My most fun (sic) driving experience was along the Euphrates highway in eastern Syria. I was already used to donkey carts and camels on the road from other countries, and driving at night with no street lights - or warning lights on those carts and camels and elephants. What made the Euphrates highway special was how people treated the dual carriageway (divided highway): each half as a separate, two-way road.

Second on my fun list was driving in Iran, particularly in the Alborz mountains. Most drivers thought that turning on the lights at night was a waste of energy. They would drive with the lights off until they could see another vehicle coming from the other direction. Then the lights were turned on - high beam - to warn the other driver.

Lanes in Tehran were great fun. Where two major streets cross, there is usually a traffic light. Major roads are typically two lanes each way. When the first cars (finally) stop for red, others crowd around to the sides. Two lanes become three, maybe four or five with cars on the sidewalk (pavement) and then more as cars move around to the left. By the time the light turns green there might be 10 cars on one side of the intersection facing 10 cars on the other. Amazingly, I never saw an accident in that situation. (Today, many cities such as Jakarta control this activity with high kerbs and median barriers.)

Much more frightening are the drivers (young men always) who feel that they are lords of the road. Driving in Jordan you learn that stopping to make a left turn, with your signal on and in the proper lane, will often mean that you are overtaken on the left.

A variation is highway driving in many countries where faster vehicles overtake with no regard for the road ahead - on curves, on hills.

Another thrill was Czechy in the sugar beet harvest season. At least in the communist days it was unknown for anything to be done to keep the vehicles coming off the fields from dragging dirt onto the highways. Fall is often damp, and the result was often a fine layer of mud as smooth as ice.

Closer to home, Italy has an unfairly bad rap. There is A rule of the road: no two vehicles fit in the same space at the same time. If the other car is one millimeter ahead, it has the right-of-way. Once you learn that, driving is no problem - as long as you are alert.

Much more dangerous is Belgium, with the rule of right. The danger is not the rule - probably every country which drives on the right has a rule that at an intersection not otherwise marked, and everything else being equal the vehicle on the right has the right-of-way. But in every other country I know, intersections are usually controlled by a light, marked with signs to designate the right-of-way, or have additional rules such as a car coming to a T-intersection must yield before turning. In Belgium, most intersections (even between minor side streets and major highways) are NOT marked, and there are no additional rules. And, according to the press, Belgian drivers are taught to never look left. If they come from the right, they are RIGHT.

Which explains why Belgium has more car body repair shops per capita than any other country in the world.

(Belgian authorities respond to critics of this situation by claiming that it would be too expensive to mark most intersections. Yet many are marked with signs saying that right rules.)

last update 22 November 2000

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