Stopping on a green light, and proceeding on a red light

Guest post by Daveed Shachar, volunteer traffic policeman


In spite of popular misconceptions, it is safer to drive in Israel than in the U.S. or in Canada. Looking at any statistic you want, you’re better off in a vehicle in Israel than in North America. For example, if we look at fatalities per billion vehicle-km, Israel has 7.7 deaths, Canada 8.2 and the U.S. 8.5. If we look at fatalities per 100,000 inhabitants, Israel has 5.2 deaths per year, Canada 9.2 and the U.S. 12.3.

These figures are deceiving. Only 13 percent of American fatalities are pedestrians, whereas 33 percent of Israeli fatalities are pedestrians. This means that if you’re in a car in Israel, you are far safer compared to the U.S. or Canada than the figures above might suggest.

Americans driving in Israel for the first time claim that the Israeli drivers are aggressive and scary, but obviously, since traffic fatalities are higher in the U.S., the real problem is simply not understanding the local system.

It is possible to get into a serious accident when travelling in a foreign country due to lack of familiarity with the host country’s slightly different traffic regulations. Let’s look at the most confusing differences between American and Israeli traffic laws.

U.S.: To turn left, stay in the left lane. Pull into the intersection when the light turns green, and even though the light is green, wait until no traffic is coming against you. When all traffic has stopped, by which time the light is usually red, complete the left turn. Some intersections do have a special left-turn light.

The above maneuver is illegal in Israel, where it’s forbidden under any circumstances to turn left on a red light. To turn left, stay behind the white line, and wait until the left-turn light turns green.

U.S.: To turn right on a red light, come to a full stop before the intersection, and then treat the light as a stop sign. If no traffic is interfering, turn right on the red light. (In New York City, you can’t turn right on a red light.)

Israel: Do not ever turn right on a red light. In fact, even if the light is green, you do not have the right of way if a pedestrian is trying to cross. Usually a flashing amber light or even a green pedestrian light will warn you that the green light does not give you the right of way until the pedestrians are all out of the way. Some intersections have a special right-turn light.

U.S.: If there is a solid white line between lanes, you can cross it if you are turning left into a driveway.

Israel: If there is a solid white line between lanes, you cannot cross it for any reason.

U.S.: If you are approaching a stopped school bus from behind, you must not pass it. If it has blinking lights or a special sign extended, you must not pass it even if it is on the other side of the road, facing towards you.

Israel: If you are exiting a school bus, be careful. No driver is obliged to stop for the bus, and in fact, if he does, may get rear-ended.

U.S.: On wide city streets, there is an extra lane in the middle for turning left in the middle of the block. How long you can remain in this lane is a bit of a mystery. If you stay in for too long, you risk hitting a vehicle coming against you. If you stay in for too short a time, you risk missing your turn. If the U.S. had more left-turn lights, and especially more roundabouts, this whole system could be abolished.

Israel: If you want to turn left in the middle of a block, signal well in advance, keep your foot on the brake (to keep the brake light on) and turn when the road is clear. However, given the recent preponderance of roundabouts, it’s usually a better idea to wait until the next traffic circle gives you a chance to swing around, backtrack, and make that left turn into a right turn.

U.S.: Be prepared to meet the dreaded four-way stop. This is an intersection with four stop signs. First, stop. Then look around. If any car was there before you, that car has the right of way. If several cars arrived at the same time, the car on the right has the right of way. If there are any pedestrians, they have the right of way over all cars.

Israel: There are no four-way stops. If you see a stop sign, stop. You do not have the right of way. If the road to both sides of you is clear, proceed with caution.

U.S.: A handicapped sticker allows parking only in handicapped spaces, and it can be transferred from car to car as long as the handicapped person it was issued to is in the car. An American handicapped sticker is no good outside of the U.S.

Israel: If you have a handicapped sticker, you can park just about anywhere as long as you’re not interfering with traffic, such as in the middle of an intersection or at a bus stop. If you see a special handicapped space, however, you should use it, as otherwise you are basically taking up two spaces, as no able-bodied person can use the handicapped space. The sticker is issued to the car, and is not transferrable. An Israeli handicapped sticker is no good outside of Israel.

U.S.: The posted speed limit is an actual limit. Drive a bit faster than allowed, and you risk a ticket.

Israel: The posted speed limit is a guideline. Drive less than 10% faster, and you risk angering the drivers behind you. Drive more than 10% faster and you risk a ticket and having your license endorsed (points).

U.S.: On the highway, cars tend to maintain a safe distance between one another.

Israel: If you fall too far behind the car in front of you on a busy highway or especially on a busy freeway, a car will cut in between you. Now you’re closer than you intended to be, and you’re at risk by the mere fact of the car next to you suddenly crossing in front of you when you didn’t expect it.

U.S.: Once you buy a car, government interference stops. There is no annual test. A car can have faulty brakes, faulty lights, a malfunctioning steering system, or any other potentially deadly fault, and nobody finds out about it until it’s too late.

Israel: After the first two years, the Israeli government checks every vehicle once a year, and for older vehicles, twice a year. This check covers all the basic mechanical parts of the car, including the tires, as well as the emission from the exhaust pipe.

