Driving in Turkey


driving IIIAs you may know the focus of this website is to get you out there exploring during your assignment in Turkey so that you don’t become one of those infamous base or dorm rats. My hope is that you have an opportunity to enjoy this exotic and historic country and in order to do that you have to get out. One of the bigger challenges that you will face on your way to achieving that goal is being able to drive in this country safely. Whenever I meet dependents or military members that talk of their challenges of driving in Italy or Germany, or for heaven’s sake driving on the other side of the road in Japan, I just smile because you really haven’t lived or survived until you’ve driven in Turkey.


One of my favorite books about Turkey is Scotch and Holy Water written by John D. Tumpane. John Tumpane worked as a U.S. civilian contractor in Diyarbakir, Turkey providing logistics support to the U.S. Air Force Base there back when the U.S. had a base in Diyarbakir in the 50s and 60s. Anyhow, there is a passage of the book that talks about “Mister John’s Traffic Safety Rules in Turkey,” and so I’ll share a couple of my favorite passages:

1. Always use your horn, not the brakes. Horns rarely wear out. Blow your horn with or without provocation-it wards off evil spirits.

2. Always aim right at a pedestrian crossing the street. If you slow down or swerve right or left, you will ruin his timing.

driving IV3. A one-way street simply means a narrow street. Use it in either direction. If you encounter a car coming at you hold your ground or you will lose face. Turning off the ignition and reading a newspaper is very effective.

4. Always drive down the middle of the street so that you can attempt to avoid hitting anything. Dogs and cats are dispensable, but the Turks get a little sticky about chickens and children.

5. If you approach a traffic light which is red, stop only if there is a policeman hanging around. If you are the second car to approach, pull in front of the first. If you are the third car, pull out in front of both. If you are the fourth car pass on the right and pull in front of all of them. If you are driving a horse cart, pass the whole damn bunch and go right through the light.driving V

While these passages are in jest there is always a little, and sometimes a lot of, truth in humor. I will attempt to separate the truth from the humor in my real reflections on the notional rules of driving in Turkey.

1. Horns are used frequently; don’t get bent-out-of-shape when you hear one, and while yes, people will use their horn to get your attention in anger they will also use them the instant a light turns green as part of a celebration that we all can go now or just to say “hi, I’m here.” A friend of mine once remarked that horns are more of a friendly thing in Turkey. Turks will honk their horns endlessly at weddings or at the conclusion of the school year. The bottom line is if you get worked up about horn usage, as I’ve seen with some of my friends in the States, then driving in Turkey will be an emotionally exhausting experience.

2. Cars have the right of way over pedestrians in Turkey. While we all understand this at some instinctive level, growing up in the States you will often hear that “pedestrians have the right of way.” Drivers in the States will often show deference to pedestrians crossing a road. Not so in Turkey, and if you do yield for pedestrians crowding up to the road waiting for their moment to cross you might end up getting rear ended as the driver behind you wasn’t anticipating your uncommon act.driving VI

3. I like to say that a one way road in Turkey is always the direction you happen to be traveling. Even odder in Turkey are the roundabouts where they love to place traffic lights defeating the whole purpose of a roundabout, right? The lights govern who has the right-of-way in a roundabout in Turkey, but there are a few larger roundabouts in Turkey (and particularly in downtown Adana) that do not have traffic lights. In these roundabouts, the vehicles coming into the roundabout have the right of way and the vehicles in the roundabout should yield. This might explain why when a new roundabout was put in on-base there was confusion; when on-base, vehicles in the roundabout have the right of way and vehicles coming into the roundabout must yield (per posted signage).

driving VII

4. Lanes are suggestions in Turkey. Driving on the Turkish highway system the lanes are fairly well respected and I often feel like I’m on the orderly Autobahn in Germany. However in the city, cars will ignore lanes and shoulders altogether. Also, when driving you will often see unaccompanied children and pets near the road and livestock in the form of goats, sheep or cattle close to the road as well.

driving II

5. Cars will stack up at a light and you have to be careful that a car on your far right isn’t going to turn left right in front of you. I guarantee that you will see this at least a handful of times during your assignment and the sooner you begin to anticipate it the better off you will be. Finally, to conclude, size matters in Turkey, Turkish drivers will instinctively yield to give way to a bigger vehicle. What this means for you is a large truck will often jump out in front of you or merge into your lane very quickly or without warning.

driving VX

If you are reading all this back in the States before your assignment, don’t fret as there will be time to get your bearings while here before you get your vehicle. You can have a taxi, bus or someone who has been here for awhile guide you around. Besides it will take a while before you get your vehicle and to get the Beyanname processed. What’s Beyanname (pronounced Bay-ah-nohm-ee) you ask? Well, click here to learn about it. Welcome to Turkey. Happy Motoring!

One thought on “Driving in Turkey

  1. Jess says:

    Great article! It took me a while to build up my confidence to drive in Turkey. I found that being the passenger with someone who has been stationed there for a while helps too.


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