driving in California/California drivers, the end of the myth : a French driver's experience
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Generally, I agree with this. Technically the rule of thumb is one car length per 10 mph of speed. Unfortunately, when was the last time you saw traffic moving at 70 mph with cars at a safe 7-car length between them?
Um.... Like never?
Well I saw this once, and the following car was a CHP cruiser.
Last year, my girlfriend, my best friend and I spent 3 weeks in California for vacation, touring the state. We're coming from France and are, respectively, 35, 33 and 34. We drove from San Francisco to Lassen Volcanic Park in the north part of California, then to Lake Tahoe, Monolake, Yosemite, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and then back to San Fransisco.
During our trip, we drove in absolutly all kinds of roads : 10-lane congested urban freeways in LA and SF metro areas, desert rural roads, meandering forest roads, urban one way streets, avenues and boulevards, 2-lane highways, 3-lane (one is the passing one) roads, 2x2 roads with or without dividers, during the day, the night, etc.
Viewed from Europe and especially from France, there is the persistent myth that american, and especially californian, drivers are cool, relax, corteous, doing the speed limits : well they are actually good drivers compared with the French drivers who I've used to consider so far as perfect dangerous jerks compared with the american ones. There's also another myth : cops and highway patrol cars are everywhere checking for your speed, your behaviour. Third myth : road casualties are much lower in the US than in Europe regarding the same comparison basis. I guess those myths date back to the "CHips" series time!!! Well the conclusion of my 3-week California tour is : this time is over!
I would like to give my opinion on the topic, based on my californian driving experience : well to sum it up i'd say that all those myths are totally FALSE, it's complete RIP-OFF!!! Reality is far from the myths and not in a good way, we noticed.
Here are the widespread road behaviors we noticed on the California roads :
1-speeding : it's a sports practiced by 100% of californian drivers ; the speed limits? pff forget about them!! speed limits are mere indications NOBODY respects and neither enforced at all. Oh yes, we tried to respect them the first week but, let's be realistic : nobody does them, everybody tries to drive as fast as possible, even if the road or weather conditions are bad and If one dares doing the speed limits heis automatically endangered by the other drivers, threatened even by the others who honk, tailgate and show you their finger. At a time my girlfriend told me "speed up or one of them is going to take his rifle and shoot us" (yes, you're true, another myth : each citizen in the US carries a rifle with him).
The worst experiences :
*Pasadena freeway in LA, an urban freeway with dangerous sharp bends and stop signs on the on-ramps : you enter the freeway at a low speed and everybody on the freeway is speeding at 75 instead of 55, waving, cutting off, etc. Well honestly, due to the sharp bends and the lack of acceleration lanes, we didn't find that the 55 speed limit was too low!!
*I15 between los angeles and las vegas : it seemed that people where crazy on their way to Las Vegas : speeding, tailgating, honking, cutting off, using the shoulder as a lane on traffic jams, this was a festival of nonsense driving
2. Red light running : in San Fransisco and LA, it seems to be a widespread habit to run red lights even 5 seconds after the light has turned from yellow to red. If you're a pedestrian you got to be very carefull if don't want to die.
3. tailgaiting : well if you do the speed limit like us, it is unavoidable to have cars only a few feet of your bumper. Furthermore, everyboy will show you how wrong you are to respect the law by honking, threatening you, making road rage gestures.
4. cutting in front of your car : widespread behaviour on the freeways, despite the rear mirrors, a great number of california drivers behave as if they were alone on the freeway. We were forced to hit the brakes several times not to be hit by these guies.
5. turn signal and changing of lanes : the turn signal??? What for??? I'd say that less than 10% of the drivers use it when changing lanes. Well it was no rare to see drivers changing 4 lanes in one time to exit a freeway, almost causing crashes.
6. keeping a safe distance between cars : again, what for? The philosophy in california roads seems to be the following : the least space you let between your car and the car in front of you, the better it is for everybody. Even worse, when you're trying to let a reasonable distance between you and the car in front of you (you know, in the very very very unlikely case there is a sudden brake in front and so that you will not end in a giant pile-up), there will always be someone cutting in front of you, passing you to feed this seucrit distance!
7. (no) enforcement : complete lax! what are the highway patrol officers doing? spending their work time sleeping on their cars ??? The relevant question is : is there really a highway patrol or have they fired all the cops since the "CHiPs" times?? During all the trip we only saw one time a patrol car ; it was in a 4 lanes highway, everybody was doing 80 in a 65 hwy (exept us) the cops picked one car at random and arrested it, the others went on as if nothing had happened!! Wow, such an efficient way to enforce the speed limit!!
- Our conclusion :driving in California is unsafe and you are put at risk whenever you take your car and hit the road. The road beahviors seemed to us selfish, mean, it was some kind of "i'm the king of the road, i do hatever i want to do no matter he consequences, get off the road" attitude.
Actually, the behaviors we noticed in the California roads were similar to those of French drivers until 2003 when the governement said "enough" and launched a strong set of measures to fight the anarchy on the roads. Measures were based on :
-much harsher penalties for speeding, DUI, cell phone use, etc : fines increased, jailtime systematized
-increased enforcement, greater visibility of the enforcement, hence increased probability to have your behaviour checked on he road
-widespread use of fixed speed cameras and mobile speed cameras in unmarked cars : this is the center measure that has cut the death toll by 40% since 2003. We have now 2000 speed cameras and until 2012 there will be 3000 new ones. This has turned the roads safer, behaviours've been pacified.