U.S.: On streets, drivers have the right of way. On sidewalks, pedestrians have the right of way.

photo courtesy of David Shankbone

Israel: More and more cities have pedestrian-friendly areas where cars are allowed to drive and pedestrians, especially children, are allowed to play. These streets are clearly marked at the entrance, showing that the street is multi-use. These streets tend to be paved with cobblestones, another indication that cars must proceed with caution.

More differences to be aware of:

Israeli drivers may tailgate, drive faster than the posted limit, make strange gestures at you, eat and smoke while driving, expect you to let them into your lane when they signal, and drive on the shoulder.

American drivers may be drunk and therefore erratic, pass on the right, talk on their cell phones, not use seatbelts, run you off the road by cutting in too soon after passing, refuse to let you into their lane when you’re frantically signaling, and come to a rolling stop instead of a full stop at stop signs.

Drive safely!

Important Israeli traffic facts from Milly Perzon, English-speaking Israeli driving instructor from Or Yarok  (phone 053-2200970):


The speed limit in the city is 50 mph, except for roads marked with a different speed.
There are roads (such as Begin in Jerusalem) where there is a minimum allowed speed (45 kph), so as not to impede traffic. Also there is a minimum highway speed (55 kph).

Maintaining a Distance between Cars:

By law, the driver must maintain a space of one second. Needless to say maintaining such an  interval does not  allow enough time to stop safely in the event of an emergency stop.
For this reason, the recommendation is 2 ¼ seconds. This factors in one second  for the driver’s reaction along with a second and a quarter for the stopping distance of the vehicle.

Integrated (Multi-use) Street:

On an “integrated” street, which is also for pedestrians and children, the speed limit is 30 kph.

 Mobile Phones:

The law in Israel regarding mobile phone use while driving has been tightened as follows:

The mobile phone must be anchored in one place. Do not speak without a fixed headset  — using the loudspeaker is illegal. Do not send a text message (NIS 1000 fine). Do not receive a text message (NIS 500 fine).

 Also see which is an advocacy group (not afiliated to the above mentioned driving school) in Israel dedicated to making our roads safer.

AACI Jerusalem – Dr. Max and Gianna Glassman Family Center
Pierre Koenig 37, corner of Poalei Tzedek 2 (across from Hadar Mall)
Talpiot, Jerusalem
Buses # 21 & 49 stop on Pierre Koenig across from AACI; 71, 72, 74 & 75 stop  at Tzomet Habankim, a 10-minute walk away.
(02) 566-1181 for more information about any programs or to register.


17 thoughts on “Stopping on a green light, and proceeding on a red light

  1. As a volunteer policeman, you have so many misconceptions and absolutely WRONG things written here that it will take me too long to comment on them all.

    Several things written that are absolutely wrong: it state there are no 4-way stops in Israel. Maybe not in Jerusalem; fewer today now that most of them have been changed to traffic circles (“roundabouts” is an English term). But they still exist. I’ve driven through some of them.

    Second, my wife has a handicapped sticker, it was prominently showing in the correct part of the car windshield, and she still got a ticket when she parked in a “load and unload zone” right next to a (taken) handicapped space. We brought it to court and the judge upheld the decision, and we had to paid the fine.

    I think if a schoolbus is stopped and has its lights flashing that you cannot pass it in Israel.

    Finally, you state, “U.S.: On streets, drivers have the right of way.” **Absolutely wrong**. If a pedestrian puts his/her foot down on the street to cross, you STOP your car! In the US, you DO get tickets for not allowing pedestrians to legally cross streets, and pedestrians DO get tickets for jaywalking. Neither of those are given here.

    • Not sure about your other comments, but people definitely do get tickets for jay-walking in Jerusalem (on occasion).

    • My comment the “drivers have the right of way” can only be understood in the context of the paragraph following it, and I apologize for the confusion. Unless there is a pedestrian crossing, drivers have the right of way in the US. You will not get a ticket in the US for not giving way to a jaywalker. In Israel, there are special multi-purpose streets where drivers never have the right of way. These streets are only to be found within cities.

      You would have been fully in your rights to park in any handicapped or unmarked space, or even a space marked with a red and white edge, with one exception. You are never allowed to interfere with traffic. This means that even with a handicapped sticker, you cannot park in a bus stop, intersection, or loading zone, as in your case.

      If a schoolbus is stopped, flashing or not, you can pass it in Israel.

      I have personally given tickets for jaywalking here, and have seen police do so in several cities, including Jerusalem. I have certainly seen many tickets given for not yielding to a pedestrian in a legal crosswalk in Israel.

      A four-way stop is an intersection with four stop signs and no lights. There are in fact none of these in Israel. I have never actually seen one outside of the United States. Many traffic lights in Israel have been changed to roundabouts.

      A roundabout is not quite the same thing as a traffic circle. In short,

      Although the term roundabout sometimes is used incorrectly for a traffic circle even in the United States, their traffic engineers now make a clear distinction between them, noting that in a roundabout entering traffic must always yield to traffic already in the circle, whereas in a traffic circle entering traffic is controlled by stop signs, or is not formally controlled, although some states are exceptions, notably New York, which follows the “yield” rule although naming them Traffic Circles.

