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.
Israel: 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 http://www.oryarok.org.il/ 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)
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.