Israeli Driving – I’ve Become My Mother!

Growing up I recall many New York/New Jersey car trips during which my mother would yell things like “Jimmy! Slow down!”, “Jimmy! You’re driving too close to the car in front of you!”, “Jimmy! Watch out!”

On a side note, my father (of blessed memory) was not legally “Jimmy”, his legal name was “Vincent Peter” and in his 60 years on this planet he was never able to explain why his mother called him “Jimmy” for as long as he could remember. Even stranger was that he had an older cousin whose legal name was “Vincent Leo” and he was also known as “Jimmy” (and he didn’t know why either)! So if anyone out there can explain this Italian phenomenon, please enlighten me!

So back to driving… During the past two weeks we’ve had the benefit of a borrowed car and every time we wind down the mountain from Ma’aleh Adumim, drive in Jerusalem, or on the highway up north, I find myself white-knuckled and screaming at Michael in a similar fashion to that of my mother’s frantic communications to my father (minus the “Jimmy” of course :D).

Driving in the heavy traffic areas of Israel is a sport, often a contact one that I find extremely stressful. In my younger days I actually enjoyed this type of aggressive driving (in Los Angeles, NY-Long Island-NJ). There are rules, but people don’t follow them and I haven’t seen them enforced. A few examples: lines between lanes are meaningless – anything goes… if you’re in the far left lane and you suddenly realize that you need to make a right turn across 4 lanes of traffic, it’s a major adrenaline rush for all involved!

The worst for us has been when two highways are merging together (and we’re on the left merge side) and immediately there’s an exit on the right that we need to take (kind of like the ones in New Jersey) – people think nothing of accelerating and passing on the right while you’ve got your signal on and are attempting to exit. And signal lights, well they must not teach the purpose of these in Israeli driving school!

Then there are the trucks that pull up and park on the sidewalk as pedestrians are walking, but at least pedestrians do have the right-of-way when crossing the street! And speaking of parking, well, if your car fits any which way into a few dozen centimeters of space you’ve just parked! Speed limits? Yes, they are posted, and respected about as much as in America. And speaking of signs, I’ve seen some confusing ones like this:

What do you think it means? Traffic changes? Where? Into what? We couldn’t see over the trucks in front of us so it was a mystery. And after we passed through the intersection it still wasn’t clear.

We have one year during which to convert our US driver’s licenses into Israeli ones, but because we’ve been told this process can take months – and we’re hoping to negotiate a car into at least one of our salaries – we decided to get it started this week. Here’s what happens:

  1. Go to an approved Tel Dor or Marmanet branch (optician’s office). Have your photo taken, eyes examined, and pay your 40 shekel fee. They give you a green form with the results of your eye exam on the back. (Note: you need your teudat zehut with you in order to accomplish this step.)
  2. Make an appointment with a family doctor and go for a physical. The doctor fills out his/her space on the back of the green form and gives an opinion as to whether or not you are healthy enough to operate a motor vehicle. We’ll be doing that tomorrow. (Note: don’t forget to bring the green form!)
  3. Take your completed green form to Misrad Harishui (Ministry of Vehicle Licensing), along with your teudat zehut, teudat oleh and your foreign driver’s license. (Note: Call ahead to confirm the hours that they will be open on the day you are going – Israelis are very relaxed about working hours and many places close for an afternoon siesta!) We haven’t completed this step yet so we may have more to tell you later, but we’ve been told that this office is supposed give us another form (Hafnaya) which we have to give to our driving instructor.
  4. Make an appointment with a driving instructor who will determine how many driving lessons you need. Ah, you’re wondering why we (with over 30 years of driving experience) have to take driving lessons?We wondered the same thing. Rumor has it that this wasn’t the case until a large number of Russians entered this country with forged documents…Another strange thing is that you need to tell the instructor whether you want lessons and your test on a manual or automatic transmission vehicle. The costs for lessons are higher for an automatic (I have no idea why)and if you take the test on an automatic your license will be restricted to driving only vehicles with automatic transmissions.We’ve had a stick-shift for the past two weeks and I did fine driving it in Ma’aleh Adumim, but I refused to drive it in Jerusalem for fear I would stall on one of the many steep hills and roll back into someone. Guess where I have to take my test? Jerusalem! So which transmission do you think I’ll choose? You got it; I’ll pay the extra fee and suffer with the restriction.

    Oh, I forgot to mention that these lessons cost around 100 shekels each – and the instructor gets to decide how many lessons you need. What a deal!

  5. After your lesson(s), the instructor schedules your test – which you take on his/her vehicle. According to my friend Esther, they can call you as late as the afternoon before your test (that’s what happened to her)!
  6. Now it’s time to take your test, well, almost… you first have to go to the Post Office THE MORNING of your test with the Misrad HaRishui paperwork and pay a 57 NIS fee for the driving test.
  7. So now you take the test. If you fail the first time, you are able to take it a second time without penalty. However, if you fail the test twice you will be required to take 28 driving lessons, a theoretical examination (written test) and another practical examination (road test).Oh and one more thing, the day of the test you have to pay the driving instructor 300 shekels for the use of his/her vehicle.
  8. Remember back to the days when you were in high school and the cop (at least that’s who tested you in NY) told you on the spot if you passed or failed? Forget that here; your driving instructor may call you later in the day to give you the results.
  9. If you pass the test, the next step is to take the paperwork back to Misrad HaRishui where they will issue you a temporary driver’s license. You need to pay 359 NIS at the post office in order for your temporary license to be valid and for the processing to begin on your permanent license. The permanent license is mailed to your home address within 8 weeks.

As with many things, all prices and rules are subject to change without notice! I think whoever designed this system really likes treasure hunts – and maybe they were even hoping to amuse us.

At times I wonder if it’s worth it to bother with this license stuff, because public transportation here is so good. But tonight I took the bus down to Mitzpe Nevo to a skirt sale and missed it as I came out. I walked about 15 minutes up a steep hill until the next bus came down. I flagged him down and he was nice enough to stop between bus stops. Then I found out he was heading back through Mitzpe Nevo and on to Jerusalem! So I got off at the snail park in Klei Shir,

crossed the street and walked up the hill to our shul, and then weaved my way through the 20 minute path to get home. All-in-all the trip home took me about an hour. Driving in my community of 35,000 is a reasonable experience, so I guess I’ll submit to the driving test 😀


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