Driving in Turkey: Foreigners on the Road
One of the best ways to experience the diversity that makes Turkey so special is by driving across the country on a road trip. This type of travel offers visitors the opportunity to plan their own schedule and hit as many lesser-known (i.e. free of public transportation) destinations usually missed on an ordinary tour.
However, for those who have never driven in Turkey or any country besides their own before, it may seem intimidating. In this article we’ll highlight the ins and outs of driving in Turkey, eliminating the confusion and hopefully inspiring you to hop in the driver’s seat!
Visitors to Turkey are allowed to drive using a foreign license for up to six months, no international license required. While the road signs in Turkey follow the general pattern used in Europe, the way these signs are used or respected can vary. Stop (Dur) and Yield (Yol Ver) signs are largely ignored by locals, so be prepared for cars to pull out in front of you without stopping to obey these signs. In some places, locals also turn a blind eye to One Way (Tek Yon), No Entry (Girilmez), and No U-Turn, so always be on the lookout for rule-breakers.
No Parking and No Stopping signs are also usually ignored. In fact, you might be left in shock at the impossible places where people park their cars (in the middle of the road, in intersections, double parking etc.). As most Turkish cities developed long before the use of cars became commonplace, finding parking can be one of the most challenging parts of driving in Turkey, especially in bigger cities. In city centers, you will often see parking attendants, usually wearing orange or yellow reflective vests. They will guide into a proper parking space on the street and usually ask for a small fee. Most restaurants and small shops offer only street parking, but bigger supermarkets, malls, and large hotels will normally have their own parking lots. Paid parking lots are also available in many cities and cost approximately 20-30 Turkish Lira. Paying this small fee to park can save a lot of time and stress. Almost all ancient cities and other touristic destinations will also have a parking lot.
As we’ve already touched on, Turkish drivers largely ignore many basic traffic rules. Another thing to look out for is surprise lane changes. The lines separating lanes of traffic are also often ignored in Turkey. Many drivers will drive in the middle of a two-lane road, change lanes without using their turn signals, or change lanes while turning (the most dangerous of all), so always stay alert. It’s also common for the car behind you to get uncomfortably close, especially if they want to pass.
Many traffic lights in Turkey are placed at the side of the intersection nearest to stopping cars instead of across the intersecting road where they are easier to see. This makes it difficult for the first driver at the stoplight to see once the light has turned green. Don’t be surprised if the people stopped at the traffic light honk as soon as the light changes.
Speed limits in Turkey vary depending on the type of vehicle you’re driving. In settled areas (inside towns or cities), the limit for all vehicles is 50 km/h. On two-lane expressways (one lane driving in each direction with no median), the speed limit is 90 km/h for cars and 80 km/h for vans, buses, minibuses, and trucks. On divided highways cars can drive up to 110 km/h, 90 km/h for larger vehicles. The limit for expressways is 120 km/h for cars and 100 km/h for buses and vans. Look out for traffic signs with pictures of cameras as this usually indicates a speed-control camera is coming up ahead. These cameras are often placed in metal arches above the road. Police waiting with radar guns are much less common than these cameras.
Another thing you should be ready for are the police checkpoints scattered around the country. Police in Turkey are allowed to stop any car they want to ask for license, registration, ID, and even search the car without any probably cause. You’ll see police checkpoints along many major roads, especially near entrances to cities/towns and on roads commonly used to travel between eastern and western Turkey. They may direct you to the side of the road for inspection, or just wave you on your way. If you are stopped, be sure to comply with any requests. Normally the most they will do is enter your passport number into the system and wish you the best.
If you plan on spending time in or around Turkey’s bigger cities, like Istanbul, Ankara, Adana, Izmir, or Gaziantep, you’ll probably run into some of the country’s few toll roads. Toll roads in Turkey are paid by placing a chip on your windshield, which is then read by a scanner system at the toll road’s entrance. If you rent a car upon arrival, it will more than likely already have this chip. If you drive to Turkey in a private, foreign vehicle, you’ll need to get one yourself and add enough credit to it. You have two options: OGS (Otomatik Gecis Sistemi – Automatic-Pass System) or HGS (Hizli Gecis Sistemi – Fast-Pass System). It doesn’t really matter which one you buy, just make sure that when passing the toll road gate you go through the lane corresponding to the system you purchased (either OGS or HGS will be posted above each lane). These passes are available at any post office in the country.
Getting used to the unwritten rules of driving in Turkey doesn’t take long at all. And seeing the wide expanse of country, from the pristine coastline, to the pastoral atmosphere of central Anatolia, to the culturally rich east and stunning mountain vistas, is worth every kilometer spent behind the wheel.