“Milk and two sugars?”

Normally, my commute in to work is before the rush hour. But this morning, I had to endure the rush hour in all its glory.

The journey consisted of three to four chokepoints (at which all the traffic was in a group huddle, slowly edging forward) and the in between Formula One racing that is typical Israeli driving.

At one of the chokepoints, I noticed the lady driver in the car to my inside, smoking a cigarette. Nothing unusual about that, you would say. And you would be right. But with her other hand, she was drinking what looked like a paper cup of tea. So, left hand with a cigarette, right hand with a cup of tea, and no hands on the steering wheel – in the rush hour. Oh…

There’s something new every day.


Smile, please; you’re in the picture.

Calling all Israeli residents: read the following (from the Herald) and weep:

One camera responsible for quarter of bus lane fines in Glasgow

A SINGLE traffic camera in Glasgow has been responsible for almost one-quarter of all penalty notices issued to motorists in the city since a crackdown on driving in bus lanes was launched last year.

The Glassford Street camera has been producing 340 tickets a day on average to motorists who stray into its bus lane and has so far brought in £1.2million.

The device, which is one of 11 located in and around the city centre, has been responsible for one in four £60 fines handed out to errant motorists.

Some of the points worth making:

  1. This is what happens when you have traffic cameras that work. (I have not seen a single working traffic camera in Israel. According to legend, there is one. Yes, one.)
  2. That single camera, at an average of 340 tickets – at  £60 – a day, produces revenue of £20,400 a day.  Assuming a 5 day working week, that’s £102,000 a week, and £408,000 in a 4 week month. A staggering £4,896,000 for a full year. How much good could responsible leadership achieve with that money?
  3. This is what happens when a crackdown is announced and followed through. Memo to Israeli politicians: the follow through matters!
  4. Perhaps bus lanes and traffic cameras are long overdue in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem?

Silence is deadly

One of the distinguishing features of electric motor vehicles is how quiet they are; drivers of same tell me this is one of the aspects that takes a while to get used to. But it’s not only drivers who are affected; pedestrians often rely on the noise of a vehicle to alert them. Pedestrians like me…

So, now I have set the background, let’s go back to one day in the office earlier this week. Ours is a multi building complex, and to go from my building to any of the others, I have to cross a two way street. There is a traffic island in the center dividing the two routes.

I was on my way to a meeting. I had successfully crossed one lane and was standing in the middle, on the traffic island.

I looked right to check the oncoming traffic and waited for it to pass. The route was clear. there was nothing coming. No need to rush.

I stepped out into the road and headed for the pavement. And was nearly flattened by an electric vehicle.

No, it was not invisible.

Yes, it was driving the wrong way down the street.

No, it did not hit me, because I managed to ‘sense’ it in time and jump – ok, hobble – out of the way.

Yes, I was bloody lucky it was only an electric bicycle.

No, I have no idea why he was riding the wrong way down the street. He wasn’t even on the flipping pavement!

Yes, I gave the rider an impromptu and free vocabulary lesson about combining Anglo Saxon and Scotch expressions.

I detoured to pick up a strong black coffee before my meeting and tried to recover from that nasty, silent, shock. Yuk. Not a nice experience.

But it was a timely reminder: when out on the roads in Israel, you must keep up your concentration level at all times. Even when you are a pedestrian. Or should that be, especially when you are a pedestrian?

Take care!



Tales from the trip – driving

One of the changes in life that UK people face after making aliyah, is learning to drive on the right hand side. Or, if you have driven before on the right hand side, learning how to make that common, daily, and routine. (Otherwise, it is a little dangerous out there.) Once it becomes a habit, you forget it. Until it’s time to drive again in the UK…

Although driving standards in the UK appear to have worsened, it’s still much easier to drive there. Drivers in the UK are, generally, more courteous, understanding, and far less aggressive. Susan pointed out that this state of affairs is partly due to the much lower rate of congestion; in other words, in the UK there are fewer cars per square kilometer than in Israel. Still, I would say that it is enjoyable to drive in the UK. Regrettably, I doubt I will ever get to say that about Israel. (Unless I am gifted a Merkava tank and a license to use it on the roads…) With that in mind, when I returned on this latest trip, I was soon relaxed in my driving and happy to be in that easier environment.

Fast forward into the break, when I am on a mission to buy a gift card. The hire vehicle was a sizable beast, and I did several orbits of the target area in Shawlands before finding a suitable parking space. (Suitable in this case meaning one big enough and easy to access by me, given my less than stellar parking skills.)

I parked, locked the car, and went off shopping. Later, I returned, opened the car and slipped into my seat.

Stop. Something is wrong. Er, where is the steering wheel? Oh dear. I was in auto pilot mode, and had got in on the wrong side – the passenger side. Ooops.  I guess I am more acclimatized to Israeli driving than I thought.

Welcome home

Blogging has been sparse while I have been in the UK for a family simcha. More on that later, all being well. However, apart from confirming my safe return and the like, I wanted to record how quickly I was welcomed back to Israel with something that just would not happen in the UK.

I took a taxi home from the airport. As we headed along the main road – in rather busy traffic – the driver felt a sudden need to write something on a piece of paper. In one hand, the paper. In the other hand, the pen. In neither, the steering wheel…

Welcome to Israel. (For me, welcome home.)

Figuring it out

"I think you're still safer here than on the roads."

“I think you’re still safer here than on the roads.”

First, the good news from the Times of Israel:

Israel marked a 50-year low in roads deaths in 2012, according to figures released by the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) on Wednesday.

