It was an unprovoked and undeserved attack; I had done nothing to warrant it. Indeed, in the words of an old style British policeman, I was proceeding in a southerly direction, minding my own business, when – without warning – the accused launched his vicious, nasty assault. Suddenly, he was just there, right in front of me and in my path. I had no time to think, just react. There was no room to my left. There was no room to my right. I was trapped. I had no choice but to stamp on the brakes as hard as I could and pray for the best. He missed me by
inches centimeters. He drove off, presumably without a care in the world, while I did my best to recover from the shock of his dreadful maneuver: forcing his way immediately in front of me, cutting in from the middle lane to the fast lane, without signalling, without enough space to make it safe, and probably without looking. That bastard nearly killed me.
If you are an Israeli, or have lived or visited here, you will probably recognize the scenario. The driving here is awful, and that’s being kind. It’s long been common knowledge that Israel has lost more people in road casualties than in war. It will take most people about 15 minutes driving on the roads to recognize why that shocking statistic is accurate. Frankly, given the attitudes on the road, I remain astonished there are not more deaths. The simple truth is that each time you get into a car in Israel, you are taking your life in your hands. You must be alert at all times. You must expect the other drivers to do stupid things at stupid times. You must expect there will be no, or little, sensible use of the indicator. Or the mirror. You must expect there will be no lane discipline. You must expect people to drive too close to you. You must expect that if you leave a reasonable braking distance between you and the car in front, some other driver will take that space. You must expect that if you don’t leave a reasonable braking distance, some other driver will still take that space. As a generalization, Israelis don’t drive, they aim their cars. It’s like the dodgems for grown ups. That is the reality.
Driving was, potentially a major issue for me. I have a commute to work which varies from 35-60 minutes; something I was not looking forward to. I was worried I would hate the driving. (I used to love driving in the UK.) I would have been prepared to cycle, but people tell me it is really dangerous. I cannot explain it, but while every day I witness suicidal and deadly driving moves, (and nearly every day, see an accident or its aftermath) I do the drive without getting stressed out. I don’t enjoy the journey, but neither do I hate it.
Perhaps one reason the driving isn’t getting to me is that I am so stuck in a British mindset; the daily driving escapades of Israelis still surprise me. I don’t expect the minibus to overtake on the inside, cut in ahead of the middle lane and on to the outside lane (all the time on the mobile phone, too). Why would I think the SUV on the side road is going to charge (and I mean ‘charge’) on to the main road bringing the flow of traffic screeching to a halt? Who could have anticipated the car in the middle lane indicating right (now there’s a novelty: indicating in advance) and moving left? Or, as happened to me earlier this week, what was it about my side of the road that the driver from the other direction liked so much he tried to stay on it? Never mind the sudden stopping on the pedestrian crossing to ask for directions, football scores or family advice. These drivers make the Wacky Races look like a documentary; an understated documentary.
One strange aspect, at the risk of being sexist, is that some of the most aggressive drivers are women. (It makes me all the more wary in the supermarket car park.) I believe there is a thesis waiting to be written about the battle of the sexes and driving in Israel. And one funny aspect, is that the very driver who cut you up, charged out of the side road or roundabout, or otherwise behaved badly, will likely treat you as if you were his best friend should you meet him in a social event. So, I keep thinking to myself, as I am introduced to people here: Someone tried to kill me today. Was it you?