Tourist Tip #187 / Scooter Etiquette in Israel

Racing past traffic on two wheels instead of four may make you feel invincible. But slow down and take note: all the same rules apply.

Congestion in Israel's city centers can be onerous, to say the least. You can either take public transportation or accept that you will spend much of your life crawling along avoiding people and cats crossing the street at random points. Or, throwing the accident stats to the devil, you buy – or rent – a scooter.

One reason you made that decision is a common misapprehension that you can drive it wherever you please, and park it wherever you please as well. Physically, you probably can but legally, that just isn't so.

Never mind that scooter drivers have been known to take shortcuts by simply zooming down one-way streets the wrong way, more often than not doing so on the sidewalk. They're risking their license and a hefty chunk of their spare change.

To drive home the point: Scooters must obey all the same traffic laws as cars and that's that.

In other words, a one-way street is a one-way street for them too. Speed limits apply to them too. Left and right turn constraints - ditto.

And – this is important – traffic dodging is formally illegal.

What does that mean? A lane in a street, designed to accommodate a car, is – to put it otherwise – designed to accommodate one vehicle. The fact that most scooter drivers "overtake" cars waiting at a red light (or even while everyone is on the move) is illegal. It is widely tolerated and this reporter has seen more than one city inspector and policeman on two wheels doing the same, but it's still illegal. Now you know.

No parking is no parking for scooters too.

And, scooters absolutely may not be driven on the sidewalk - and in fact they aren't supposed to park there either.

Parking inspectors may be lenient if the scooter is modestly parked off on a side. But they may ticket it – and the fine is usually a big NIS 500 – and will certainly do so if the vehicle poses an obstruction to pedestrians.

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, who has a policy of encouraging the use of public transportation and discouraging the use of private cars, has designated places for scooters to park. They are signposted with a picture of a scooter. Scooters may also park anywhere a car is allowed to park but a car may not park in an area designated for scooters.

Children may be transported on scooters only from the time that their little feet reach the foot bars.

And last but not least, a helmet is mandatory, and it has to be a real one. A plastic bowl on your head tied on with ribbon won't cut it.  

Ruth Schuster