      You can read a full description of these differences here:
      in the section entitled “Differences from traditional traffic circles” in the same article.

      If you have further comments, I will be happy to discuss them with you.

      Safe driving.

      • Concerning “you would have been fully in your right to park….” what you say is nice but when you get a ticket for parking someplace not interfering with traffic (in the loading zone), then bring it to court and the judge upholds it, means that what you say and what actually happens is not always the same. And friends with handicapped stickers emailed me saying they received tickets in loading zones (and similar) as well.

        • note from editor:
          Hi Steve, it seems that Daveed replied to you that it is not OK to park in a loading zone because it would interfere with traffic. Please take another look at his reply to you. So it seems that you two are actually in agreement that you cannot legally park in a loading zone.

  2. Mistake: new cars checked once in two years, old cars once a year

  3. The problem in Israel is that the drivers do NOT follow the laws. In Israel, the drivers rarely stop at a crosswalk for a pedestrian especially in the Jerusalem area. This does NOT just pertain to driving but to other laws as well such as NOT smoking in public places especially in wedding halls. There is NO rule for the law in Israel. Health and safety mean very little in Israel.

    • from Daveed:
      Simcha: The problem is in any country, including every country I’ve ever driven in (the list is long) or been driven in, there are people who do not always follow the laws. Hence the necessity for traffic police. I have almost been in several accidents in the US, in each case due to the illegal behavior of another driver. I have also seen drivers in Israel drive illegally, and receive tickets. Although I have done research showing that Israel is statistically safer to drive in than in the U.S. as a whole (some states are better than the average, of course), I have never done any research on how many tickets are issued per milllion kilometers driven. That sounds like an interesting project.

      Smoking is a very sore issue with me, especially in wedding halls, but the noise in those halls is also a sore issue with me. Israelis tend to be, for the most part, law abiding citizens. I have seen horrible violations of smoking laws, noise laws and driving laws in other countries, but naturally I would be even happier if the citizens of whatever country I am in were more law abiding than they are. In other words, there’s always room for improvement.

      My experience with Jerusalem drivers and crosswalks is very different from yours. Today I was in charge of a very large intersection, not in Jerusalem as it happens, and was pleasantly surprised to see how many drivers stopped at crosswalks for pedestrians who hadn’t even left the sidewalk yet. I was also pleasantly impressed by the large number of taxi drivers who were wearing their seat belts, in spite of the silly law which excuses them from doing so.

      I understand your frustration, but this article was supposed to be about driving, not about other things that bother all of us.

  4. NY & NJ have both have car inspections. This piece, though informative, could have used a bit more research & fact checking

  5. My article pointed out that the first check for a brand new car is at the end of the second year that it is on the road. After that, the check is annual. Very old cars have to undergo two checks a year, and cars over 15 years old need to bring proof from a licensed garage that the brakes have been visually inspected for wear prior to getting their cars tested. Cars so old that the are collectors’ items can be excused periodicallly from the bi-annual test if the owner can show that he couldn’t use the car because he was waiting for an essential part to become available.

  6. the lack of signage is a problem for me–you have to KNOW the speed limit, it is not written anywhere for long stretches of road. And when you need to turn, the sign appears two seconds before the turn, forcing you to cut someone off. Other than that, I think Israeli drivers are amazingly skillful and have great reflexes, which is probably the only way to survive “offensive driving”….

  7. Many states, including New York and New Jersey, for example, require annual or bi annual safety inspections, so it is simply not accurate to state that once you purchase a vehicle in the US , government ‘interference’ ends.

    • Thank you for bringing this to my attention. However, only 17 states require annual or bi-annual safety inspections. This is more than I knew about previously, but still woefully inadequate.

  8. Where’s the line that says “Motorcycle drivers will do pretty much whatever they want, including, but not limited to, driving where there is no lane whatsoever”?

    • Ilan,
      You brought up a very important point. Motorcyclists can be a danger both to themselves and to others. From Wikipedia:

      Lane splitting by motorcycles is generally legal in Europe, and in Japan and several other countries, and is illegal in many U.S. states, but is legal in California.

      The legal restrictions on lane splitting for bicyclists can be the same, such as in California.In some jurisdictions, such as Nebraska and Utah, lane-splitting is prohibited specifically, and only, for motorcyclists.

  9. There are a lot of mistakes here as to what is and is not legal in the USA. It is also important to remember that each US state issues its own driver’s licenses and that driving laws may vary from state to state. Some of what is written is how people drive, but it isn’t necessarily legal.

    • I would be pleased to receive at least a partial list of my mistakes, which I will be happy to address. Please check my other responses here before doing so. My article mentioned the places in which there are exceptions to the rules I have mentioned, such as red lights in New York City.

      I did not mention any bad driving habits which are legal. The point of this article is that the laws are a bit different between Israel and the US, and drivers not aware of these differences are in for a major shock and may find themselves in quite dangerous situations.

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