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How to Drive in Iran

06 Oct 2011 19:55Comments

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Iranian Drivers' Guide: Shiraz, 1975.

[ feature ] Sorting through my parents' university papers from the 1970s, I came upon a six-page typed document, "DRIVERS' GUIDE TO IRAN," by Abe Nadaray. My first thought was that Abe Nadaray was one of the visiting professors or teaching assistants at Pahlavi University, but no one here recognized the name. Later, I realized that the name is transliterated from Farsi:

عیب نداره

[not a problem]

-- Ali from Tehran

Photos: Via Flickr by BenAndAsho; Traffic photo by Marcia Franlkin, from her 2003 blog entry; to avoid such gridlock, adhere to the "Golden Rule," below.

* * *

It is rumored that the following Automobile School Manual was found clutched in the hand of an Iranian driver whose arm was protruding from the engine of a smoking and crumpled vehicle now decorating the front of a highway patrol station approximately 30 kms from the provincial capital of Shiraz.

To facilitate understanding, the manual has been translated into the clearest and simplest English possible. Thus, confusion should NOT be attributed to language difficulties.


Might makes right.

The larger the vehicle, the more correct the procedure: a bicycle should in his judgement accede to a taxibar (a three-wheeled transporting machine composed of aluminum bars held together by string and scotch tape), a taxibar to a Volkswagen beetle, a VW beetle to a BMW, a BMW to a Mercedes, a Mercedes to a VW bus, a VW bus to a pickup truck, a pickup truck to a 42-passenger Mercedes bus, a Mercedes bus to a trailer truck, a trailer truck to a train.

NOTE 1: Insert the vehicle of your choice to easily determine your place in pecking order.

NOTE 2: Age of Car as exception to Golden Rule. Superseding the above Golden Rule, when one vehicle involved is more than 20 years older than the other(s), the older, REGARDLESS OF SIZE, has the right of way, especially if it shows signs of numerous scratches and/or dents.

NOTE 3: If you do not possess a vehicle, you can easily ascertain your position.


2.1 Stay on your side of the road.

This can easily be determined by the white line in the middle of the road. AT ALL TIMES this line should run down the center of your car.

NOTE 1: If the white line is unbroken, under no circumstances deviate from Rule 2.1. If, however, the white line is broken, you are permitted to weave back and forth over the entire road at unpredictable intervals.

NOTE 2: If the road is not lined, the entire road is yours at all times.

NOTE 3: If another vehicle appears, traveling in the opposite direction, apply the Golden Rule.

NOTE 4: If you are driving a bicycle, be sure to stay in your lane, which is clearly marked by the white line; both wheels should always be touching this guide. If the road is unlined, attempt to remain exactly in the center of the road at all times.

2.2 Passing and overtaking.

When overtaking a slower-moving vehicle, always pass on the LEFT, regardless of the other vehicle's position. If he is himself in the left lane, passing is easily accomplished from the left shoulder of the road. The procedure is simple:

(a) As soon as vehicle is overtaken, immediately pull to the left.

(b) Drive at his side for approximately 30 seconds to one minute to determine whether oncoming vehicle is visible. If such vehicle(s) appears, apply Golden Rule. If no such vehicle appears, overtake completely and pull in front.

NOTE 1: If slow-moving vehicle is already being passed by faster-moving vehicle, overtake both FROM THE LEFT and continue with the usual procedure.

NOTE 2: If you are being passed, immediately increase your speed to enable overtaking vehicle to drive alongside you for the period of time necessary to determine which one of you is actually faster. Then, slower vehicle falls back to original or new position. During this critical period of judgement, special care should be taken to flash lights at any oncoming vehicle(s), who then will pull to shoulder or opposite side of the road to permit contestants to finalize judgment.

NOTE 3: Procedure on hill is essentially the same as procedure on flat ground, except of course contestants and oncoming vehicle(s) will increase/decrease speed depending on direction and grade.

NOTE 4: For new drivers, the best place to pass is on an ascending curve, as this facilitates clear-cut judgment regarding relative merits of vehicles involved.

2.3 Share the road.

Drivers must be aware of their obligations to others. Courtesy should be practiced at all times. Remember that the road is for a large number of travelers. Therefore, when mules, donkeys, horses, goats, and villagers are encountered, DO NOT run over. This is an impolite gesture and, more importantly, seriously injures those parts of the vehicle coming into direct contact with the fellow traveler. Almost always such collisions are avoidable by loud and persistent application of the horn, flashing of lights, and by maintaining speeds sufficiently fast as to suggest to the onlooker great difficulty in stopping.

2.4 Use of lights.

If you are fortunate enough to have lights for night driving, please read. If you do not possess this luxury, this section may be omitted. If you have more than 50% lighting, read; if less than 50%, you may also omit, as you probably have too few lights to observe these rules anyway.

If, however, you find that you have extra money to invest in lights, be sure to add red, blue, yellow, or green bulbs rather than white, as these are more festive and tend to dress up the road after sunset.

In night driving, two cardinal rules are to be observed:

(a) use only parking lights while in the city

(b) use only high beams while on the road

Unfortunately, procedures for light regulation when encountering other vehicles at night are more complicated. However, close adherence to the following ritual is suggested:

(i) When an oncoming vehicle approaches, immediately switch off all lights.

