Before getting a car, I found driving here a bit intimidating. Georgians are typically slow to everything. They’re slow to start, they’re slow to get moving, they’re slow walking. But as soon as they get in the car man, they go nuts. Nothing’s going to stop them, as though the world were blowing up behind them and they haven’t got enough jet fuel or gears to outrun the flames.
Add on to that the inability for the average Georgian to follow rules and lines, and you’ve got a real formula one for disaster. With all these cars zigzagging through each other, one wonders how you don’t see more wrecks on the road. “Georgians are the best drivers in the world,” Gio tells me after saying ten other things they’re the best at. “They say if you can drive in Georgia, you can drive anywhere!” That said, if you drive like Georgians drive, you can also get life sentences in prison in most countries.
My first waking up experience with the inanity that is Georgian driving was about 10 years ago in the countryside. I was hitchhiking with a friend. A kind fellow picked us up and brought us to his village (not where we were going). “Just quick stop!” he said. The stop was at his friend’s shop, where he bought three beers, one for me, my friend, and of course him. “Cheers!” he said, cracking it open, turning the ignition and speeding on down the sharp turns of the valley road.
Rent a car from someone I trust, Family Cars Georgia
Moments later, a policeman pulled us over. The man got out of his car, set the bottle on the roof, and then went to the cop, yelling him down in the middle of the street. After a stream of curses and some shared laughs, he came back to the car, grabbed his beer bottle, and sat back down, speeding off. “The guy says I was drunk driving! And he doesn’t believe me I’m not drunk!”
“Did you get a ticket?”
“No, of course not, that was Tornike, my wife’s second cousin.”
Since then it’s gotten a lot better. They’ve really cracked down on drunk driving, and they’ve installed a million traffic cameras. One lady in a class of mine 4 years back recalled, “Yes, they’re very funny, my husband gets a ticket for 20 lari every day.” She added, without a hint of irony, “He’s a very good driver. He wants to be a taxi driver in New York.”
Or don't drive, just walk. And while you're at it, listen to my sexy voice tell you about buildings on your phone with VoiceMap:
Drivers have improved. And since I’ve been driving, it actually seems to me that Georgian drivers want to drive in a fashion that’s not suicidal, but in large part can’t because of bad city design. But I’ll get to that.
I'm not going to say Georgia has the worst driving. It doesn't. I'd say it's in the middle. It is what it is.
Now, without much further ado my...
List of astonishing things about driving in Georgia:
1. Lanes. Sometimes they exist, sometimes they don’t, and sometimes they inexplicably disappear. Not that it matters, because few seem to know what they’re for. Georgians though have admittedly gotten better driving with lanes. When I first got here, they seemed to be only like suggestion markers. Now, they either drive between them or on them, only rarely exploring the between-regions of the two theories of their function. The worst part though is that the city road building guys often seem to forget to put down lines after they pave a road, and only get around to doing so a year later. Even on major thoroughfares, like the embankment road, which is practically a highway. Actually, there’s still a stretch without lines. I’ve come to enjoy this though, as it makes driving a lot more fluid. You can go wherever the heck you want, and let everyone else deal with your direction.
When they do remember to paint the lines, it’s not always for the best. They have an odd habit of taking one away there, adding in another over there, and really making a confused mess of things at intersections.
Lanes are for bad drivers. Georgia has the best drivers!
That’s all well and good until you get to Kutaisi. Apparently, there’s a real paint shortage in Kutaisi, or maybe just nobody knows how to paint a road. But the huge avenues, which would in a normal city have 6 to 8 lanes, are unmarked free-for-alls. Until you get to a light, and the light has signs showing you the defined lanes, and low and behold, you’re in a turn lane! Surprise! And a cop is driving behind you!
2. Parking. Most Georgians park on sidewalks, behind park benches, in windows, in no parking zones, on pavements, on greenspace, in the middle of a street… really, they seem to go out of their way to park illegally and/or in the way. This is, again, partly the city’s fault. The city will only ticket you if it seems you’ve attempted and failed to legally park. But if it’s clear you made no attempt, the city will let it slide.
This used to bother me a lot more when I was merely a pedestrian, as one of the favorite spots for Georgians to park is on zebras. But once I understood this principle, it’s not so bad. Also there’s the problem that figuring out where to legally park is sometimes not so easy. I’ve seen a Parking sign back to back with a No Parking sign, or a No Parking sign over an area that’s clearly painted on the ground to park.
It’s getting better though. You can now pay through your banking app to park legally anywhere in the city, which I guess covers sidewalks and zebras.
3. Nobody cares. For instance, cutting people off is a thing here and nobody thinks twice of it. They’ll do it to you as soon as you let your guard down. And they might even drive slower after cutting you off, because eh, don’t care. Here’s the neat thing though, just as they don’t care when they cut you off, nobody really cares when you cut them off either. It gives you a little more flexibility in your own driving. Want to drive like a jackass? Go for it! Nobody cares.
