Michael Schachter
Michael Schachter

Driving & Parking in Israel — The Essential Rules of the Road

Image by Alexander Grishin from Pixabay
Image by Alexander Grishin from Pixabay

INTRODUCTION

For some people the thought of driving in Israel can be nothing short of terrifying. Even those who are comfortable driving in big cities in other parts of the world find that driving in Israel is a very different and generally, a much more challenging endeavor. However, if you know the rules of the road, driving in Israel can be an enjoyable and rewarding experience. This guide is designed to introduce you to some of the rules with which you may not be familiar. Once you learn them, you will find that understanding how to drive and park your car in Israel is as easy as figuring out who gets to board the bus first at a crowded bus stop.

Disclaimer: This post is not meant to be taken as advice about driving in Israel. It is for entertainment purposes only.

DRIVING POSITION

When learning how to drive, we are taught that our hands should be in the 10 & 2 positions on the steering wheel. Driving instructors will remind their students of this proper positioning often. Failing to keep your hands in this position during your road test will almost certainly result in your failing the test.

However, after a while, most drivers tend to find their own comfortable driving position and generally it is not with hands in the 10 & 2 positions. Some will hold their hands higher on the wheel, some lower, and some with a hand near the center, close to the horn. All are acceptable options depending on your particular driving style. Still, it is a good idea to find a comfortable driving position that leaves you with a free hand with which to operate your cell phone. Of course there are numerous accessories that you can purchase for your car that can hold your cell phone and allow you to keep both hands on the wheel (in accordance with the laws on the books), but most Israelis prefer to hold the phone in their hand. Yelling into your phone is much more gratifying when you are holding it right near your face.

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There are other considerations when it comes to the position of your hands while driving. Whether you are naturally more comfortable holding the wheel with your right hand or with your left hand, it is recommended that you become comfortable driving with your right hand only. As a courtesy to the passengers in your car you should leave your left hand accessible to hold your lit cigarette out the open window on your left.

Once you do get comfortable driving in Israel, you should strive for the ultimate driving position. That is, with your left hand available to hold a cigarette and your right hand available to hold your cell phone. Please note: you still may find it challenging to hold your drink and/or snack while driving – but don’t give up!

PASSENGERS

It should go without saying that you should never purchase a car that does not have functioning seatbelts. Your car is not only for getting yourself from one place to the next, but often for transporting other passengers as well. And sometimes these passengers (or sometimes you) have something that needs to be transported that must be held in place securely in the car. It could be a small piece of furniture or a bag of groceries. These things must be secured well and that’s exactly what the seatbelts are for!

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There’s another important consideration when it comes to taking other passengers in your car. How much room is there between the front seats and the back seats of the car? Is there room for your passengers to sit in the back seat with at least one child on a lap? What about two children on a lap? Remember that some people have large families and there should be room for all of them to pile into that back seat.

HAND SIGNALS

Many people have been led to believe that hand signals are no longer important when driving. This is not the case at all. The importance of the use of hand signals has not diminished; it has simply changed.

Years ago drivers were taught that when making a right turn, you must extend your arm at a 90° angle upwards. A left turn is indicated by extending your arm straight out through the window. Extending your arm downward with your palm facing backward is the way to indicate that you are slowing down or stopping. But things have changed. Nobody expects drivers to constantly be raising and lowering the cigarette being held in the left hand (see above).

However, there are times when hand signals are appropriate and necessary. The following is just one such example.

Imagine you are driving your 5-seater car to pick up a family of twelve. You see them waiting for you in front of their house. You could pull over to the side of the road or pull into their driveway, which could take a few extra seconds out of your day – or, you could stop in the middle of the road and let them pile into your car, saving yourself the trouble of pulling off to the side. Here is where your hand signals are important. Just hold your hand out your window with your palm facing upwards with all five fingers extended upwards with the tips of your fingers touching. The Israeli symbol for “wait”. It is important to signal the drivers that are now stopped behind you that they need to wait until everyone has piled in and the doors are mostly closed.

In this situation you may notice that some of the drivers behind you will use the opportunity to make sure that everything with their car is in working order. In particular, the horn. You may also discover that some drivers will acknowledge your hand signal with a particular hand signal of their own. 

RIGHT OF WAY

Whenever and wherever people take to the road, it is important to know who has the right of way. In Israel, drivers are less concerned with knowing who has the right of way and more concerned with understanding how to properly establish the right of way.

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Traffic circles can be a huge help to drivers. Making a left turn suddenly becomes much easier as does making a U-Turn. But at the same time, traffic circles can also cause some confusion as to who has the right of way. Traffic circles with two lanes can be especially perplexing. Fortunately, drivers in Israel have succeeded in significantly simplifying the rules for traffic circles!

In other countries drivers need to be concerned with things like which cars are already in the traffic circle and whether or not there are any yield signs, etc. In Israel, things are much simpler. The only two factors that need to be considered at a traffic circle are where are you going and are you in a rush to get there?

Drivers who are in a hurry to reach their destination must make their situation known to other drivers by aggressively entering the traffic circle regardless of whether or not there are other cars already in the traffic circle. This is the simplest way to establish right of way. 

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While establishing right of way at a traffic circle can be somewhat challenging, at a crosswalk it is far easier. Here there are no other cars with which to contend, only people (and the ever growing number of kolnoits).

https://commons.wikimedia.org/

If you look carefully at the crosswalk sign you will notice that there are no cars at the crosswalk. This depiction of the crosswalk is intentional. It is to remind pedestrians that the only safe time to cross – even at a crosswalk – is when there are no cars in the vicinity. Cars approaching a crosswalk can easily establish their right of way by simply proceeding forward through the crosswalk.