You might think i'm kind of rude in the way I express myself but we were really amazed by what I'd call complete anarchy in the california roads with really dangerous behaviours! We often felt jeopardized by the road behaviors of the californian drivers!! And, no, we're not paranoiac.
So I'd like to have the opinion of california drivers on the forum. Have you ever drive in european roads recently? What do you think of the european drivers? What do you think of the behaviors of your counterparts in California roads? of yours too?? Do you also frequently notice the kind of behaviors I report above in your daily commutes etc? How are california drivers compared with the other states? is CHP another myth or do these guy really exist ?
You will not see me driving on Los Angeles Freeways on a heavy downpour, 99% of them do not know drive on wet roads!!!!
You will not see me driving on Los Angeles Freeways on a heavy downpour, 99% of them do not know drive on wet roads!!!!
yea or in any condition for that matter. To many people with road rage out here right now. Its not to your detriment as long as you don't react. Either way you are curitous or rude to other drivers there will always be someone to **** off, or someone thats looking to get mad at someone. I just keep thinking well, the way their driving they wont be alive for very long, and i go on and TRY not to think about all the idiots on the road. Hopefully with the economy going down the way it is it will weed out alot of these idiots on the road. Its harsh but true.
Oh and i couldn't agree with you any more than i am, so-cal drivers all have there little noses in the air or its some drunk mexican in the fast lane doing 40.
your english is so good.
i dont take offense at your post. but expect hostility. if i did this on french yahoo you know they would say stuff to me.
you did not go far enough south as you go south they are worse--- hi rate of pedestrian-car accident in this area. as to hitting people there is a frightening lack of remorse. oh well call allstate.
i do not bike or skate on the streets. i do not get on the streets unless i am in a car.
as to french drivers. lived there for years. yes they do crazy things. but i did not drive there so your awareness is probably better than mine.
This is a good message thread. The OP makes his points by stating what is quite obvious to everyone. Primarily, the problem is that the police have abrogated their proactive enforcement role to one of no more than a reactive role, such as in response to accidents, with an occasional road closure due to presidential motorcades, rock slides, major multi-vehicle accidents, etc. But who can blame them? They are so hugely outnumbered on the roads, that wholesale enforcement might lead to even further gridlock on a daily basis.
I have driven in southeast France on a 10-day vacation and have been living in the L.A. area for the last 5 months, so I have at least some basis for making a comparison.
What I found in France is that the roads are superbly marked. I had a great road map that I used as I drove from Avignon southeast to the coast and back. In all that time I believe that I made one wrong turn due to a poorly or inaccurately signed road. However, the drivers themselves are quite aggressive and are prone to speeding well over the threshold of safety. I also found it remarkable that very often there were no guardrails along dropoffs such as on the coastal roads along the cliffs east of Marseilles.
In L.A. the drivers are actually very courteous and predictable for the most part. The difference from drivers in the U.S. Northeast is that on the L.A. freeways the fast lanes tend to be clogged with drivers moving barely over the speed limit. AND they will not move out of the fast lane no matter how many times I flash with high beams, honk, etc., to get their attention -- they are oblivious! Who ARE these clueless people? So I adjusted to the situation by always being prepared to travel in the slow lanes when I need to "make time." On L.A. freeways during high-traffic times, the slow lane is actually the fast lane. So I've found that it's actually pretty easy to navigate the freeways in L.A. after driving for 20 years in the Northeast.
It's also incredible to me how many drivers around L.A. will simply SIT IN TRAFFIC rather than find an alternative route and KEEP MOVING. There is SO MUCH WASTED GASOLINE and ADDITIONAL SMOG produced because of this behavior. Learn to READ A MAP and be aware of ALTERNATE ROUTES, please! For instance, last night I drove to the Dodgers game, the final playoff game of the year which they lost, and of course the traffic jams up eastbound on Sunset as you get close to the stadium area. There will be a line of cars a couple of miles long, but almost NO ONE turns off and takes an alternative route on the local roads! It's unbelievable! GET A MAP! LEARN THE STREETS, FOLKS!
I would also say that the roads are very well marked in SoCal versus most other parts of the U.S. where I have traveled.
One other issue about the surface roads around L.A. is that there aren't any limited-access surface roads, something between a freeway and a local road. This is much more common to find in other parts of the U.S. For instance, Wilshire could be turned into a limited-access road for most of its length, especially through west L.A. The other improvement would be to make ONE WAY many more of the surface streets that feed the larger roads.
I agree with the OP that the SoCal drivers don't use turn signals much at all, especially for right turns on surface streets. There is also an aversion to using the brakes. It's as if the drivers don't want to acknowledge that they live in a high-population area with lots of other cars between them and where they want to arrive. Not to be prepared to press the brake AT ANY TIME is NUTS. (This behavior is also very much the case for the drivers in Las Vegas, where I've also lived for a few years.)
Last edited by ParkTwain; 10-16-2008 at 11:16 AM..
after doing some extensive travelling, what confuses me is the fact that socal drivers practically refuse to use their horns. every where else i've been in the world, people use their car horns regularly. not that this is such a bad thing for us here in socal, it does in fact make walking down the street more pleasant, but it seems people are afraid to use the horn.
anyways, if someone is driving like a douche, i honk at them, its not a big deal (especially considering that i commute mainly on a scooter, we're talking about life and death here). i guess there are too many urban legends out there about people honking at others and in turn being shot at. i dunno.
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