Getting Around in Turkey Safely

A lot can be said for Turkey's road system.

Amazingly, the number of cars on Istanbul‘s streets has increased faster than its population, putting an incredible strain on infrastructure.
But for the most part, the words usually used are "infuriating","shambolic" and "nightmarish". For those uninitiated to Turkey‘s complex motor network, let us give you a little introduction.

Given that Turkey‘s roads are so chaotic and unpredictable, it's apt to compare them to the post-apocalyptic future filled with uncompromising road warriors of Mad Max. Campy leather and mohawks aside, Turkey's traffic congestion and road safety concerns are a constant thorn in the hide.

The Turkish government has been left scratching its head over how to combat the problem. They have even given this menace a name: ‘Trafik Canavari‘, or ‘Traffic Monster‘. Unfortunately, it's not a traffic monster in the literal sense: (Which would be awesome)



Istanbul "Drivers" - We Use the Term Loosely

Combined with Istanbul‘s road congestion is the problem that by and large, Turkish drivers tend to be haphazard on the road – to say the very least.

Described by some travellers as 'unpredictable', 'impatient', 'aggressive' and 'sweary' – they haven‘t been exactly tarred with a light brush.

Now, don‘t get us wrong, it‘s not to say that all drivers in Turkey are hell-bent lunatics looking only to seek chaos and destruction. But it is worth noting some of their more dubious habits.

  • They don‘t like indicators, traffic lights, paying attention to pedestrians, signals or road rules.
  • They do like honking their horn, continuously. Even at police cars.
  • They also like to randomly drive in reverse. If you are in the way, look out!
  • Turkish drivers will also stop unexpectedly, presumably just to annoy you.

But getting serious for a second – Turkey‘s roads are a big problem. In 2016, there were 1,185,128 road accidents. 7300 people were killed and 303,812 were injured.

Adding danger to the ‘demolition derby‘ attitude of motorists is the poor standard of road construction in Turkey. Slippery road surfaces, poor design, and poor materials have contributed to the high death toll.

Should I Drive in Turkey?

The answer to this question is fairly simple and is generally agreed upon by most travellers: Not unless you really, really have to. Turkey‘s public transportation systems, especially in the larger centers, are more than adequate to get around. If you are heading out into regional areas, this is the only time you should really consider a hire car.
But even then, it‘s difficult. Turkey‘s highways are just as dangerous as the city roads. Motorists scream around blind corners, overtake in dangerous situations, and generally drive in a fashion that would turn the knuckles of even the toughest professional driver white.
Driving after dark is a nightmare, with very little in the way of street lighting or guard rails on mountain roads. And don‘t expect Turkish drivers to turn their lights on at night.

Safety Tips for Drivers in Turkey

If you do decide to go for a hire car, there are a few things you should keep in mind.

  • Be aware of every car you encounter, you have no idea what they might do, and you should be prepared for any possibility
  • Don‘t drive at night. It‘s just far too dangerous.
  • Try to avoid driving during peak times. Simple journeys of only a few kilometers could take several hours in a traffic jam. (Or even longer)
  • Don‘t get too emotional by the anger of some motorists. ‘Road Rage‘ is a way of life in Turkey – keep it to 'Water off a duck‘s back'.
  • Be prepared for police stops. (Remember, you need to have your passport or license on you at all times as a foreigner, even if you are not driving)
  • Expect police to be biased against you if you are engaged in an accident.
  • If you have held a license in a major country (anywhere with an international airport) for at least a year, you should be able to hire a car in Turkey for a few months. After three months, however, you will need an international drivers permit. (Check with your hire car provider for specific details)

Travel Insurance for Driving in Turkey

If you are legally allowed to drive in Turkey, and you have an accident, your chances of having a claim for medical expenses paid are good, as long as you haven't broken any laws (like drink driving, or not obeying the local road rules). Cover is not provided for personal liability while you're driving/riding a vehicle.

Get a travel insurance quote for Turkey

You can buy at home or while traveling, and claim online from anywhere in the world. With 150+ adventure activities covered and 24/7 emergency assistance.

9 Comments

  • miss_nita said

    Haha, this is so true (especially the image of the cars blocking the expressway) - but we drove in Istanbul quite comfortably. It is all about having a bit of confidence and 'going with the flow' :-)<br><br>Being a Melbourne (Australia) local has definately helped my driving skills... Melbournians are worse drivers!

  • David Rich said

    Having driven RVs in over 140 countries I find this story overwrought. I've driven all over Turkey on six different extensive trips and only in Istanbul is driving occasionally difficult, though truck drivers do like to drive without lights at night. The worst driving in the world is on Java, Cairo second and the large Chinese cities third (though non-citizens aren't allowed to drive in China so no problem). See http://mytripjournal.com/RichWorld

  • Josh said

    The pictures shared doesn't belong to Istanbul or even Turkey. Your comments has partially correct though but exaggerated

  • Ahmed said

    @Josh, the picture does belong to Istanbul ( see the vehicle number plates starting with 34 )

    having lived for 05 years in Turkey, I can say that this article is 100% true. Turkish people are the worst drivers in the world.

  • Onur said

    Although there are some fair points in this article I must say most of it is horrendously exaggerated.
    1. Road rage is sometimes a problem in big cities like Istanbul and Ankara. Do not get engaged with angry drivers, not even verbally.
    2. Most of the drivers in Istanbul use indicators these days. Some drivers lack skills so they can go off their lanes when going around a roundabout or in a curve. Do not always expect that they will keep in their lanes.
    3. As you can see the only picture they actually put on this page from Istanbul shows cars in their lanes waiting due to congestion. Nothing wrong about it.
    4. The biggest problem is the lack of respect. People try to cut in when you are waiting in your lane to take an exit or turn. Since some drivers are extremely genius they advance in other lanes and cut it on you on the last minute to avoid queuing up. Oh yes, we could not have thought about it! Thank you!

  • Andrew Boarder said

    I hired a car in Izmir and drove to Denizli, Pamukkale, and down to Fethiye and Oloudeniz.

    I found the driving experience fine. Just drive defensively and you should be fine. The roads outside the cities are ok and I enjoyed every minute.

    Roundabouts seem to be a bit of a mystery, however, most seem to have traffic lights.

    I find driving in London more stressful.

  • Melek said

    HOLY COW, talk about exaggerated...

  • John said

    Eveyone knows that Istanbul is big city and it's normal there is worst traffic in the country. If your way to Izmir, i'm sure that you'll love the Izmir. Izmir also a big city but people and more understanding than Istanbul. Especially drivers are more attentive.

    I noticed that when i came to Izmir Airport 3 months ago. I rented a car from TDH Izmir airport rent a car company and i travelled almost whole city. Izmir's people are frienldy and there are very famous and historical places and drivers are more carefully than Istanbul's drivers. If you think rent a car in Izmir when you get to the airport you should see it:
    https://www.tdhrentacar.com/

  • Samir Saleem said

    I am a British citizen i left my car at SIRNAK airport and went to Sweden through ATATURK airport, when i returned i was given a penalty fine for leaving my car in Turkey. What should i do to leave my car in a Turkish airport without getting a fine ?

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