Driving in Turkey

Although not recommended for tourists to drive, if you must, keep all your wits about you

  • Aug. 19, 2015 7:00 p.m.

In Turkey some signs are familiar

Do you wish to visit Turkey and drive to the amazing historical sites?  I wouldn’t suggest it, but if you do, be prepared!  Turkey has an extensive network of country, rural, secondary, highway and toll roads.  Driving the highways is a simple task. Just be aware of every vehicle around you and make sure you know what the signs mean.  You’ll find that the speed varies greatly no matter what the posted speed might be. If authorities seriously wish to slow drivers down, there will be speed bumps. And, bring money because gas is about $2.50 Cdn per litre. Since the cost of gasoline is so high, many cars run on LPG – propane at about $1.25/l and that is usually the first cost listed on gas station signs.

City driving is a much different breed. This is where the established rules are more often ignored. To facilitate a smooth flow of traffic, there are more roundabouts than lights. It may be difficult to determine who has right of way but don’t worry about that.  Just nudge your way through. If you come to an intersection with lights and a round-about, you might want to take your cue from other drivers because it is often not clear which light is for which avenue. You will see cars stopped at a red light, in the middle of the roundabout so this system is a bit of a challenge. But, but, but… when you see cars stopped for a red light, don’t assume they will stay that way. I have seen a number of drivers stop for and then run a red light if they think they can beat the oncoming flow.

There are a few DUR signs but they seem to be invisible to most drivers. An intersection without a stop sign or light control means that you need to cautiously proceed after having looked in all directions. There are signs that dictate who has the right of way but those signs also seem invisible to drivers. Most often, the driver who is going faster and less willing to stop gets the right of way. On the plus side, I think that the Turkish traffic light system is more advanced than our Canadian scheme.  Here in Ankara, the lights give warning of all changes. If changing from green to red, the green starts to flash. If changing from red to green, a red and yellow light flash together. Many lights have a timing display so that you know how long you will be stopped with the longest I have seen being 90 seconds. When the seconds are at 10 or below, all the vehicles start inching forward and when the red/yellow flashes, the herd is off. You may also see constantly flashing lights, green or yellow or red, that mean you may proceed but do so with caution.  And what of that herd? Don’t be surprised if there is a tractor or men pushing food carts or a horse and wagon in that herd.

The notion of lanes is a nebulous idea and there are many factors to how many lanes there might actually be available. You need to watch for parked cars which may be up to three deep and well out into the main road. While going around a roundabout, watch for cars parked in the middle. You should watch for busses stopping and waiting passengers. Keep your eyes open for street animals crossing because hitting them is frowned upon. With all of these intrusions, drivers are constantly switching lanes and it almost seems like a well-practised dance at times. But, all of this leads to a certain amount of laziness and an elevated sense of self. Drivers will drift between lanes, often spending a very long time driving on the line. Turn signals are rarely used. There may be two lanes painted on the road but if the shoulder is wide enough or if there is an emergency lane, that two-lane road mysteriously becomes a four laner. When this happens, taking off on the light change is quite like the mass start of a race. Drivers jockey for space and the more aggressive move to the front and set the pace.

When this mass start clashes with access to a major highway at rush hour, the chaos seems orchestrated because everyone expects it to be that way. Canadians are used to merging with one lane. Turks often merge with two or more. My last experience was of a two-lane merge point that had four lines of vehicles.  As the driver on the left had a chance to merge, the one next to it pulled out and then the next and finally the last so all four of those vehicles slid into the queue. Meanwhile, when that first vehicle eased in, the driver behind it eased over into the second lane. And, if you happen to be near a bus when merging, that is a bonus because the bus blocks much of the oncoming traffic so that many cars are able to sneak onto the main artery.

And finally, the most important tool on a Turkish vehicle happens to be the horn. With the lax attitude towards traffic rules, drivers use their horn for all kinds of communication. All of this honking expresses warnings, frustrations and appreciation.  It may have been months since you last had to honk your horn but if asked, he/she might say minutes. They honk to warn pedestrians to stay alert. They honk to encourage the front cars to get moving at a traffic light if there has been half a second delay. They honk to get other drivers to stay within a lane during a pass.  They honk at busses and trucks to make sure those drivers are awake and won’t suddenly veer over. You’ll hear honking if a street dog is just ambling across the road.  Children playing near or people walking along the road will be honked at by just about every driver going by. It happens so much that people begin to ignore the honking. But, when honking doesn’t work, drivers start to flash their lights. Lights are most often used for warnings or for thanks to drivers who pull out of the way.  Something actually seems wrong when there is a lack of honking.

It seems to me that driving behaviour in Turkey is somewhat like the chicken and egg debate. Were the roads generously built to handle the manic drivers or did the manic driving evolve because of the generous space allowed? The lack of rule enforcement is definitely a factor. Polis have watched trucks go the wrong way down a road, drivers greatly speeding zip by or dangerous loads wobbling along and have not interceded. Most of our driving, Vancouver excluded, is controlled and relatively calm whereas; I find driving here to be frantic and chaotic. But, I have seen no accidents and only heard the occasional screech of tires. These drivers need to be hyper aware of all that is around them and maybe that is a good skill to have.

Here are a few signs, some are universal and some not.

–Submitted by LizAnn Eyford

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