Go with the flow in Tehran
BOYA, WA HOWto cross a busy street? Look for a pedestrian crossing, step out a short distance and wait for the traffic to stop? Not in Tehran. The traffic never halts, so you must do as the locals do — step out when there is about a 5m gap between oncoming vehicles and spin like a whirling dervish; hopefully the traffic will go around you.
Iranian drivers are adept at missing pedestrians, but only just. There may be close calls but no one is aiming to kill you, just trying to get to their destination on roads designed for about 10 per cent of the volume of traffic.
Tip: cross with a group of locals as the more people, the less chance of being hit. On my visit I choose to step on to the roads in the wake of a mullah, reasoning that maiming a holy man would be a greater sin in the eye of an Iranian driver than hitting an ordinary mortal.
Remember childhood dodgem cars? Charging around at 10km/h trying to bump friends in other cars and not get yours bumped? In the capital of Iran, traffic is rather like a dodgem circuit 24/7 but the vehicles are not toys. Road rules generally are ignored. Road markings exist but it is common to see four or five lanes crammed into three. Traffic lights are ignored, especially by motorbikes, even in the presence of traffic police. Double parking is the rule for taxis and even police vehicles. No Parking signs stand mute beside rows of parked cars.
In spite of the appearance of utter mayhem, Iranian drivers are remarkably skilled. They manage to exploit the smallest gap generally without touching another vehicle and achieve U-turns in traffic-packed roads with little recourse to brakes, indicators, mirrors or seatbelts.
UNICEF says the rate of road accidents in Iran is 20 times more than the world average; about 25 per cent of fatalities involve motorbikes, typically because of head traumas incurred when riders didn’t wear helmets. (And all this in a nation where alcohol is banned.)
Lonely Planet’s advice is to go with the flow. Hire a taxi for a hurried trip across Tehran, close your eyes and imagine you are on a rollercoaster with the added stimulation of dense traffic fumes.
It makes for a cheaper thrill than the rides at, say, Disneyland but surely would do nothing for your blood pressure, stress levels or longevity. Send your 400-word contribution to Follow the Reader: travel@ theaustralian.com.au. Columnists receive a Logitech UE Mobile Boombox, a portable, wireless speaker that lets you stream music from your phone, tablet or laptop, and doubles as a speakerphone for hands-free phone calls. $99.95. More: logitech.com/en-au/.