Friday, November 27, 2009

Driving in Ukraine

As I was driving around Kharkov today, I realized that some of the differences in driving might be interesting for you to hear about. So, this post is dedicated to sharing a few of the differences in driving.

First and foremost, I want to state that I love our car and the fact that we can drive everywhere in the city. It is a huge blessing I didn't properly appreciate until this last year when we didn't own a car and were restricted to walking and using public transportation. We are blessed to have wheels!
  • Which side? As in America, we drive on the right side of the road.
  • Police. The police stand on the side of the road here to pull cars over. They stand, in uniform, with a stick and if they point the stick at you, you've just been pulled over. For me, every time I see a police officer, I try not to make eye contact or appear to notice them, but at the same time I have to look enough to be prepared to pull over. If you don't pull over when they point their stick at you, they get in their car and chase you down. We have been told to do our best to avoid the police here because they are corrupt, so we're especially careful when we're driving. But, I will say, the experiences our team has had with the police has been good so far.
  • Horns and honks. Ukrainians love their horns. Many times before the light is officially green, they are honking for you to go. They honk to let you know they aren't stopping, whether you're a pedestrian or another car trying to pull out. Half the time they honk just because they can. Their horns are also very unique. Half of them are "normal" car horns, but other times they are police sirens or fire engine blares (and they're not police or firefighters).
  • Lights. Our lights here are red, yellow, and green, just like everywhere else. However, to indicate for you to go, the light goes from red to red and yellow and then to green. Then to indicate stopping, it flashes green, then goes to yellow, and then red, but sometimes it just goes from flashing green to red. When sitting at the light and the light goes from yellow to green, cars start going on yellow. (Most of the time if you wait for the green light, you'll get honked at.) But, in doing this, you have to be careful because when it's yellow for you, it's yellow for the other traffic as well, so you have to be careful for those who are speeding through the yellow lights. It sounds confusing, but it's really not.
  • Trolleys. We have many streets here with trolley buses, so you have to be extra careful with those. The stop at various points on the street, so you have to be careful when going around them to watch out for pedestrians. Their tracks, which run parallel and in them middle of the street, are tricky to drive on as well.
  • Car Status. Cars have social classes here. The nicer your car, the more you can get away with. So, SUVs and newer/fancier cars are often bullies. They cut off other cars and go around long lines of traffic, sometimes running lights or driving into oncoming traffic to do so. And it's all just accepted.
  • Taxis. I'm convinced that taxis aren't required to follow rules, and they break just about every one of them if they can!
  • Lanes. Some roads have lanes, and some don't. But the lane markings don't always mean anything. If there is one line down the center of the road, sometimes there's three lanes or cars driving right in the middle. It seems the lane markings are taken as merely "suggestions" of where they could drive, not where they need to drive.
  • Road repairs. The road repair vehicles are usually tractors and there is really no warning to their working in the road other than a small orange reflector behind their vehicle. If they completely take up your side of the road, there is no one to direct traffic, you just go into oncoming traffic and you both just deal with it. There's no way to properly explain how they repair roads here... it's all a mess. Last night I almost ran into a big hole in the road on the way home because all that was marking it was three brown sticks sticking out of it. (And remember, it gets dark here at 4:00pm, so a lot of our driving this time of year is in the dark.)
Despite all the differences, it's worth it. Do we feel safe driving here? For the most part, yes. We just have to be very cautious and constantly be aware of our surroundings.


Eileen said...

Oh, oh, OH, Olivia! So glad for you that you and David have a car. But sooo glad that I don't have to mess with learning these road rules... Think I'll do w/ out. But, if not, I'll know who to ask about driving in this part of the world. I learned so much from what you wrote here!

Deanna said...

Oh my! I have enough to worry about getting lost here. I can't imagine driving around int he Ukraine AND having to watch out for the other drivers! Your comments about the taxis and lanes crack me up! Thanks for a laugh today! Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving!

Dad said...

Liv, this all sounds familiar - hmmm, maybe a few years ago we received an email about driving in New Zealand - lots of fun!!

Mike and Lucy said...

Great post! You always have good culture ones. I forget what is normal and what isn't sometimes. You are so good about comparing and picking out things that are interesting! Sometimes I feel like copying and pasting your blog onto mine! :)

Jeanette said...

in Argentina the lights turn yellow before green and it is crazy! I mean ppl wear driving gloves there, they are serious. Alot of the lanes are more than 8 lanes (sometimes in one direction) so crossing the crosswalk is... well... you have to run!