Despite Israel’s driving laws being almost identical to the UK’s, apart from on a different side of the road, there are a few alternative rules you should be aware of to keep yourself safe and sane whilst driving here.
Indicators are optional – called blinkers in Hebrew, these little orange lights that let other drivers know your intentions only need be used if you can be bothered. There is nothing wrong in pulling out in front of people, turning off roads onto others without using them, on motorways do not concern yourself with making the extra effort to flick the switch that could possibly SAVE YOUR LIFE . Do not use them if you are pulling over onto the side of the road, slamming your brakes on is sufficient, even if someone is right behind you.
Roundabouts, or kikar in Hebrew, or free-for-all in direct translation, are these circular raised areas in the middle of a junction. In Israel it is acceptable to drive over them, occasionally ignore their existence altogether and if you do use them correctly, indication (see above) is optional. In fact, a work colleague actually argued with me that it was wrong to use indication. She categorically believed that you stay off the roundabout until it was clear therefore the use of indication is unnecessary. Rather than giving her the shove I wanted to (not acceptable to shove colleagues) and screaming that’s THE POINT OF A ROUNDABOUT, TO KEEP TRAFFIC MOVING I changed the subject and hoped I was never stuck behind her trying to get onto a roundabout.
Speed limits do exist and in the main are adhered to, plus 10%. Beware grey boxes on the side of roads, they are speed cameras and beware the drivers approaching them at 120km and slamming their brakes on to take it down to 90km before they are caught.
Headlights flashing does not mean – I see you, feel free to pull out – in Israel it means – I see you and I’m coming through so stay out of my way. This is a very important unwritten rule you need to know. Early days of driving here had me very confused, especially on motorways eg. Indicate to move lanes, flash flash from car behind, pull out as the kind driver had let me, whereon kind driver almost drives into me, leans on car horn and yells obscenities (that I didn’t understand). I soon understood.
While we’re on headlights, a pedestrian doing jazz hands at you is not a sign of aggression, it in fact means you need to put your headlights on. A very helpful hand signal.
Pedestrians and other randoms on the road. As a driver, seeing pedestrians waiting at a crossing does not mean stop and let them cross. In fact if they are pensioners or children it is acceptable to speed up. Don’t worry, no self-respecting pedestrian will expect you to stop. You may come across other people standing in the middle of roads, especially at traffic lights at large intersections. They could be doing a number of things; selling you bagaley (pretzel bread), wanting to bless you, wanting to sell you a book to bless you, wanting a ride and at election time wanting to argue with you for 5 minutes about who you vote for whilst the cars behind lean on their horns.
If you are a pedestrian just be careful, be brave. On one occasion a driver leant on his horn and yelled at me (!!!) when I got stuck in the road trying to get my baby’s pram wheel up the curb on a pedestrian crossing. You need to be able to yell back.
Drivers. I lived here for 3 years before driving, not because I didn’t know how, but because I was
too scared. No lie. I wasn’t scared of being in an accident, I was scared of being yelled at by the other drivers. I was right to worry. Drivers in the main keep themselves to themselves ie I am in a world of my own where I am king of the road and there are no other cars present. When they are brought into the real world and are made aware of their fellow road users, it is often accompanied by a lot of horn blowing, angry yelling and on rare occasions leaving their car world and coming to yours to shout IN YOUR FACE, even if they were in the wrong.
A couple of incidents are brought to mind; one about the driver who took the keys of another driver and drove off. Another about the traffic policewoman who waved me onto a large junction I couldn’t get out of (jams in all directions) and then when I was clearly holding up the whole junction called me ‘mentally handicapped’ (I kid you not) for following her instructions.
That should do it. I should add that, not wanting to jinx myself, I have not had an accident here in 5 years so I have obviously learnt the alternative rules and the Israeli bark is far worse than their bite. In the 23 years (aaagggghhh) I have been driving I have been in 3 road rage incidents; someone deliberately trying to run me off the road, once in Israel, once in the UK and only once has a knife been pulled on me and that, of course, was in London. So maybe it’s not so bad in Israel – ignoring the fact that my Israeli friend carries a baseball bat in her car just in case…