When you travel in a country that is well-known for bad driving — notorious for it even — you might start to worry as soon as your taxi driver decides to answer his phone while driving at 80mph.
That was me on my arrival in Istanbul in October. My driver zipped off from the airport with lightning speed and into lanes of traffic… many lanes of traffic… with no regard for real driving rules. We swerved in between cars going too slow by his standards, causing my hands to grip the door handle tightly in response, and for some reason this was when he thought it a good idea to call up a mate on the phone for a chat.
The chat wasn’t the issue, as he could have been chatting with me, or he could have been using a hands-free phone setup. The problem here was that he was using a normal cell phone and proceeding to drive a stick-shift car without ever putting the phone down.
I questioned my luck while trying desperately to focus on the passing scenery — the scenery that had hints of Bishkek popping out here and there — in order to preoccupy my mind.
Luckily, I lived.
Other people in Turkey — oh, about 4,430 each year — are not so fortunate. This number would be the death toll of the some 495,000 driving-related accidents that happen in Turkey on an annual basis.
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I witnessed two separate car accidents while in Istanbul for 4 short days.
The first one was a minor fender bender just outside the Galata Tower. It wasn’t scary or noteworthy in the least except for when the guy that got rear-ended jumped out of the car to start a shouting fight that looked more like steroid side-effects being let loose instead of actual anger at the accident.
Everyone standing in the central plaza around the tower stopped what they were doing to stare in shock because… well… at one moment, I thought bad things were about to go down. When one person goes back to their car to pick up an item in their hand, perhaps a knife or a screwdriver (I couldn’t tell), it makes it hard to swallow for those few moments until the roid-rage-filled driver decides to finally drive away.
The second one was a bit more gruesome. Beth, Randy and I were back in our Roomorama apartment, just a street down from the Galata Tower, when we heard a big crash followed by some shouting and screams. I was nervous to look outside the window because I knew what that sounded like to me. A few Turkish people were running down the street, a woman was yelling from her balcony, and a large group of people were huddled near a taxi crashed into a cafe and around a couple of people lying on the ground.
I couldn’t see the people, but Beth ran outside to check out the scene as an ambulance came and addressed the wounded. It turned out to be okay considering a taxi ran into a couple of pedestrians (they had injuries, but lived) and crashed further into the side of a cafe.
The problem with this accident [for me] was that it happened just about 1.5 hours before I had to catch a taxi of my own to the airport to leave Istanbul. I couldn’t stop thinking about unsafe driving conditions I had been witness to on several occasions while there.
* * *
Beth and Randy saw me off up near the Galata Tower when the time came around. I hopped in my taxi, airport bound, saying goodbyes and praying that I didn’t become a silly statistic. When my driver asked me about my day as we started to drive around the corner where the accident took place just hours prior, I explained to him what had transpired and how scary it was to hear the sounds down the street.
To this my driver shrugged his shoulders ever so slightly and proceeded to pick up his cell phone to make a very long call.