Rules or no rules?
I am thinking of applying for a government grant to study the effects on rules as it relates to driving abilities. I have a theory that needs to be researched. It is this: I believe that the more rules you have for driving, the less skilled drivers become. Let me explain.
I am going to use Israel as an example but I have driven many places in this world and the same applies everywhere that I have been. The U.S. appears to have the most stringent and the most enforced driving laws on the planet. Here in Israel, I am really unsure of what the rules are. You know why? Because rarely does anyone get pulled over. Speeds are rarely posted and traffic cops are far and few between. Driving here is an initial shock that is not for the faint of heart. I have an older coworker that came here and was told to get a car. I drove with him on his inaugural trip from the airport to the hotel. I was really worried we would die. He was scared to death. This is nothing against him, I think that most people would be scared at the prospect at driving here. When my friend Teresa came to visit here, one of the biggest spats we had was over my driving. She was scared shitless to put it simply. I contend that I have just fully embraced the Israeli rules (or lack thereof) of the road. Which is to say, anything goes. Anyone that tries to drive as they drive back in the states is in for a shock and I even think it would make you a danger to yourself and everyone around you.
Let me try to describe the driving here. The first thing that really took some getting used to is the lack of a clear lane division. Sure there are lanes and lines on the road, but no one uses them. Its perfectly acceptable to drive straddling any lane you wish. This appears to be done for one reason and one reason only. To allow you to quickly jump to the fastest lane possible. If you need to pass someone who is straddling a lane and blocking your path, you simply honk and they get over long enough for you to pass. Speaking of horn, I love the usage of the horn here. Here using the horn is as much of a driving tool as using the brake pedal and its used just about as much. Someone moving when they shouldn’t be, give them the horn. Stopped when they should be moving, again with the horn. Need to warn someone that they are getting a tad close to hitting you, horn. The nice thing is, it doesn’t make anyone angry to get honked at. Its a simple way of telling someone they need to do or stop doing something, and everyone uses it.
The next thing that is tough to get used to is the speed. Basically you smash your foot on the pedal until its time to smash your foot on the brake. Sure its tough to get used to driving through town at U.S. highway (slight exaggeration) speeds, but let me be honest, I LOVE IT and have completely embraced it. I drive as if I am trying to get my pregnant wife to the hospital before I am delivering the baby in the back of the Honda.
Next is the swarms of motorcycles that you must watch for. It took me 3 months to figure out why a lane change takes someone a LONG time to complete here, until it hit me. There are so many motorcycles that nothing is done suddenly here. I can’t EVER remember anyone slamming on the brakes here either. You need to know that most likely there is a motorcycle between you and the car next to you riding the line or directly behind you. Or there is one racing up beside you to pass you in between you and the car next to you. Maybe the whole thing is best described as bicycle Velodrome track racing. In track racing there are no brakes on any of the bikes. That way, bikes can be very close to each other in proximity. Its totally safe because no one can slam on the brakes and upset the pack. You move as a group and slow as a group. This is why my coworker was so dangerous. He kept slamming on the brakes. This is a horrible thing for the pack as a whole. Changing directions, lanes or speed is something that should be done with extreme purpose and caution. The other thing of note is that many of the motorcycle drivers are teens. There are no teens with cars here, or at least very few. Teens ride scooter style motorcycles and they (girls included) are amazing at it. The skills of the young girls on scooters here are something I couldn’t match if I spent the next year trying. You would think that there would be dead scooter kids everywhere but there aren’t.
Lastly and this is the thing I find the funniest of all things done here, you simply MUST get as far forward on the pack as possible. If a pedestrian is crossing the road, cars will drive out around them AND YOU instead of waiting the couple of seconds to get out of the road. If you have two lanes merging into one, you must use shoulders and any gaps in the cars to move forward as much as possible. What I see 20 times on the way home from work would have resulted in 20 gun deaths back in the states from people cutting you off, trying to get around you because you simply are not riding the ass of the car in front of you. If you leave one inch of space between the car in front of you and your bumper, the car behind you will go around you and try to fit into that space. There is simply nothing that will not be done to advance your car as far forward as possible. This is most noticeable in bad traffic situations. I really need to film it to get an idea of how insane it is. The greatest thing about it is that NO ONE IS ANGRY, its perfectly acceptable and in fact, expected. Its completely normal to do whatever you need to do to get further ahead. If a car is trying to merge into your lane, you must not let them in. This problem causes yet another thing here. When you need to merge or turn into traffic, rest assured that no one will let you. Not only that, they will do everything in their power to keep you from doing it. So what must you do? You just keep slowly nosing out into the road little by little with cars racing by and having to swerve further and further into oncoming traffic until you have slowly but surely completely blocked the path, at which point you can now merge or turn. I have seen cars completely sideways in the middle of a busy street trying to make a left turn with cars flying around them. Its not until cars simply can no longer go around them, that the car is able to complete their turn.
OK, I have described the driving, now for the hypothesis. I believe this lack of rules (although I think in their own way, these are rules. Rules that are stringently followed) has made Israeli drivers MUCH MUCH better drivers than U.S. drivers. I think drivers everywhere on the planet are better than U.S. drivers. These people are able to respond to situations that would be an automatic accident in the U.S. We in the U.S. have been gotten so used to things being exactly a certain way, within a very strict set of rules and procedures that when anything happens that falls outside of what we are used to, it almost always results in an accident. People simply have no experience with things out of the norm. Here because of such high speeds and with seen and unseen hazards everywhere, (motorcycles) you simply need the reflexes and ability to react to changing situations that Americans just don’t have. People here are able to adapt to a seemingly infinite set of conditions and situations that are honestly for a foreigner are a little overwhelming. Israeli’s think nothing of it. They simply do it, and whats more, there is no road rage. None. Well OK that’s not completely true, I got screamed at by a cab driver once because I wouldn’t let him cut in front of me. He was driving WAY to damned slow for my preference and I choked his slow ass off so that he couldn’t get around me. He finally made it beside me, rolled down the window and yelled something in Hebrew. I returned a volley back at him that included the suggestion that he felate my Pomeranian. Although not as politely. Hey what can I say, old habits are hard to break.