DRIVING CAN BE FUN

Even when you are more familiar with the rules of the road as outlined above, it still may seem to some that driving in Israel can be stressful. However, there are tools at your disposal as a driver that can and will make driving a more enjoyable experience. 

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If you learned to drive outside of Israel, you were almost certainly taught about the presence of a “blind spot”. A blind spot is an area around the vehicle that cannot be directly observed by the driver under existing circumstances. Drivers are trained to check the blind spot, especially when changing lanes, usually by quickly turning one’s head to one side or the other. These quick glances at the blind spot prevent countless accidents each day.

Israeli drivers are not taught about blind spots. There are no quick turns of the head when changing lanes. This, of course, adds to the great adventure of driving on Israeli roads. Perhaps it can also be perceived as yet another way in which Israeli drivers can establish their right of way (see above) or simply a way of making driving more fun. Since drivers do not check blind spots everyone on the road must always be prepared to have other drivers cut them off when changing lanes. Some might say that this makes the roads safer as it forces drivers to always be on full alert. And if you do get cut off by a driver who neglected to check a blind spot, it is a great opportunity to use your horn, which is always fun. (Note: some drivers may find it difficult to operate the horn with one hand holding a cigarette and the other hand holding a cell phone.)

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But the fun doesn’t end there. How many of us enjoy a good mystery or a magic trick which involves something hidden? Did you know that your car comes with these very same fun features?

All cars come equipped with a “fun handle” on the left side of the steering wheel. The “fun handle” controls the lights that are usually referred to as the “directional” or “turn signal”. The idea behind these lights is quite simple. If you are going to make a right turn or switch lanes to the right side, push the lever upwards and drivers in front of you and behind you will see the “right” directional or turn signal flashing. If you are going to make a left turn or switch lanes to the left side, push the lever downwards and drivers in front of you and behind you will see the “left” directional or turn signal flashing. But Israeli drivers understand that use of these lights takes a lot of the mystery and fun out of driving.

Imagine you are approaching an intersection where you wish to make a left turn. You see a car coming from the opposite direction heading towards the same intersection. If you continue at your current speed you should have enough time to make that left turn before the car coming from the opposite direction reaches the intersection. But being the cautious and courteous driver that you are, you decide to play it safe and wait for the car coming from the opposite direction to pass through the intersection before making your left turn. But here’s the funny part. That car never passes through! Just as it reaches the intersection, it makes its own left turn. But since they weren’t signaling that turn – you had no idea! Only once they actually make their turn is the great mystery solved. And now you can proceed with your left turn which you would have already made had the other driver chosen to use the directional and take away all the fun. This is just one such example where not using the “fun handle” is actually the secret to the fun!

The “fun handle” can be used in all sorts of ways. Making a right turn? See what happens when you pull the “fun handle” down instead of up! Have you completed your turn? Leave the “fun handle” in the up or down position as you continue straight down the road. Keep your roadmates guessing!

PARKING

Now that we’ve looked at various aspects of driving in Israel, it’s time to turn our attention to parking. Just as with driving, once you understand the rules, parking in Israel is actually quite simple!

Parking is not permitted along any curb that is marked in red and white. Similarly, where the curb is marked in red and yellow parking is prohibited, as those spaces are designated as bus stops or reserved for public transport. Parking is permitted along the curb that is marked in blue and white. Most days of the week for several hours of the day these are paid parking spaces – except when these spaces are free of charge – except when they are reserved for local residents only. Just be sure to check the nearest sign which you should be able to reach with any of the local buses. 

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Some prefer to park in a lot and not on the street. Parking lots come in all shapes and sizes. But in almost every situation you will find white lines throughout the parking lot. Drivers should be careful not to park on the white lines. While not all drivers are really careful about this, true Israeli drivers make sure that the white line runs directly beneath their car with the wheels on the right and left equidistant from the white line. This sort of precision parking does take some practice, but it can be done!

There are other ways to park in these lots as well. For example, instead of having just one white line run beneath your car, if you turn your car 90° you can park in such a way that your car can cover two or even three of the white lines. Parking in this way has an advantage as well. Since most of the cars will be parked vertically, having your car parked horizontally will make it that much easier to spot when you return to the lot later on.

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While parking lots and marked parking spaces may seem like the obvious places to park your car, Israelis know that there are numerous other unmarked spaces available too. Most notably, there is often an extra parking lane available just along the side of the street. Some people refer to this parking lane as the sidewalk. These important parking spaces are not to be overlooked.

CONCLUSION

It takes some time to get comfortable driving and parking in Israel. Knowing the rules of the road and the tips contained within this guide should help facilitate the process. Before long you will be cruising around the country with ease and hopefully even enjoying the experience.

And remember, there are always new ways to enhance your driving experience. Once you are comfortable with the strategies above you can always try new things to make your driving experience even more fun! Have you ever tried passing another vehicle around a blind curve? That really keeps other drivers on their toes! How about keeping your high beams on at night when there is a car coming from the opposite direction? It is a great way to remind other drivers to check their own high beams and often their horns as well. (In all likelihood they are using a hand signal too, but you might not be able to see that in the dark).

So go ahead. Get out there and establish your right of way. The road belongs to you!

About the Author
Michael Schachter spent several years working in both formal and informal Jewish education in the US before making aliyah in 2010 with his wife and children. For the past few years he and his family have been running the Safed Puzzle Room, an educational escape room experience, in Tzfat. They have also created a series of online Israel and Jewish themed escape room games, available at Bagels & Locks Studios. He and his family make their home in Katzrin, where they also run one of the local shuls, Kehillat Or Hatzafon.
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