Driving in Syria - no, road behaviour in Syria - is unlike anything I have ever experienced. I've been here eight months, and I'm still rendered speechless every day by what people do. The driving test, I'm told, takes five minutes and is just about the mechanics of starting, steering, stopping. There's nothing at all about right of way, lane discipline, speed limits, braking distance and stuff like that. The highway code, in other words, just doesn't exist. I can believe it completely. I have seen cars driving the wrong way along motorways, the wrong way round roundabouts, the wrong way along one-way streets. Cars drive with no rear lights working (hey, the driver behind has headlights, yes?) and no headlights (see last comment). Drivers turn without indicating, or just as often while indicating to turn the other way. Approaching a motorway slip road you can expect the driver in the slip lane to be going straight on, while the driver in the outside lane will cut across two lanes of traffic at the least minute to make the turn. If he's too late, he will reverse back to the turning against the oncoming traffic. If a highway code were ever published, a section might look like this:
All vehicles drive on the right. You may drive on the left side of the road straight at oncoming traffic only in the following circumstances:
- You are arguing with your passenger, or lighting a cigarette
- You are overtaking on a blind corner
- The right side of the road is too bumpy
- You are turning left into a main road and will be turning left again in less that 500 metres. In this case it makes sense to use the shorter distance
- You are a taxi driver.
You have right of way over any other traffic when:
- Your vehicle is bigger, older or more battered than anything else on the road
- You are under 16 and riding a bicycle
- You have spotted some particularly good fruit at a roadside stall
Cars share the roads with pedestrians, who have to be there because the pavements are full of parked cars, fruit stalls and security guard stations. That said, pedestrians will: cross streets without looking, stroll across motorways, and generally behave witlessly, much like drivers without cars. Added to all this are the taxis, who believe they own the streets anyway, and the service cars (little microbuses, known locally as "white rats") which lurch in and out of traffic as they stop to drop off and pick up passengers, usually at the most awkward place, and you have a recipe for chaos.
Which is what it is. It works, just, but it looks like one of those TV programmes of police footage of people doing daft things behind the wheel. There's more than enough for a complete programme in a single day of driving here.