Driving in Jordan is a challenge. I did prefer to call it a challenge instead of danger because overcoming the local circumstances depends on personal driving skills. You better keep your eyes wide open, completely focus on the road, applying the best abilities to predict and overcome. Or at least, this is what you are supposed to do if you are travelling as a tourist or just visiting, not aware of the local driving habits and peculiarities.
After more than 20 years of being a super active driver, with no accidents, I was convinced – Amman, the capital of Jordan, is the only place in the world I won’t be able to drive.
Ahhh yes, and last, but not least – the importance of the horn. Every respectful driver should make sure that his car klaxon is available, properly working, louder than the others. Why? Because the car klaxon in Jordan is the most important device of the vehicle and no one is able to survive without it. By klaxoning every 100 m, is the only safe way to move through the traffic, take advantage or just update the others that you are taking over and don’t care what goes around.
Well…a few months later, I was forced to drive in Jordan, intercity routes as well, and then I discovered that Amman’s chaotic traffic is like a love song, compared with the reality out of the city. Let me first brief you about the intercity most popular destinations and the distances in Jordan.
From the capital Amman to the most visited spot in Jordan – Petra, it takes between 2 to 3-hour drive, depending on the boldness, masterfulness and flexibility of the driver. From Petra to Aqaba, the most important city on the Red Sea is about one and half hour drive. From Amman to the Dead Sea, about an hour. More less the same, an hour from Amman to Jerash (north of Jordan) and from Petra to Wadi Rum (south of Jordan).
Here come some of the challenges of Jordanian driving:
THE LEFT SIDE DRIVING
Well…officially, the traffic in Jordan is on the right side of the road, the same as in Europe (excluding UK, Ireland, Malta and Cyprus), the USA, Russia and GCC (Arabian Gulf countries). But this is only the official one because the reality is quite different. Everyone drives on the left. You expect the drivers to keep right, but not the Jordanians. They have their own point of view to the craft of driving and believe that the left side of the road is the right one.
Why? Different reasons. Some of them trust the left side of the road is in better condition. Others are convinced that keeping left gives you an advantage and that trick provides you with
THE ZIG ZAG
This is the most common driving skill you should acknowledge in Jordan if you would like to perform successfully and safely on the road. The Zig Zag driving is a must. Forget what you have learned and done in another part of the world, forget how skilled and experienced driver you were, anyway it’s not applicable for Jordan. In Jordan, if you would like to outrun another much slower car, it’s not necessarily to make it from the left side (the right driving rule). In Jordan, you get ahead of wherever you can.
If the left side is available, you can follow the rules and outstrip left. But if there is a car on the left side of the road, that is not going to move to the right, then you should take the right-side shortcut, instead of waiting forever the car ahead you to release the required lane. For this anti-traffic rule action, you could be fined in Europe, but never in Jordan, as it’s the daily routine. On the contrary, if you are waiting for someone here to be stuck to the regular traffic rules, you will be considered insane, unskilled or fairly stupid. There is a third option, of course, especially on the way from Amman to Aqaba, a route very well-known for its heavy truck traffic. If a truck has already taken the right lane, and another truck is driving on the left, the only option to outrun them is to pass in between. It’s another daily routine as well, which surprises no one. You think it’s dangerous!
They are everywhere. This is the “natural” way how Jordan controls the speed. Sometimes the bumps could be faced every 200 m, sometimes you have the privilege to drive “
The good news is that most of the bumps are designated – you see a road sign just before the bump. Well… not all of them are well marked and not all of them are painted in the required here red colour on the top. The ever-painted ones have gotten their tint faded long ago. So, just be aware of the bumps’ hassle.
Jordan is still in a process of building, repairing or enlarging its infrastructure, so almost everywhere you will be advised about detours. Especially on the way from Aqaba to Amman. Speed limit, narrow terrains, bad quality asphalt is what accompanies the detours. Combined with the heavy truck traffic it could become a nightmare.
