Danger in Israel

It’s not terror.  There have been more deaths in Israel due to traffic accidents than terror.  I had a friend who kept track of these things (I trust him because he is a science person) and he found that even in the worst days of the Second Intifada, there were still more people killed in traffic accidents than due to terror attacks.

This week a full bus collided with a truck stopped on the side of the road on Highway 1 in Israel.  Six people died, three of them were under 18.  It’s especially horrible because the driver of the bus had already had an accident similar to this one on the same road and was suspended from driving between cities for two years.

Israel is still safer than other places in our part of the world.  (For statistics and another opinion, see this article.)  I remember being in Sinai and our driver was driving on the wrong side of the road.  When asked why, he said that this part of the road was smoother, so there was no reason for him to do damage to his car if the road was simply better on the other side.  You could see miles ahead, but it was still a bit disconcerting because he drove like he was being chased.

In Egypt, a taxi driver was taking us to the airport in the wee hours of the morning.  He didn’t have his headlights on, so we mentioned that he might want to turn them on.  He said that having them off saved gas.  (If anyone can tell me that this is true, please comment.)  Besides, there were streetlamps on the highway, so nothing to worry about.

Here in Israel, there is a different driving culture than most Americans are used to – and thankfully it’s not quite like Sinai or Egypt.  Streets are noisy.  The horn is a method of communication with your fellow drivers.  It might say, “Hey! I’m right here (in case you are not using your mirrors).”  Perhaps, “Woohoo!  I’m going through the intersection.”  Taxi drivers often use it to say, “Hey! Wanna taxi?”  It is also used aggressively, “Go!!! The light changed .3 milliseconds ago!!!”  Or “what the hell is the matter with you?!?! Why are you making a 3-point turn in the middle of the road and blocking both directions of traffic?!?!”  This last one is more common than you might think.

A video of driving on the highway in Israel.  It’s not that bad.  Really!

My Israeli driving test

When I converted my US license to an Israeli license, I was required to take at least one lesson, but I didn’t have to take the written part of the test.  In those days, English-speakers told many horror stories of awful driving tests and almost no one passed on their first try.  Additionally, in Israel you can get an “automatic only” license or “manual transmission” license that allows you to drive both standards and automatics.  I went for the manual since I knew how to drive one.  But I was worried.

You take the test in the instructor’s car, which is why it’s good to have at least one lesson so that you can get used to the car.  I arrived at the testing facility and was going to be tested with another student in the car.  The person giving the test didn’t speak a lot of English, but we decided it would be fine.  I carefully pulled out of the parking lot, taking my time and generally being over-cautious.  We get on the road and the tester says “Left!”  I was in the outside lane so I changed lanes to the inside lane.  He started yelling, “Left! Left!” and then tried to grab the steering wheel.  I used a Karate Kid wax off motion to block and shouted back “Ok.  I got it!”  He meant the left turn lane.  So I made the turn.  “Pull over.  Stop the car.”  End of test.

I was sure I had failed.  It was Friday and I wouldn’t get results until the next week, so I spent the weekend wondering how many more lessons I would need, how much it would cost, hoping that I wouldn’t fail too many times and have to take the written portion in Hebrew.  The results came out and I passed.  I guess it was because in the chaos I still had control of the car.  I didn’t question it and I won’t now.  As far as I’m concerned it’s just another miracle of the many that take place in Israel.

And if you decide to visit Israel, don’t worry about terrorism, just be sure to look both ways before crossing the street.