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February 17, 2013, Sunday

Crossing the road

A British couple who was visiting me in İstanbul this past week tended to be rather hesitant about crossing the road and frequently commented on how drivers were driving. I was reminded of how different it is in Turkey compared to the UK when you are trying to cross a road. Turks who have not had the opportunity to travel abroad to Western countries are unaware of the courtesies drivers show towards pedestrians and to other drivers.

Let's look at the situation for pedestrians first and then for other drivers:

In Turkey, pedestrians need to have nerves of steel. It is best to cross at traffic lights (many lights have a countdown for pedestrians as well) but still check both ways to see if all of the traffic has stopped. I warned my guests to not be fooled into thinking that the black and white stripes on the road mean you have the right of way as a pedestrian does like in England or the US. Crossing the street is dangerous in Turkey. Whenever possible, try to use the footbridge or underpass (the latter often has lots of nice kiosks and shops).

A tip I always give my guests is to cross when there is a significant gap between cars, remembering that the driver will usually switch lanes and go in the lane you've just crossed in order to avoid you, so if you lose your nerve just stand still. If you turn back you are more likely to be hit. Cross a multi-lane road as a series of roads one lane at a time: Don't worry about standing on the dotted line between lanes since the Turkish driver is accustomed to this and will likely maneuver around you to avoid hitting you.

You often hear the comment, "Women drivers," muttered under the breath. I have decided that driving lessons in Turkey are basically useless. It seems there is less emphasis on important points such as reverse parking and following the instruction signs such as “Yield” and “Stop.” When a person receives a driver's license it does not really mean that they are practically equipped to handle the car on the road. From what I have been told, many drivers did not pass the driving test because they were confident drivers, but for other reasons. One Turkish woman told me that two of the female examiners passed all the males and failed the female students. In another situation a Turk told me that one person who stalled the car three times while taking the test passed when another driver who had not made any mistakes was failed.

If you are not familiar with the system here, Turks actually go to private driving schools and pay for their lessons and then take a driving test. The written test is fairly comprehensive and includes questions about motor mechanics and how the engine works. The practical test is more basic.

Foreigners can drive with a foreign license, but if you are going to be a resident for a long period, it is a good idea to get a Turkish one from the Turkey Touring and Automobile Association (TTOK). If you do not do this, and if your foreign license doesn't have a photo (i.e., UK licenses) then it is a good idea to get a translation of your license prepared by a notary public. Otherwise a traffic policeman who does not speak English may not believe that it is a driver's license.

When purchasing insurance, it is for the car, not per driver. There are two types: zorunlutrafik is mandatory and gives low protection. Kasko has fully comprehensive coverage. It is not unusual to see policemen pull cars over and check that the car is insured and car inspections and taxes are up to date and paid.

According to the US Department of State webpage for “Driving in Turkey,” the cardinal rules of safety for surviving Turkish driving are: Drive very defensively, avoid driving at night, and never let emotions affect what you do. Turkish drivers can be very emotional behind the wheel. The majority of accidents in Turkey occur because of reckless driving: The local driver stopped, turned or took some unexpected action which caused the other driver to hit the vehicle or be struck by someone else. Situational awareness, concentration and extremely defensive driving are necessary.

I have learned to practice the following to avoid accidents in Turkey:

-- Use the horn to get pedestrians' attention.

-- Use the horn and lights to get the attention of other drivers.

-- Don't ignore when other drivers use their horns.

-- Always check all mirrors and use directional signals for lane changes.

-- Frequently check right-side mirror.

By the way, in my three decades of driving in Turkey, I have only had two accidents and neither were my fault -- and in both cases the other drivers were men.

Safe travels!

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