This is my write-up on driving and traffic conditions in Tehran. Since there is so much to write about, I have broken it up into several installments. Here is the first part which is on the foreign point of view.
Here's what the Lonely Planet Guide has to say :
"The traffic in Tehran is homicidal and no rules are observed. Traffic lights, indicators, footpaths, and the like are totally ignored. Of all the cars in Iran, almost half are registered in Tehran, and at times it seems like all of these are on the road (or footpath) at the same time. Most foreign drivers give up soon after arriving and quickly assimilate the lawless aggression of the natives. Drive with 100% attention at all times - or, better still, don't drive at all."
Elsewhere the same guide says:
"Whenever the English-language newspapers print another story of another horrific car accident, they include (almost with pride) the claim that Iran has 'the highest rate of traffic accidents in the world' - presumably per person. More than 200,000 road accidents are reported per year (and how many more are not reported?), i.e. one accident per year per every 15 vehicles on the road. More than 5000 people die every year on the roads of Iran.
... The willingness of a car to stop at a red light at a busy intersection is directly proportional to the number of armed traffic police the driver can see within rifle range. Some cars and all motorbikes (and sometimes even buses) use the designated bus lanes - which usually go in the opposite direction to the rest of the traffic. Motorbikes, with four children and three chickens on board, go through red lights, drive on footpaths and speed through crowded bazaars for one simple reason: they can. All this would be funny if it wasn't so damn dangerous.
... never underestimate the possibility of dying a horrible death under the wheels of any sort of vehicle while crossing the road. No vehicle whatsoever will stop at any pedestrian crossing at any time. Resist the temptation to amble across an eight-lane roundabout at peak time in downtown Tehran with your back to the traffic like many Tehranis do... The best idea is safety in numbers: shuffle across the road in a tightly-huddled group of locals. Drivers are less likely to run over a group of people because of the paperwork at the police station, and the potential damage to their precious Peykan*."
Heehee! Doesn't that sound like fun? It took a long time to get used to it, but after a while, I learned to enjoy traffic in Tehran. After all, there's nothing quite like the rush of a near-death experience! And best of all, you don't have to wear a seat-belt here. As soon as I get desensitized to my current level of danger, I'm going to stop wearing it!
Coming soon: Driving in Tehran, Part II - The Three Fundamental Rules of Driving
* A Peykan is a no-longer-manufactured and always-obsolete Iranian car [lots of Peykans can be seen in the above picture].