Go with the flow in Tehran

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - FRANK SMITH

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/.

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