Monday, June 29, 2009

Driving in Lebanon

[Guest post by Ryan]

If driving at rush hour in Boston is coach pitch and driving in Southern Illinois (where I learned) is t-ball, then driving in Lebanon is the 9th inning of game 7 of the ALCS between the Red Sox and Yankees. I actually kind of like it---good driving skills are rewarded in a way that doesn't happen in America. You can make lanes wherever you fit, travel in whatever direction you feel like you can safely do so and make any maneuver you can successfully pull off. Traffic laws are either absent or unenforced, which is odd given the number of men with automatic weapons standing around the streets and the number of fortified positions featuring machine guns, tanks and grenade launchers that are sprinkled throughout the roads of the country (but they just politely waved us through all the checkpoints---it wasn't actually scary at all).

There are no limited-access divided highways in Lebanon. Most major highways are two lanes (sometimes expanded to 3 or even 4 lanes if people try to squeeze their cars into available spaces) each way with only a faint yellow line separating traffic that is supposed to be driving one way and traffic that is supposed to be driving the other way (see figure). Of course to pass or position themselves for turns, people enter the oncoming traffic lanes, even if they are on blind curves (it's pretty mountainous here). The furtherst lane on each side of the road is not only for slow traffic going the correct way, it's also nearly equally for slow traffic going the wrong way. Because left turns take a lot of skill and luck, people will avoid them by driving on the wrong side of the road for awhile. Add to that the people walking in the street, the people stopping their cars at random locations to chat to the people walking on the street, the barracades sprinkled along the roads and the double and triple parking, and you start to get the picture. While you frequently have to travel relatively slowly, as soon as there's an opening you're expected to speed up to 130-140 kph (around 80-85 mph). It's hell on the brakes and engine, but hey, it's a rental car.

Driving on the side streets is, if anything, worse. Though the odds of a catastrophic accident are lower due to lower speeds, the odds of a fender bender must be much greater. More than once I've actually had to fold in the mirrors to drive down the streets avoiding parked and slowly traveling cars.

Driving here is certainly not for the faint of heart or the non-aggressive, but the payoff for being a confident, good driver is so much higher than in the States---traffic laws are enforced only by natural selection; you don't have police unnaturally selecting against efficient drivers.

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