Reporting on the Road: Middle Eastern Driving

Photoessay: Clarissa's Travels

You are more likely to die in a car accident than a car bombing in the Middle East. Driving in this part of the world is always hair-raising and sometimes fatal.

When I first arrived in Lebanon, I saw terrible car crashes almost everyday on the roads and I vowed to myself that I would never ever drive there. Three months later, worn down by my experiences with Lebanese public transport, I rented a car. Within weeks I was driving like everyone else. The bottom line is, there are no rules. You can cut people off, forget to indicate, honk your heart out, double park, run red lights, overtake on the inside, and pretty much drive like an obnoxious lunatic — and it's considered perfectly normal behavior. In fact, if you try and drive cautiously and considerately, you will get very frustrated very quickly and probably never make it much further than the nearest junction.

Once you get used to it, driving here is actually very fun and quite liberating ... and can make driving back home a jarring experience! For example, on a recent trip to the U.S., I was coming up to a red light at a crossroads. I slowed down to see whether anyone was coming, before getting ready to move ahead. Fortunately, my friend in the passenger seat let out a blood-curdling shriek that reminded me that red lights mean that you really, truly have to stop and wait until they are no longer red.

The one thing that does scare me in the Middle East is people's flagrant disregard for their personal safety. Very few people wear seatbelts and most will laugh when you put your own on. Drinking and driving is also considered perfectly normal. Then there are the mopeds, hundreds of them darting in between the traffic, coming up on your blind spot and almost none of them wearing helmets.

Lebanon, at the moment, is in the process of a massive road safety campaign. They have positioned wrecked cars in the middle of busy junctions as a reminder for other drivers that the danger is real. It will be interesting to see if it has any effect.

Clarissa Ward is a reporter based out of Beirut, Lebanon. She has reported for the FOX News Channel from Beirut and Baghdad, covering stories such as Saddam's execution and the current unrest in Lebanon.