Stressful Driving in Yerevan

Story by Notes from Hairenik, photo from the Armenian Reporter

I will have to say that the only time I seem to experience stress nowadays is when I am behind the wheel. With the supposed 400,000 vehicles on the road in Armenia, excluding countless vehicles registered in Georgia but constantly cruise Yerevan’s chaotic streets, it’s an ordeal to get around town, especially when no one watches where they’re going.

Drifting from lane to lane without signaling or looking in the rearview mirror is a normal thing. The only way to deal with it is to employ defensive driving. For some reason right turn signals have been installed at busy intersections, so now I find myself having to avoid getting into a collision with taxi drivers who drive recklessly, throwing caution to the wind by turning without looking to the left. Then there are the drivers of expensive European automobiles to watch out for—these guys usually speed 60 or more miles per hour in zones where the limit is 30 mph maximum. The chance of getting pulled over matters little to them since they’ll mostly like pay a bribe no matter how high and continue on their way.

With the wavering quality of gasoline also comes hard knocks. I fill “premium” gas in my Niva since there is a notable difference in performance from the “regular” stuff. Although there is usually a 20 or 30 dram difference in price per liter, the higher cost is definitely worth it. Nevertheless, the quality of premium varies between gasoline dealers, and even if you keep going to a particular station regularly, you may be given inferior fuel at any given time, depending on what they get. So when I am sold bad gas, the engine knocks and the car stutters, making driving in city traffic even more problematic. I used to buy gas from a guy in the Aresh quarter of Erebuni who was selling high-quality fuel out of his garage, employing funnels to fill tanks from 5-liter jugs ordinarily used for selling spring water in supermarkets. But now that he lost a law suit his neighbors opened due to some tiff between them he’s relocated to another spot in the neighborhood that I have yet to find. At least now he has a gas truck.

Then there are the jaywalkers, which I have complained about on this blog before. They have the uncanny habit of weaving between cars in slow traffic and even darting out in front of them while cruising. Now you see people crossing the street at dedicated crosswalks, but when you stop for them you run the risk of being rear ended by a clueless driver who isn’t accustomed to yielding the right of way to pedestrians. I am much more afraid of hitting a pedestrian than another car, the problem is that bad.

But those are the risks you take in Yerevan. I live downtown but work a few miles north in an office building next to the Gomidas market, so I don’t have much of a choice. I’ve heard that driving in other places is even more treacherous, like in Beirut where cars supposedly drive down sidewalks. Here people sometimes park on sidewalks, but I wouldn’t be surprised if drivers start following the Beirut model before long.

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