I drove for the first time in Tehran. For me driving in Iran was different than anywhere else. Although I’ve seen similar forms of driving in other European cities (Paris and Rome) Iran is genuinely unique in its style.
First off, everyone, hands down hates they way everyone else drives. In their mind everyone else lacks the culture and the required skill to be on the road. They all think people in other countries are much better drivers and are respectful. They all complain that people have lost their ways and no one cares about anyone else on the road. And they say this while they cut through three lanes, ignore stop signs, drive on the wrong side of the street, and all sorts of other crazy things.
None of what they say is actually true. I don’t believe people in Tehran drive they way they do cause they lack culture or skill. I also find people in Iran to be very polite and respectful toward each other on the road, much more than any other place I know. I honestly don’t think anyone can truly drive in reverse on a highway and not expect to be flipped off by at least eight to twelve other motorists. In tehran, not only you’re not flipped off, other motorist actually clear the way and signle the traffic behind them to make way for the car driving the wrong direction. Cutting through multiple lanes on a last second ditch for an exist that you should have anticipated few hundered meters back is considered acceptable. In all honestly I believe the reason people drive the way they do is due to the amount of cars in the city and the limited number of streets. I don’t think it has anything to do with the type of people they are as whole.
Tehran is an old city that has grown way beyond its capacity. It lacks the roads required to cater to its massive population. I have no doubt, if drivers from anywhere else are on those roads, same style of driving would eventually emerge. No one’s going to wait five hours behind a stop sign if there is no way they can get in. If three lanes are not enough to, people will make extra imaginary lanes. These behaviours in my opinion have nothing to do with them being Iranian and everything to do with the limitations imposed by the number of cars on the streets.
Due to all of this, driving in Tehran doesn’t follow any formal rule of law. Even though they have very complete and comprehensive laws and regulations, most of it is not enforced due to its impracticality. Because of this, a very organic style of driving has emerged in Iran that I had the honor of experiencing for the first time on this trip.
Driving in the streets of Tehran is not an automatic flow of procedures that I’ve come to understand in Canada. Here in Canada my lane is my lane and I can only change it if it’s safe. A stop sign means full stop. These are simple and easy to follow rules that are ingrained my brain. I’ve done them so many times they’re automatic. In Iran however, although these rules exist, there is another underlying set of rules that are not written and I would consider writing them to be impossible.
In Tehran driving is like a dance. When you’re driving in Tehran you’re dancing with all the cars around you. You follow your steps, and hope so will the cars around you. You’re all entangled in a musical performance with the goal of reaching your destination without hitting each other. When you move they move. It’s as organic as a tribal dance and none of it can be formulated in to a procedural set of commands. It’s something you need to get a feel for. You need to feel the rhythm of the streets and the drivers. Once you do, seeing a car driving backward on the highway is no loner shocking. This is why I think drivers in Iran are actually more polite than drivers anywhere else. I don’t think any sane driver would tolerate someone driving in reverse on a highway, let alone consider helping him out by clearing the way for him to make his exit.
I’m going to be honest,the little time I drove in Tehran I got honked at multiple times. But it was all because I followed the law. My favourite one was when I was on the highway minding my own business when the car beside my started honking at me. I sped up quickly to get out of the way, confused at what I had done. My dad explained to me, he was honking because I wasn’t letting him nudge in to my lane. I told him, why should I let him get his car half way in to my lane when I’m driving safely in the center of my own lane. He said the car on his other side wanted to merge in and he had to partially come in to my lane to let him in, he was honking cause I didn’t let him in. It was somewhat amazing to realize that I got honked at for not breaking the law. I wasn’t even thinking about the car beside me, as far as I knew he was driving in his own lane and worrying about him and the car beside him shouldn’t have been any of my concern.
Examples like this happened multiple times as I made my way home from a restaurant that was ten minutes away. I didn’t get in to an accident but managed to piss off multiple drivers for stepping on their shoes. I was never much of a dancer, but I’m sure with little practice I can learn my steps.