Apr 2004 Journal


Letter from Israel

You are driving along the highway. The car in front of you indicates it is about to turn right, but turns left. Without any warning, another car cuts across your bows and turns right. The driver of the truck you are overtaking puts his foot on the accelerator and speeds away from you and just then you are overtaken by a bus. Anyone looking for a quick route to a nervous breakdown need only drive on Israel's roads.

The rule that seems to govern driving behaviour in Israel is: give no quarter and expect none from others. The worst mistake you can make is to signal, as that shows you are far too law-abiding to be let loose on the roads. Indicating is definitely passé.

The problem is that the sense of urgency that governs daily life in Israel has spilled over into driving habits, despite the best efforts of police and educators. Behind the steering wheel people seem to undergo a personality change, and the mildest individual becomes a raging bull. Everyone is invariably pressed for time, so that cutting in, tail-gating, flashing headlights and tootling horns are all the order of the day.

Of course, there are occasional incidents of courtesy on the road, when you are able to merge with traffic without incurring the vocal wrath of the driver behind you, and the car behind maintains a safe distance. There is also the comradely convention whereby the headlights flashed by an oncoming driver inform you that there is a police speed-trap ahead.

In the final event, however, the steering wheel is the great leveller. The sturdiest of macho men and the feeblest little old lady are equals behind the steering-wheel. It is merely a question of whose nerves are the strongest in the battle for the road.

Dorothea Shefer-Vanson