Any person that has travelled around the world and drove a car knows that road cultures vary. In other words, when in Rome, drive like a Roman or don’t drive. (I recommend the latter.) The differences arise from the physical road conditions but also the education and temperament of the drivers themselves.
Compare driving in Los Angeles (and most of the west coast of the US) with the pleasure of motoring in Israel. LA, being a metropolis, not a city, requires people to drive. For most of the population, public transportation is not an effective option for commuting. Therefore, the roads are wide and bi-directional while the highways generally have at least three lanes in each direction. Given the number of cars in Southern California, the infrastructure is still not sufficient, but at least there is room to maneuver. Excluding the Sunday driver, a rather unpredictable creature, most LA drivers know the roads, avoid last minute decisions, don’t double park and know how to yield. Amazingly, LA drivers are expert in smoothly merging into freeway lanes. I am not sure whether it is genetics or training but it seems almost unnatural. The fact that Angelinos spend so much time in their vehicles paradoxically causes them to relax, not tense up. They are even willing to wait until the red light to make the left turn when they are in the middle of the intersection, one of the mysteries of LA driving as far as my Israeli-born wife is concerned. All in all, like good jazz, by staying cool and thinking ahead, driving in LA is not terribly challenging once you get in the flow of it.
Israel, being in the Mediterranean, is another story indeed. The government has tried to improve the infrastructure but there are far too many two lane roads. The less said about their banking, the better. The most important factors are psychological. Two assumptions seem rather rampant: It is my father’s road since he paid taxes; rules are for other people (or mere suggestions, albeit strong ones). Combine that with the summer heat, patience is not a common virtue here. Most drivers act as if they are alone on the road and do their best to ignore the presence of other motorists. The fact that everybody else is traveling at 100 kph (62 mph) has no impact on the need or desire to travel at 130 kph (86 mph). There are some local variations. I live in the Galilee, surrounded by Arab villages, where driving licenses and seat belts are considered recommended but not required. I know that I am getting close to home when the driver in front of me is going 20 kpm faster or slower than the speed limit, oblivious to the danger s/he is creating. Tel Aviv is a special place. The roads are very crowded while parking is more valuable than gold. The meek need to use public transportation, which is quite convenient and effective, since they will be unable to even leave their parking spot since nobody will let them enter the traffic lane. The approach to driving mirrors the oft used local expression what doesn’t work by force requires twice as much as force. In other words, possession is nine tenths of the law. It helps to have a SUV in that sense since its physical presence is so imposing. On the bright side, it is a good place for people that enjoy adrenalin and cursing. To make it clear, in Tel Aviv, I use public transportation. LA driving did not prepare for that challenge.
My wife and I will be soon visiting Ireland for a vacation. We decided not to rent a car and drive because the culture is so different, i.e. they drive on the left side of the road. (UK patriots, please note that I didn’t use the word wrong.) I am looking forward to see how the Irish are out and about. I would also like hear about driving culture in other countries.