it.” I also think that living under a constant threat of annihilation (political comment – thank you Mr. Obama) adds to a feeling of recklessness. This led me to make a post in December 2010 regarding my observations, I will repeat it here.

Observations – Driving in Israel

After living and driving in Israel for more than two years, I thought I would share my observations in order to help the visitors and future Olim. Please note that none of these comments are meant to be derogatory or sexist –just what I have observed, so, here goes:

  1. Driving in Israel is the game of ultimate chicken. I have decided to be a chicken, thank you very much.
  2. Israeli traffic signals flash a yellow light prior to turning green, this is to tell the second driver in line to start honking his/her horn.
  3. If you do not like the way motorcyclists drive, stay off the sidewalk.
  4. A red striped line at a curb (kerb for you Brits) means you cannot park next to the curb. Therefore park on the sidewalk. If they do not want you to park on the sidewalk, they will put metal stanchions or concrete blocks. This means only motorcycles are allowed to park there. If they do not want motorcycles to park there they will put up netting.
  5. If you want to pull into traffic, make eye contact with the driver you want to cut off, that makes you brothers, friends, etc. and he will allow you in.
  6. Number 5 does not apply if the driver is a woman. Women are more aggressive drivers here than men are and, in addition they are talking (illegally) on their cell phone, doing their nails or putting on makeup, eating breakfast AND yelling at the kid in the back seat.
  7. If you are stopped by a policeman, yell at him, he will usually apologize and go away. If he does not, and you are a woman, cry.
  8. All traffic laws are only suggestions

I welcome additions to the list.

Then there is car parking. Israelis love to back their cars into parking spaces, I am told it makes it easier to pull out. This is especially helpful when parking in a mall or supermarket car park (garage for Americans). They will back up against the wall. When they come back with many parcels or shopping bags they have to struggle to get things into the trunk/boot. Macho Israelis will never admit to having done something stupid, they act as if they meant to do that (cf the late, great George Carlin’s routine on cats and dogs [if a cat sees himself in a mirror and thinks it is another cat, and crashes into the mirror, he nonchalantly acts as if he meant to do that]). If they do not have a remote, they will climb onto the car to open the trunk with a key.

Highway driving is another adventure. Double lines do not mean do not cross, if you have an opportunity to pass, pass. Weaving in and out, at speeds exceeding 25% of the posted speed limit is common. If they cannot get past you, they ride your tail weave back and forth and flash their high beams at you. In their defense, it should be noted that they always signal lane changes. They drive with one hand on the steering wheel and the other on the directional signal/high beam switch, which makes it easy to signal and flash at the same time.

Motorcycles and scooters are an additional problem. They weave in, out and around cars. They will ride 10 meters to advance 1 meter. When they want to go on a one way street in the other direction, or to avoid going around on a divided street, they use the sidewalk. If you are walking on the sidewalk, tough, they believe they have the right of way, not people walking on a sidewalk designed for … walking. They will park wherever they want with no heed as to whether they are blocking passage for others. There are actually two types of motorcyclists – those who have had an accident, and those who will. Splat!

One of my major peeves relates to parking in restricted areas. There are many spaces designated for the disabled and frequently there is a space between these spaces, with a dropped curb, to allow wheelchair dependent people to access the sidewalk. It also allows people with vans to actually open the door. See photos below, in the first picture, our van, is on the right. Virtually all Israelis respect the restricted spaces but will park in the access space. They also feel that if they are only partially in the space it does not count, absent the fact that they render the rest of the space unusable for a van or other larger car. My revenge is that these pictures were forwarded to the parking violations bureau!

Speaking of the parking violations bureau, only in Israel have I seen the ticket wrapped in a plastic baggie during the rainy season!

We have special names for various car parts. Directional signals are called … blinkerim. Windshields wipers are … visherim (after all, the sound they make is vish, vish, vish). My all-time favorite is that the rear axle of a car is a beck-exel. The front axle is a front beck-exel.

There are special hitching areas (hitching is tremp in Hebrew), soldiers are not allowed to tremp in uniform. There is an etiquette involved in tremping; the main item being that the tremper sits in the car quietly, only saying where they want to get off. I will offer tremps only to people I know, or, when I am in a settlement to anyone asking.

Israelis will make U-turns any time they feel a need, regardless of the traffic conditions around them. When they want to turn they just pull into oncoming traffic without signaling and expect the other car to stop and/or avoid them. This also applies to backing into traffic from a parking space. Usually they are lucky.

Recently I noticed a new phenomenon. You can be sitting in the left lane waiting to turn, your directional blinkerim (see above) signaling same. A car will pull up on your right and, you guessed it, turn in front of you (sort of like a U-turn). They assume you can see their blinker which, of course, is below your line of sight. But, even if you could see the blinker don’t they realize that not only is it illegal, it is “moderately” dangerous? This is a takeoff on the line jumpers, they will pull to the head of a turn lane and cut in, after all, their time is much more valuable than ours. There are also those who will stay in a left turn only lane, especially when the middle or right lane is also a turn lane as well as a straight lane, and, you guessed it, go straight.

We have a large number of student drivers, easily identified by a large lamed (ל) on top of the car. This, in itself, is not a problem. The problem stems from the fact that my neighborhood is chosen by the instructors to teach. This, in turn, causes a slow down in traffic (they will not pull into a street if they sense a car coming in the future. This, in turn, causes pollution because of the number of cars backed up behind them. Naturally, they drive slowly and other drivers, similar to those in the preceding paragraph will attempt to pass them. This often occurs when they turn into a street with people crossing, or walking, and cars parked.

We also have interesting car names. We have Volkswagen’s sport cars – Polo and Golf. Nissan has a car called a Juke. Jukes in Israel are rather large cockroaches. The car looks a little like a roach and is quite popular. Not to be outdone, Renault makes a car called a Fluence, I think of it as being a contraction of flatulenceJ (pass the cholent). Then there is the make of cars lawyers love to drive – Isuzu. There is another brand called Seat, what, am I going to stand in it. The list goes on.

We have a law that when an emergency vehicle approaches with sirens wailing, you must pull to the side. Unlike in the US where you have to pull to the right side, you only need to pull to the side. You can picture what happens. Also emergency vehicles always have their flashing lights on, there is no need or requirement to yield unless the siren is on. I have no idea why this is.

Taxi drivers in Israel are no different than those in America. They are rude and aggressive drivers. However, they will go out of their way to help someone in special circumstances. A friend of mine, on his way to the Kotel, left his Tephilin in the cab. Another driver got on his phone and not only tracked the driver down but arranged to have the Tephilin returned. It is also customary when taking a cab to sit in the front seat next to the driver, after all, we are family, and he is not your chauffer.

I think you get the general idea of the navigational skills and patience required to drive here.

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