Iran’s road systems require an art of driving unlike any other country we have so far visited. For this reason, Alpha Squad presents the not-complete guide of “How to Iranian Highway” and how to best keep an eye on literally everything on the road. Whatever you thought was uniform and neat in traffic management is forfeit in Iran. Some prerequisites:
- Get your eyes tested and glasses prescription renewed if necessary. If anything for the car insurers who will likely flag up that your glasses are unsuitable for your short/long sightedness, otherwise it’s best to have sharp vision.
- Iran highways are long and the city roads are action packed. Slow reaction times will not help you here. Get a healthy, long sleep in every night.
- Long term experience in driving – In Alpha Squad we have a combined 20 years’ experience on UK and continental roads, with Oli taking up 11 of those. It would pay to have a good experience of the car you’re driving; its blind spots, driving dimensions (that is, knowing where the front, back and corners are to within a few inches from the driver’s viewing angle) and how it handles on intricate steering and braking.
- Get a dash cam front and rear. The rear cam helps greatly with reversing if you have large hiking bags in the boot blocking the window, and the front and back combined will not only give you some nice video footage of scenarios on the road, but of any accident you might see and (hopefully) not get involved in. It pays to be prepared in having good clear evidence ready for any law enforcement.
- Take a compass and roadmap of Iran – the roadmap will help you only so much; the compass will help you with orientation and judging distance for your next major turnoff and ETA into a town or city.
So with that out of the way, here are Alpha Squad’s observations and guidelines on driving in Iran.
- Road signs on the highways and in towns are in 2 words, minimal and immediate. These are not the types of signs you’ll see on UK highways – brightly displayed, large readable text at 200 metres; these are usually within 100 metres of the junction and half the size you might expect.
- Toll booths feature around the major highway zones, most of which are north of Isfahan. International cars are often considered as guests of the country and are let through without any fee. On rare occasions the toll officer will charge you (1 time out of 12 for us), likely pocketing the money for himself. Language barriers and playing dumb will also find you being let through for the sake of traffic flow.
- Lorries and coaches are big, old, smoke-bellowing and kings of the highway in Iran. Do not try to assert any right of way against them; you may find yourself being cornered, or cut across at a left-hand intersection.
- Speed bumps (sleeping policemen) are not marked, look out for 2 rumble strips within 50 metres, and slow down. They come in 2 forms – plastic stripped and sudden, and large launch ramp style. They also feature at some highway slip roads, so you can’t initially speed up to enter the highway.
- The edge of the highway is often immediate, and bordered by a gravel hard shoulder. If you like your paintwork how it is, keep a sharp eye on the road edge.
- Driving on the right is optional, more often than you think. Locals will often drive slowly against the flow of traffic and even reverse up the highway side.
- Lights should only be switched on with the last glimmer of sunlight at dusk. Early evening headlights will find you getting flashed down and beeped at repeatedly from local drivers.
- Highway lane division is merely a suggestion. 3-lane highways in busy traffic will result in 5 lanes of cars, and they are not uniform in the slightest – think of your car as a leaf floating down a river, with a hundred other leaves all trying to get to their destination.
- Motorbikes and pedestrians share the same space. They will walk or drive out in front of you, go up the wrong side of roads, or stand in the road respectively, and bikers will often use pedestrian walkways and footpaths in the evening, especially to drive up the wrong way of a 1-way street.
- You do not have to stop for pedestrian crossings, and pedestrians do not have to stop for cars. Iran takes many pages from the Vietnam style of highway and pedestrian traffic in this regard.
- Side streets often have an open drainage channel running down either side. By open drainage, we mean 2-foot-deep and without any warning. To get stuck in this would likely cost you your suspension and wheel alignment on your car.
- On a lighter note, you will find yourself being waved to, beeped at in greeting and asked many times where you’re from and welcomed to the country. Many drivers are happy to see you in Iran and are grateful for your custom and your visiting, speaking on many occasions as if they themselves represent Iran as a whole.