The tally of traffic accidents in Israel, the number injured, and the number of fatalities also marked double-digit drops in 2012 compared to the previous year.

The number of people killed on the road in 2012 was 263, the report said, 23 percent lower than in 2011 and the lowest figure in 49 years.

Police registered 12,484 accidents with casualties in 2012, 11.6% lower than the year before.

One thing the CBS emphasized was that using crosswalks wasn’t a guarantee of safety — 72% of collisions with pedestrians occurred at crosswalks.

The breakdown also found that men were three times as likely to be the driver in a car crash as women, with 74% of the drivers registered in accidents with injuries being men, and only 26% women.

The figures don’t include accidents involving Palestinians in the West Bank.

Note the male: female ratio of drivers involved in fatal accidents.

I am pleased – surprised, but pleased – at the drop, because the driving standards on the roads in Israel are bad. Very bad. Very, very, bad. Very, very, very… (Nurse! Get him his medication, quickly!) So, it’s good to know the number of fatalities has decreased. The cynic in me wants to know if the main factor is the high level of medical skill available in the hospitals, but since that’s impossible to know or measure, we will move on.

Where will we move to? I know; how about the UK? What are the driving figures like for the UK? I’m glad you asked that…

According to this source, the figure for UK fatalities in 2011 was 1,901. And, according to this source, the 2012 figure was 1,760. (So, they have also experienced a decline.) The UK population is 63 million. If we divide the fatalities by the population in millions, we get these results:

  • 2011: 1,901/63 = 30.2
  • 2012: 1,760/63 = 27.9

How does Israel compare? It has a population of 8 million. Therefore:

  • 2011: 341/8 = 42.6
  • 2012: 263/8 = 32.9

Israeli road fatalities are running at a level roughly 17% higher than in the UK: 32.9 per million, as opposed to 27.9 per million. Not as bad as I thought it might be, but still bad enough. Perhaps when the new government has finished sorting out the economy, they can turn their attention to the situation on the roads…

Meantime, be careful out there.

From the depths

Unbelievable maneuver of the day: I was driving my car on the inside lane of the main motorway, going home tonight. I checked my mirrors and all was clear. The next thing I know, some stupid bastard is overtaking me on the inside – what they call the emergency lane in the UK – before nipping in ahead of me, then repeating the move with the car in front.

I hope I’m not with his insurance company.

Unbelievable maneuver of the month: one day last month, in busy rush hour traffic, a motor bike zig-zagged past me. Going slow? No. Driver plus pillion passenger? Yes. Other cargo? Yes. What other cargo? A boxer. A boxer, as in a man with shiny shorts and big red gloves? No, a boxer as in a fully grown, boxer dog, straddling the motor bike between driver and passenger. No, he wasn’t wearing a seat belt…

I’ll pause here while you try and picture the bizarre event. Motor bike plus driver plus passenger plus boxer dog. Weaving in and out of rush hour traffic. I did not believe it. (I still don’t, almost.)

What is it that possesses some people to behave like stark raving lunatics on the roads? I’ll give the benefit of the doubt to the boxer.

Float like a butterfly, skid like a fool

Backdrop 1: there are real rainstorms in winter in Israel. They are occasions with dark, threatening skies, thunder, lightning, and rain. Lots of rain. (We have had so much rain this winter, we no longer have a water shortage…) The effect on the roads, which are not built to handle more than the odd shower, is to fill them with huge puddles that often stretch across multiple lanes. And the back spray from cars in front of you often cuts your visibility to nothing. The effect on the drivers is not capable of being measured. In short, no change.

Backdrop 2: many mornings, on the way to work, there is a large white car which speeds past me. It’s always in the outside lane, and it’s always speeding. Not speeding as in 10 or 20 kph over the speed limit, but speeding as in doing twice the speed limit. Or faster. Since I am normally in the inside lane of the three lane motorway (highway), typically I only see the car’s rear end as it flashes past. (That’s why I am not sure of the car type; looks like a Mercedes coupe with a curved rear boot line, but it might be an Audi. Whatever; it’s a big, powerful, fast car.)

This morning: there was a winter storm.  This morning, in the dark before sunrise, the usual white car sped past me. It was going way too fast for the conditions.

A second later, it spun out of control right in front of me. (I assume he hit surface water at the wrong speed and angle and was aquaplaning.) The car went round and round, across a couple of lanes, and ended up pointing in the wrong direction. His headlights were blinding the (thankfully sparse) traffic, including me. He was lucky that. not only was there little traffic about, but what traffic there was managed to slow down – without losing control – and give him time and space to spin around without causing any damage.To put it another way: he was lucky – he could have been a metal and strawberry jam sandwich spread over Kvish Arba (Highway 4). After the car halted, he turned the car round and sped away. Not so fast this time…more like limped away.

I have never seen, live, a car spin out of control like that. It was a Hollywood type stunt; this was no loss of control and graceless collision. Instead, it was like small piece of a well choreographed dance, and I was getting to watch it for free.

I guess the driver must have been pretty badly shook up. I was, and I was just a witness. However, by the time the weekend is over, and it’s the start of the working week, next Sunday morning, I fully expect that white car to be speeding past me again like usual. Yes, I know, I am cynical. Especially when it comes to the drivers in Israel. I promise to tell you if the white car driver proves me wrong.

Eilat and back

In the queue for Eilat

Susan and I were in Eilat for Sukkot. We had a very restful time, though Susan’s sore back and the tummy bug she picked up made it less than a perfect break for poor her. There was a bit of an adventure, too, of which more in a moment. Right now, things are busy on the work front, so blogging time may be limited. However, I want to share a couple of our experiences. Continue reading