During the weekends, while moving in between the cities, I learned how to be tricky to avoid the unpleasant detour traffic jams and the risk of accidents (very high % in Jordan). The weekend in Jordan happens on Friday and Saturday, like in the rest of the Middle East. Most of the Jordanians finish their working day on Thursday at about 2:00 pm and by 3:00 pm are already on their way out of the city. Respectively, the same is visible in Saturday’s afternoon/evening on the way back home. As you can imagine, Thursday and Saturday evenings’ roads are nearly an overcrowded disaster.
What I discovered were the almost empty roads on Friday and Sunday early morning. The Jordanians love sleeping, they are far from being early birds and it’s almost impossible to observe driving Jordanians at 7:00 am. So, I highly recommend taking advantage of and hitting the road on those days in the mornings instead.
Here comes the fun. Lots of traffic policemen everywhere along the roads. The police can stop you even if you believe that you did nothing wrong. You are most likely to be stopped if you are driving a rent a car (which shows you are a foreigner, not aware of the local traffic culture). The rented cars are easily recognizable because of the green colour over the registration plate. So, it’s clear from a long distance that you are a tourist and an easy victim.
The tourists are allowed to drive in Jordan with their country of origin driving license only for the first two weeks of the stay. If you need to stay and drive in Jordan for a month or longer, you need a Jordanian driving license. The procedure takes about a week to 10 days to get one, the cost is quite high – 270 JOD (about 380 USD) but at least the expiration date comes in 10 years.
Even if you speak some Arabic or know any Arabic words, never use them in your interaction with the traffic police. Remember, you speak only English! The local police usually don’t speak any or very limited, so the chance not to understand each other and to be easily released without any drama is much higher, if you speak only English (or better any other non-English language).
I got fined only once because the speed limit (I did not notice the warning sign) was 80 km/h, but I was driving with 92 instead and was caught by a speed control radar, hidden in the police car. The ticket I got was for 20 JOD (28 USD), which is the usual fine for over speed in Jordan. The highway speed limit here is 110 km/h and even if you feel like driving faster, it’s not recommended, as the police are well equipped by radars.
They are almost the same as in Europe. Just the unusual one is the road warning sign with a camel on. The camels in Jordan are what the cows are for Europe – a domestic, widely spread animal. Could be seen often along the way and could cross suddenly causing accidents. In my opinion, the camels are not as dangerous as the sheep and goat herds are. It’s very common for the road to be blocked by a crossing sheep herd. The other real danger is the stray dogs, they are literally everywhere.
As closer, you get to Aqaba city as frequent will become the road warning signs about possible landslides. The other very common sign was already mentioned above – the bump warning.
THE CURVES AND THE ASPHALT
It’s unlikely to find straight flat roads in Jordan. The route from the Dead Sea to Petra is full of curves, most of them snaking over the hills and later on over the mountain (the Bedouin route, which is a shortcut). Lots of curves on the way from Petra to Aqaba as well. Those roads are mostly narrow, and some sections are in a really bad condition. Same is the situation from Amman to Jerash and Ajlun (north of Jordan). But it always depends on the viewpoint, because the sharp curves force you slowing down, and you can enjoy the scenery that leaves you speechless or breathless.
As I mentioned above, the Jordanian infrastructure is under renovation and development at the moment, so what the tourist experiences are terrains covered by completely new asphalt, followed by terribly damaged lengths or already partially mended segments. What’s for sure, the roads in Jordan are colourful, demanding and would always keep you alerted.
The very good part of the Jordanian traffic culture is the fact that if your car gets a flat tire, or for some reason gets broken or involved in a traffic accident, the local natives will immediately help you. A year later, I am still amazed by the Jordanian friendliness, hospitality and support, granted everywhere in the country. So, just advice, if you are a confident driver, have a clear driving license and are open-minded for the local traffic distinctions, then you will be fine and will be able to easily adjust. Driving in Jordan could be fun, a disaster, a challenge, an adventure, but always a memorable experience