Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Driving Dance

I've mentioned before some of the quirks of driving in Amman and in the Middle East in general.  The crazy and seemingly senseless "rules of the road" (or should we say lack of rules!) has recently again been making an impression on me, and so I am inspired to write a list of all the crazy things we've observed people doing (and have even done know, we've got to try to fit in!):

not a great example, but it's all I've got!
  • Driving is very fluid, much like driving a boat.  Individual cars, lanes, and traffic general just kind of float about with no rigidity or constrainment of lanes.  It is quite common for cars to create their own lanes, wherever they might wish to drive.  
  • Driving is very aggressive and requires you to be constantly on the offensive.  It actually reminds me quite a bit of a video game, where things keep flying at you out of nowhere and you have to be quick on your feet to dodge all the assaults. 
  • Dodging the pedestrians can be more of a challenge than navigating crazy cars.  There seems to be no thought for cause and effect of one's personal in, "If I step out right in front of this quickly moving car, it will have to swerve to miss me, which may cause it to hit another car," etc.  That's right.  Pedestrians.  They are a huge problem.  As aggressive as cars drive is as sauntering as pedestrians cross the street.  They just step out and mosey amidst the traffic without looking, loitering about in the road while cars whiz by, not caring that they might be in the way or creating a hazard for themselves and others.  It's like the road is their favorite place to hang out.  I've watched a person or two saunter out right in front of a car, then just kind of stop and hang out there in the car's way (all on a busy road, mind you), and when the car beeps at the person to move, he will actually get upset, as if he--the pedestrian--has the right of way to loiter in the road. 
  • Speaking of right of ways, I have not detected that any exist.  The right of way belongs to he who has the most chutzpah.
  • Cars often seem to appear as if solidifying from mist out of the mere pavement...This situation results from a couple of behaviors: 1) cars parked on the side of the road will take off with no warning directly into oncoming traffic, they do not look before driving; 2) cars entering a road from a cross street do not stop and look before entering the road, they just kind of barrel out.  The point being, again: traffic is fluid.  No one stops.  Not even when they should.  Everyone just adjusts. 
  • It is a regular practice for cars to back up into oncoming traffic, especially when reversing out of a parking spot.  Sometimes they will drive in reverse a surprising distance against the flow of traffic.  Sometimes they will drive the wrong way in a one-way.  Everything goes. 
  • The trouble is mostly that most businesses on main roads have no actual parking, so the cars are essentially parking willy-nilly on the road, often a few cars deep.  I've seen a whole line of cars parked right in the middle of a heavily-used road--can you imagine driving along, and all of the sudden just stopping and parking your car in the center of the road?  It happens here.  I guess, why not?
  • Traffic circles are really popular here, which is great...except that no one knows how to use them.  Instead of enabling traffic to move efficiently through an intersection, they most often create a quagmire.  For some reason, upon entering the circle, cars want to go directly to the inside lane, only to have to cut out through several lanes of traffic almost immediately.  It's a mess of confusion.  Sometimes, there are policemen directing traffic, but that only seems to make things worse.  Owen has discovered that if you stay on the far outside, you can take advantage of everyone's confusion and cut around them all. 
  • Brake lights are not required, and so at least half the cars on the road don't have them.  This is very hazardous. 
  • Blinkers aren't often used, especially not for lane changes (since, as we've discussed, there aren't really lanes in a functional sense).  In most cases, blinkers = weakness, and alert people that they can cut you off.  If they know what you're going to do, it's all the easier to get there first. 
  • On some roads, no one pays attention to red lights.
  • It is popular to use a turn lane to cut in front of a long line of cars.
  • Beyond the last point, it is also popular to go a step further and use the oncoming traffic's lanes to cut around both the line of cars and turning lane of cars cutting in front of the line of that the oncoming traffic has to squeeze through on their shoulder of the road.  Surprisingly, people don't seem to get upset by this. 
  • I especially love how they negotiate left turns so that 2 cars can turn left at the same time (much like 2 cars can safely turn right at the same time): At the intersection, the car turning left out onto the cross road will stay toward the middle of his lane, while the car from the cross road turning left onto the side road will cut to the right side of the other car...That sounds like a confusing description; but anyway, it works.  
  • Police don't pull cars over while driving.  They flag them over while stopped on the side of the road.  They also drive really nice Audi A6's.
a traffic circle (not my photo)

Driving is an art.  There seem to be no rules, yet everyone seems to know how to "dance" with traffic.  Those who don't "dance" and are too cautious are the ones in real danger. 

Chaotic?  Absolutely.  Efficient?  The antithesis.  And yet, somehow, it works. 

Some things about the way they drive I like.  For example, I like that we just look normal when we don't know where we're going and pull crazy maneuvers.  I kind of like the freedom and fluidity of movement, and that it's okay to pass slow people on the shoulder or in the opposing traffic's lane...I just hope I haven't picked up too many bad habits!

1 comment:

  1. Hee hee! Sounds like driving in Jordan is about like driving in Cairo. Equal parts fun and terrifying?