I’ve been observing the driving culture of California for eight months now and I finally feel that I’ve gathered enough firsthand experience to make this bold statement: Californians can’t drive.
I wish I could say I feel better for having said that, but the truth is I’ve muttered those same words under my breath plenty of times. Usually while kneading the steering wheel after playing a rousing game of ‘Test the Brakes’ (it’s kind of like Snap, except with your right foot). It never really helps.
At first I thought it was me. After all, I was used to driving on a completely different side of the road, looking to my right for oncoming traffic, driving from the right side of the car, and the presence of actual rules.
The first thing you learn about California is that you drive on the right. After that, pretty much anything goes. Get yourself behind a steering wheel and you have free reign to do whatever it is you feel like on that particular day.
I took to repeating the word “right” while making turns to remind myself that I was aiming for the starboard side of the street and avoiding the possibility of suddenly descending into a mid-intersection confused panic. It seems like an easy-enough concept to grasp, but it totally messes with your head and flies in the face of every driving instinct you have.
So maybe it took a little while to properly grasp that concept (I still look the wrong way first when trying to cross the road), but in a car, I’m fine. And apart from occasionally hitting the wipers instead of the indicator, I’m a pretty good driver (although that statement will probably be disputed by Mr M).
Here’s my list of gripes with Californian drivers:
1. The speed limit is a suggestion: Everyone speeds now and then. If you think you don’t you’re lying to yourself. But here even the police take the posted speed limit as an “if you can be bothered” deal. And it’s never just a couple of miles over the limit, it’s more like 10 to 20 miles above. While I’m in the furthest right lane doing 65mph (104km/h), everyone else is whizzing by, cops included. It’s the same on residential streets. What I want to know is, what’s the magical number that won’t get me a speeding ticket or annoy everyone else around me with my slowness?
2.“What even is a blinker?”: This shits me to tears like nothing else in this country. Add corn syrup and transfat to everything, I don’t care. But the moment you neglect to use your indicator I go from 0 to an irate mofo in under a second. I’m seriously beginning to wonder whether vehicles here are fitted with blinkers at all. They suddenly change lanes in front of you, or slam on the brakes to turn without warning, or pull over.
3.Lanes disappear without warning: On freeways. You’ll be cruising along and all of a sudden the cars next to you are suddenly in your lane. No line markings to close the lane or anything. It’s just not there anymore and you’re jostling for position with that truck or people-mover.
4.There is no fast lane: Freeways are proper here. Like upwards of four lanes each way, at a minimum. But they just overtake on the left or the right, whatever they feel like. And the right-most lane is not the slow lane. The left-most lane is not the fast lane. Everyone just drives at different speeds wherever they happen to be.
5.Choose your own adventure: Pulling into a car park gives me heart palpitations in this place. There is no uniformity, unless you count insanity as a reliable way to make rules. Here are some of the things, at some of the car parks, that confuse and annoy me:
a.You can only drive up one parking lane and down another, there aren’t many two-way lanes,
b.There are no indicators of this (no arrows painted or ‘no entry signs’),
c.You park at an angle everywhere,
d.Backing into spaces or driving through to the space in front is not allowed in some car parks,
e.There is no indication of which car parks allow this and which don’t,
f.No one indicates before turning into a spot.
6. Stop signs, as far as the eye can see: Probably further. I don’t know if it’s an aversion to traffic lights, or just that it is a truth universally acknowledged that a city in possession of many steep inclines is in want of a way to make drivers bring their cars to a halt as much as possible. Especially on straight roads.
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Hi, I’m Katherine
An Australian expat who loves living in San Francisco and helping other Aussies make their dreams of moving to the US come true. Read more on my about page.