Driving in Israel: A Broken System

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Yesterday was a big day. I finally successfully passed my exam to receive my Israeli driver’s license.

I’d love to say it was a pleasant experience. Or a fruitful experience. Or even a mildly reasonable experience. But it was none of these. Here’s my story:

Entering the System


I’ve been driving for nearly two decades. I’ve had a license in and driven extensively in three states. I would not call myself the best driver in the world, but I’m fine. Certainly good enough to get from point A to point B efficiently and without any issues. But under most circumstances, in Israel your previous pieces of paper and your experience don’t matter. If you’re in the system in any capacity, you’ve entered one of the biggest scams in the country. And it’s not going to be fun.

There is a process (currently) in Israel that allows you to quickly and easily transfer a license; however, that’s only if you do so within a certain window of moving here. Once the window closes, your status is up to the decision of whatever clerk you interact with that morning. My clerk’s decision: Take the theory test. Take the driving test. And boom, all is converted.

And I took the theory test. Got a 29 out of 30. Took me about seven minutes. And that’s basically the last positive piece of this story….

My First Instructor


So in theory I should just go straight to the next step. But apparently when you take the driving test, you need to use your instructor’s vehicle. And you can’t get an instructor’s vehicle… without an instructor. And they won’t provide that service without you taking at least a few lessons, which are, of course, quite pricey.

I first found a teacher who fit all the stereotypes of an awful driving instructor. He was harsh and aggressive. He was constantly on his phone. He used the time for doing his chores! We literally stopped once at a car shop, and he ran out of the car for a couple of minutes to take care of a few things. And I never felt like he was trustworthy at all. When time came to pay, he charged me an ungodly amount of money and scribbled an illegible receipt, and I was at his mercy. Because that’s how the system’s designed.

The Driving Test


And then we come to my test.

A few facts about these tests:

  1. You have no control over when they happen. You will get a text message with a date and time, and if you can’t be there, no one cares in the slightest.
  2. To pass the test you must drive flawlessly for 20 minutes. That’s it. Any mistake, big or small, and it’s over. You fail and need to sign up for another test, whenever that will be.
  3. It is the absolute worst possible environment for making that possible. For a dozen reasons, you’re a nervous wreck. The stakes are high. Someone’s watching your every move like a hawk. The roads are terribly unforgiving. If it doesn’t go your way, the financial burden will just continue and continue. And you are well aware that all it takes is the slightest error, and you’re screwed.
  4. Despite this ridiculously rigorous system, the whole country is filled to the brim with insanely bad drivers.

I’ve heard and offered several theories about why Israelis are such horrific drivers. Some say it’s because they drive like they behave. Others think it’s just a Middle East cultural thing. But one of my favorite theories is that after dozens of annoying, expensive lessons, all to take a test several times, just to show some rude, aggressive tester you could drive decently for 20 minutes, they walk away never wanting to drive well again.

And I get it.

I found myself itching to speed up a little and zoom through yellow lights and to generally just act with some semblance of freedom behind the wheel.

Driving Test #1


So, how’d my test go?

Not so great. The tester was clearly very frustrated with me. The guy before me drove through clear, open roads, while I was taken deep into tiny little streets not meant for an actual vehicle. I was a nervous wreck from start to finish. And several hours later, I was told I failed.

It wasn’t a good day for me.

I’ve been driving for most of my adult life, can’t remember failing any test since maybe high school, and I knew that I was right back where I started, just a little poorer.

We knew I needed a new instructor, and fortunately found a guy who was excellent. The unfortunate part is it took us way too long to get there, and by the time the smoke cleared, it once again felt like starting over. And in some ways worse, because now I have all the nerves from beforehand… and a war going on to make things even more tense.

My new teacher was great. But a system designed to fail students is what it is. It’s one giant racket. Determining whether or not a person can drive based on watching them meticulously for twenty minutes is a way to instigate poor performance, thus you’ll be forced to come back time and time again. It encourages failure, because failure equals higher revenue.

For the average Israeli teenager, the process is miserable.

For a 46-year-old who’s been driving most of his adult life, it’s downright emasculating.

And test #2 went poorly. Again.

But I dusted off my shoulders, and got back in there. Ready to conquer in try number three.

New Holes to Fall Into


I got to my third test. I was in the zone. I was calm. I was confident. I was ready to rumble.

But the universe had different plans for me.

I sat down to my test, and the tester pushed the wrong button, cancelling the exam. This was unprecedented, and there was no system in place for fixing the problem. I was sent home, and couldn’t schedule a test for another month and a half! And it landed on a holiday. And there was nothing I could do, because they give you the date and time, and that’s it. I’ve already fallen through every hole in Israel… so now they need to invent new ones for me.

A Better System?


I passed the next try. And now I’m able to legally drive. But the experience leaves a really gross taste in my mouth.

We tend to not look back in Israel. I noticed this a lot with complex apartment situations. When you have a crappy apartment and a terrible landlord, you’re trapped. No one’s looking out for you, and you’re basically at the mercy of their whims and wishes.

But then you get out, find a decent place with a decent landlord. And you forget what you went through. You sigh when you hear other people’s stories, but then move on with your day.

But it’s not right.

Bad systems are bad systems, even if you’re not directly involved or you’ve moved past them.

The rental situation in Israel is an abomination. And the driver’s license situation is as well. We’ve all come to accept them as facts. Things one must live with if they want to enjoy the sweet serenity of being in the Jewish homeland.

But nothing’s static. Progress is always possible. It just needs enough voices to come together and say, “We want something better. We deserve something better.”

Sadly, most of us are too tired to even try anymore.

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