Tips for Driving in Israel

Filed in Getting Around, Trip-planning by on 30/12/2012 3 Comments
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A Fork in the Road (Photo: sacks08, CC BY-SA 2.0)

A Fork in the Road (Photo: sacks08, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Driving in Israel – A Lot Safer than You Think!

Your flight is booked for your dream trip to Israel and you have rented a car that will be waiting for you when you arrive. However, you suddenly realize that you are going to a country where the main language is Hebrew. Will street signs also be written in English? What about traffic signs? Do they look the same as where you come from? Perhaps you are even wondering what side of the road Israelis drive on?

To make your transition to driving in Israel easier, here are some very useful tips. We contacted the Ministry of Transport and Safety and they advise that anyone with a license in English can use it to drive in Israel, for example, a U.S., U.K., or Canada license. (But, make sure it hasn’t expired – it happens!)

Anyone who cannot obtain a driver’s license in English must apply for an International Driver’s License.  For the latest information about licenses, you can check with the Ministry by dialing *5678 and ask to speak with someone who knows English.  

Bring the Car Seats

If you are travelling with infants, toddlers and small children it is well worth the time and trouble to bring your own safety car and booster seats. You will be familiar with how to adjust and install them.  It is not a given that car rental companies will have on hand the size your child requires (especially in high season) and you could end up waiting while they locate one. (Yes, even if you booked one ahead of time!) By law, in Israel, all passengers must wear a seatbelt and infants and children are prohibited from sitting in front of active air bags.

Need Directions? (Photo: David Spinks, CC BY 2.0)

Need Directions? (Photo: David Spinks, CC BY 2.0)

Navigating – Yes Rent the GPS!

Navigating throughout the country is much easier with a GPS system and it is highly recommended that you consider renting one.  Jerusalem in particular, with its ancient and modern roadways is not set up in a grid pattern and its complex interconnections, one way streets and narrow entries can be confusing.  However, remember that GPS machines are just that and they can be rather stubborn about suggested routes that are sometimes now impassible due to construction etc.

Street signs are usually also in English, especially if you are in major urban areas. Road signs are written in Hebrew, English and Arabic along with the number of kilometers you are from a town. Israeli traffic signs can be reviewed so you will know them before you arrive and are familiar with the symbols.

In Israel, like the US, you drive on the right side of the road. Being such a small country, travel between places does not usually take a long time. Road structure is generally good with well paved major highways. Often an older road runs parallel to the major one but the former may not have lane barriers. During the winter months, from November 1st until March 31st you must keep headlights on at all times on inter urban roads.

If you are planning a trip to Bethlehem or other areas administered by the Palestinian Authority, you will not be able to do so in a rental car. Tour guides can help facilitate a tour of these areas.  Look for one that specializes in Christian Tours.

Toll Highway – Quick, but can you use it?

Road 6 is the Trans Israel Highway and a toll road that is a quick and direct route to the north of Israel.  Make sure the rental company allows the car to be driven on this highway because some do not. There are no toll booths on Road 6, but cameras photograph license numbers and people receive monthly bills. If you drive this highway in a rental car, you can expect to pay not only the toll fee but also a service charge when you return the car. If the agency does not allow you to use Road 6, use the coastal highway, a scenic but somewhat longer route.

Parking

Parking is not a big problem if you are staying at a hotel, check to see if it is included in the price. Shopping malls, which are generally smaller and fewer in number than the U.S., generally have ample parking spaces. If you are going out to a restaurant, event, concert, museum, etc. phone ahead of time to see if they have available parking. Generally, you cannot park where the curb is painted with red and white stripes. Parking meters have become quite common in Israel; but, like North American, Israel has time periods where payment is not needed.

Speed

Speed limits are in kilometers. Here are the usual ones, but these do occasionally change so double check with your car rental agent:

  • 50 kms per hour in residential areas,
  • 80 kms per hour on highways which do not have a lane barrier,
  • 90 kms per hour on highways which do have a lane barrier,
  • 110 kms per hour on some high-speed roads.

Summers in Israel are hot.  Air conditioning is essential; it’s a good idea to double check that yours is working. Familiarize yourself with the car before leaving the rental car lot; some manuals can be in Hebrew only.  Now is the time to ask the company any questions.
As you travel the country, there are numerous gas stations, and rest stops for taking a break. By law all cars must have a yellow reflective vest for the driver to use, for example, if the car runs out of gas and you pull over to the side of the road. Usually it’s in the glove box or trunk.

DID YOU KNOW?

Emergency phone numbers are different than back home: Police 100, the Fire 102 and the Ambulance Service number is 101.

Anything to add?  Any tips for travelers driving in Israel?

RJ is a successful entrepreneur whose company BaruchHaba.com specializes in Israel Accommodation and Travel.

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Comments (3)

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  1. Michael Burlison says:

    Am wondering about Gasoline stations. I notice, in some pictures that I’ve seen, that the pump instructions appear only in Hebrew. Maybe I saw some that happened to be that way… what can one generally expect at the gasoline pump and/or is that alleviated by going to full service pumps. Also, how many stations ‘have’ a full-service available vs. those that don’t? Many thanks ! Mike

    • rj says:

      Most gas stations have both self-service שרות עצמי, and full-service שרות מלא.
      [Sometimes you have to go to the station shop to arrange payment].
      You will probably find a full-service pump easier to manage, in particular as a self-service pump will request an israeli ID number.

    • rj says:

      I have seen it suggested that one can just punch in any 9-digit number if you don’t have an israeli ID number.
      Note that a tourists credit card may not be able to buy more that 200 shekels worth of gas each time.

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