4. Honking. They don’t honk because they care, they honk because you didn’t start moving before the light turned green. Also they honked to say hi to Gio, the marshrutka driver on the other side of traffic, and now the two marshrutka drivers are cutting everybody off so they can stop in the middle lanes (or where they might be) and have a chat. But hey, nobody cares (see number 3), so whatever.
5. Marshrutkas. These are the mean yellow minivans that Georgians try to legitimize and call “microbuses”, but us expats know how much BS that is, and no matter how much you call a giant pile of crap Jack, it doesn’t change the fact it’s still a giant pile of crap.
A pile of crap smells just as sweet by any other name. - William Shakespeare
A marshrutka can drop someone off whenever they want, and pick them up wherever they want. The only exception to this rule is on major roads, where they’re confined to only doing this at bus stops. That sounds cool. Saint, why do you hate that? Let me effing tell you.
What's that lady even doing? First, the marshrutka man prefers the leftmost lane. So whenever someone tells him to stop (there are no female marshrutka drivers, my gender policing friends), or he sees someone waving him down, he immediately swerves to the right and crosses two or three lanes, typically without looking, because again number 3.
Not only that, but the ass hats who use marshrutkas tend to choose the most inconvenient places to wave them down. The middle of an intersection? A place where there’s a pedestrian barrier along the pavement? An area where there’s a natural bottleneck? Yes, please! I can’t walk 10 meters to a better location that won’t cause a pain in the ass to the rest of the traffic, because well, number 3 also applies to pedestrians.
6. Zebras. It’s fun watching people try to figure out what these are for. Mostly people cross roads about 20 meters or less from a zebra. If they’re at a zebra with a light, they prefer crossing at red. This all doesn’t really matter anyway, because drivers also don’t have the slightest clue what a zebra is for, except they won’t honk at you as they swerve to speed by when you use one (they will honk at cars that stop at zebras, though).
Zebra use or lack thereof has really got me thinking that they really shouldn’t have just driving tests, but also pedestrian tests. And they should have more questions about zebras and less on how many oxen per cart are allowed to traverse a country road.
7. Speed bumps. They’re usually 20 years old and have worn into oblivion. But that doesn’t matter, because Georgians like to drive around them anyway. Apparently if only one wheel hits one, it won’t damage your shocks, but if both wheels go over one, it will annihilate them (unless of course you’re going fast enough).
8. Traffic circles. In the States or Europe, the traffic in the circle always has the right of way. In Georgia, it’s reversed, where the right of way is who’s entering the circle. Sometimes. Generally you have to look for the markings on the road. Or signs. Or just guess. Do your best to communicate with the other driver, because it’s likely they don’t know whose right of way it is either.
A big traffic circle. The rules change halfway through.
9. Left turns are anathema (in Tbilisi). They designed it so you can take lots of U-turns. They’re terrified of setting up traffic lights and letting people do left turns. Possibly because they know this would just make people go crazy, and also because everyone thinks they’re in Need For Speed 10: Tbilisi Drift. So where they can, they route people to turnabouts and so on rather than put up a light. And then when they do put up a light it doesn’t really make sense (Pushkin/Baratashvili anyone?).
10. Passing. People will pass you anywhere. Is there some room on the right? Is the room just a sidewalk or dirt shoulder? No problem! Is there an opposite lane with only a little oncoming traffic? No problem! Is there a sharp turn up ahead? No biggie. Are you on a highway onramp and trying to get to speed and watch for traffic on your left? Why not someone pass on your right? No problem! Don’t care!
11. The right lane of death. It’s bumpy. There are probably a lot of cars parked in it. People get out of those cars, they have birjas (groups of middle- to old-aged men standing around smoking and staring off into space) in the lane, sometimes a barbecue, sometimes a watermelon sale. You really don’t know what you’re going to run into in the right lane. So it’s better to stay one lane over. People will suddenly come up on your ass, 30 mph over the speed limit. Screw ‘em! They can drive around you into oncoming traffic. And they do.
And that’s all I’ve come up with for tonight. In general, it’s better than I make it out to be. Or worse, if you have high blood pressure. But don’t be intimidated. Once you’re driving, it’s actually remarkably easier, mainly because of the grand number 3.
No left turn into old town here, gotta do a U and then a right
12. Emergency vehicles. They drive with their lights on, at all times. During an emergency, they'll use their siren (called "honks"). This means that if you listen to your radio, or are a victim of the Doppler Effect, you likely won't know if they're approaching you at ludicrous speed. Or maybe they are and it's not an emergency. Who knows. This explains generally why everyone seems to not care about emergency vehicles.
Probably you have more. Add them in the comments! What’s your favorite thing about driving in Georgia?