(ii) Then flash lights on/off several times until call is within reasonable distance. This will tend to draw his attention to you, as well as getting both his and your eyes accustomed to the darkness.

(iii) Then use your low beams until car is nearly abreast of you.

(iv) Finally, quickly switch on high beams (or better yet, a spotlight or floodlight, if you are lucky enough to own one) into the eyes of the oncoming driver. This will absolutely ensure his being aware of your presence, and will guarantee his safe behavior, as he is more apt to turn his steering wheel away from the source of light should he lose control of his vehicle.

2.5 Breakdown.

If, while on the road, your vehicle ceases to function, LEAVE IT EXACTLY WHERE IT STOPS and surround by rocks over 2 cms in diameter. If at night, do not leave lights on, as this wears out battery and distracts oncoming vehicles.


3.1 Temporary stopping.

When stopping, it is preferable to pull to the side of the road, unless, of course, there are cars already stopped there, in which case it is permissible to leave car within 2 cms of stationary vehicles. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES should your vehicle be left unattended for more than three hours, as the driver of the vehicle stopped nearer the curb may wish to leave. Under special circumstances (parking alongside crowded stores, etc.), your car may be left wherever space is available.

NOTE 1: Due to the special nature of their function, taxis are permitted to stop at any place at any time, without any previous signal.

NOTE 2: Although traffic lights and signs may be present (and perhaps even functioning), driver judgment always supersedes.

3.2 Parking.

When parking, the space of highest preference is on the sidewalk; this keeps the entire road free for vehicles in transit and pedestrians. In fact, the pedestrian lane (an area about three meters wide running along all jubes [see below]) is to be kept free at all times and vehicles may only park there when sidewalks are filled to capacity with other parked cars.

3.3 Turning.

Left and right turns should be made from appropriate lanes. For example, left turns from far right lane and vice versa. This permits clear recognition by other drivers of your intention to turn. However, if concerned that other drivers will be unnecessarily confused by your deviation in direction, turn can be accomplished from behind bush or tree growing in center island. USE YOUR JUDGMENT.

NOTE 1: When turning, observe the Golden Rule at all times.


4.1 Number of passengers.

It is strongly suggested that the vehicle carry as many passengers as possible in order to preserve gas in an era of concern for conservation. Thus, for example, a five-passenger vehicle can easily accommodate ten, particularly if several are slender and/or children, and if the trunk space is fully utilized (i.e., left open).

NOTE 1: Under no circumstances should more than four passengers ride at one time on a bicycle or motorcycle.

4.2 Jubes.

The Iranian jube is a ditch cut out at the side of roads and paths which may vary in depth from 10 cms to 1 meter. The purposes of the jube are multiple. It serves as sewerage disposal, irrigation ditch, water faucet, drinking source, and garbage pail, depending on the availability of alternate facilities.

The Iranian jube poses great danger to pedestrians and drivers alike, a menace uniquely encountered in Iran. ALERTNESS and GOOD BRAKES are key to avoiding the pitfalls of the jube.

Jubes, it should be noted, sometimes continue under paved roads, where access is permitted via a series of large flagstones, which may sometime be removed individually by workmen. These are often not promptly replaced, leaving a hole approximately 50 cm by 50 cm and of indeterminate depth in the middle of an otherwise nicely paved road. It is recommended that you avoid.

If you accidentally find one or more of your vehicle's tires in the jube, call for help from passersby to lift the vehicle and place it back on the road in concerted effort.

4.3 Theft.

All protrusions should be removed from the exterior of vehicle by owner, as many Iranians treasure small souvenirs, especially side-view mirrors and windshield wipers. Although such behavior may impede functions like backing up and driving in rain, these are to be considered secondary to the imperative of strengthening the moral fiber of potential collectors. Besides, backing up, passing, etc., are best carried out without paying undue attention to other drivers, who are probably not paying much attention to you either.

4.4 Refueling.

When waiting in line at the gas pump, be alert and vigilant; a moment's inattention may result in loss of position in queue. Of course, here, as always, the Golden Rule should apply.

4.5 Carpets.

Occasionally, drivers may find carpets in the middle of the road. These are not decorative or accidental. Do not try to avoid. In fact, drive over them, as you are doing a favor to the carpet owner, who is "aging" his possession in a tried-and-true Iranian tradition.

4.6 Accidents.

While it is rare for two Iranian drivers to face each other after an accident -- because of the usual fatality of one or both drivers, the presence of only ONE car in an accident, or frequent accidents taking place between moving vehicles and parked or vacant cars -- follow the outlined procedure to avoid unnecessary headache:

(i) Immediately get out and confiscate the ignition keys of the other driver to ensure a smooth feet-on-the-ground confrontation, especially if you are the innocent party.

(ii) If the offending vehicle does not slow down enough for you to gain access to the ignition keys, immediately follow in your own vehicle (assuming of course that it is in condition to move), pull in front of other car, and block the road. This will suggest to the other driver that you do not intend to ignore incident.

(iii) Discuss liability, but accept any solution that the offending vehicle's driver suggests. This will facilitate settlement, since you can be 100% positive that he does not carry automobile insurance, and furthermore, is "a poor man with seven children."

Copyright © 2011 Abe Nadaray

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