Sunday, August 29, 2021

Driving culture


[Man behind the wheel*]

It is said that our first 18 years have a lifetime impact. Our childhood affects the foods we enjoy, our approaches to life, the way we raise our children and even our career choices, to name a few. Granted, each of us over time accepts or rejects this heritage at any given time but it is present and impacts our life one way or another.

I recently became aware that it also influences how we drive. Simply put, I am a much better driver in the United States than in Israel. By better, I mean more natural and relaxed. In the United States, I sense the kind of stupidity to expect from the drivers around me. I know the expected pattern of speeding up and slowing down (except on Sunday when the “Sunday drivers” come out). I am confident in my ability to identify early and react to any situation. As a result, I am relaxed when I drive in the United States, especially on the West Coast, and find the driving experience neutral, i.e., neither pleasant nor unpleasant. By contrast, in Israel, I actively monitor all cars around me, expecting them to try to risk their life to reach the same red light 30 seconds before me. I am rarely disappointed. Although I still often sense what a given driver will do, I am less confident and more stressed. For me, a 45 minutes’ drive in Israel is not fun, to put it mildly.

Logically, that should not be so as I have driven in Israel for many more years than I did in the United States. I drove in the States for some 12 years regularly, getting my driver’s license at the age of 17 until I immigrated at the age of 28. Adding annuals trips over many years, I have driven on US roads for some 15 years at most. By contrast, I have lived in Israel some 32+ years, driving on a regular basis for a good part of that period. I am quite familiar with the roads and the drivers. They should be second-nature.

Of course, driving in the Mediterranean is Mediterranean is highly entertaining, at least for those that enjoy action. Whether in Spain, Italy, Tunisia or Israel, Mediterranean drivers own the road, literally. Other drivers are mere trespassers and really should not be there. Not only that, as elsewhere, phone calls and personal arguments are of greater priority than keeping with the flow. Still, the traffic flow around this middle sea does have a specific tempo that can be learned.

Clearly, high temperatures affect driver attitudes but only so much. As the mercury goes up, driver patience tends to go down and tempers rise. It does not take much to begin an argument between two drivers here. A sudden stop will suffice to create some interesting street action. The fact that all cars in Israel have had air conditioning since 1995 has not significantly mitigated the slaughter on the roads based on the annual numbers. Not only that, drivers from many other countries also suffer from high temperatures but still exhibit patience. The weather itself does not explain the difference.

It is possible that my driving culture was formed not only by actually time behind the wheel but in the surrounding seats. For some 16 years, I watched my parents and other people drive and the interaction between them. In a passive but embedding way, I “learned” how to drive, which I applied when I became an adult. As I came here at the age of 28, I did not receive that education. Thus, my comprehension of Israeli drivers is not instinctive. On the other hand, it may be just me. Other immigrants may have gone native with no problem. I confess to have done no research on this subject.

So, in my opinion, driving patterns are a cultural phenomenon. They are affected, as in all such matters, by both childhood and later life experience. I strongly affect that the former has more of an influence than people suspect.

* Caption pictures to help the blind access the Internet. Picture credit: Image by <a href=";utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=1149997">Free-Photos</a> from <a href=";utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=1149997">Pixabay</a>


  1. Driving in Israel is the absolute worst.

    I began my driving career in Ireland. By comparison with drivers here, it's like everybody's on slow-drip Valium.

    I will go out of my way to use public transport solely in order to avoid getting behind the wheel here and dealing with the unnecessary aggravation. Literally. I don't care if getting to Tel Aviv and back takes one more hour if it means I won't either turn into one of those crazies shouting at the next guy in traffic or white-knuckling while I watch that happen in front of me.

    I've been tailgated and flashed at while attempting to drive cautiously up a road in the Golan that literally led up a mountain - by night. That's not "hot headed" or "Mediterranean". That's insanity. Rarely five minutes goes by when you don't witness something chaotic and dangerous like drivers jumping three lanes - missing you by fractions of a meter - without of course ever having the courtesy to indicate.

    No defense for it, in my opinion. Like many things driving education in Israel is grossly over-regulated. So we have to ask ourselves why enforcement seems to be completely absent. I received a ticket once for jaywalking. I don't defend that. But I asked the officer, with all sincerity, why the local police were so aggressive about enforcing this while every time I drive to Tel Aviv I feel like some motorist almost crashes into me and police cars are nary in sight.

    Thanks for writing this. There's some comfort in knowing I'm not the only one who feels this way about the local driving culture!

  2. Perhaps my experience is not typical. I made aliyah 4 years ago, I find driving here a far better experience than in NYC (certainly) and not much worse that Philadelphia, Cleveland, or Baltimore. I have become a much more confident and less timid driver since moving here. And I actually enjoy driving here most of the time. I have not seen that much more crazy aggressiveness than in the US. And I'm 64 and have been driving since age 16.

    1. You have gone native! That is good in the case of driving. I would agree that West Coast driving is different, more mellow if you will, then East Coast.