"People [in California] drive like baboons on crack - they've stolen the keys and sort of figured out how to switch the thing on." - Hugh Laurie, June 2005
Rarely can truer words have been spoken. If there's one thing that has constantly frustrated me in my twelve years in this country, it's the driving. And it's at it's worst on the West Coast.
Believe it or not - and I know it's not easy in a culture that often takes individualism to the extreme - you are NOT the only person out there on the road. It does not belong to you and you alone. This appears to be the fundamental misconception floating around. If you wipe the dust off and look in the hitherto unused rear-view mirror in your vehicle, you will see that there are indeed others on the road. Many of them.
With that said, here are my top 6 lessons for drivers. Especially Californian drivers.
- There is more than one lane on the freeway, and there is a reason for that. You keep as far to the right as possible, unless you are overtaking another vehicle, or making room for people to merge onto the freeway at an entrance. It's really quite simple. Don't cruise at 50, 60, 70, or even 80 in the fast lane. If everybody on the road followed this one simple rule, congestion would improve ten-fold, and we'd all get where we're going that much faster. Without having to speed, undertake, or weave in and out of traffic. Try it tomorrow - and maybe you'll make a difference.
- On the left side of your steering wheel is a lever which controls the indicators. You may also have heard them referred to as flashers, or turn signals. When you are planning to change lanes, or turn - use this lever to turn on your indicator. Once you are done changing lanes or turning, return this lever to it's neutral position to turn OFF your indicator. Do this, and we'll all know what each other is doing, and be able to drive accordingly. If nothing else, I will no longer have to wait until roads are empty for several hundred yards in either direction before turning on to them, just because I never know who might be turning or changing lanes such that I would run right into them.
- The speed limit on a freeway on-ramp is not 20mph. You cannot merge into 65mph traffic at 20mph without causing a small traffic jam, or an accident. If you're on the freeway, make room in the merge lane at an entrance. If you're merging - a little bit of bravery won't hurt. And those three mirrors in your car can all help make it a little less painful.
- Driving at 100mph in the 'slow' lane on US-101 is not a great idea. But neither is driving at 20mph in the 'fast' lane. It is not your right to go at any speed upto and including 65mph in any lane you choose. See item 1 above for more details.
- Stop Signs are not intended to be an opportunity for you to display your good manners. That's not how it works. First come, first served. And the tie-breaker always goes to the guy on the right. There's nothing more to it. Waving others on invariable serves only to confuse the issue.
- The lines delineating your parking spot are intended to do exactly that. Park between them. You have big parking spaces in this country. It really should not be a problem. Your vehicle can fit in one parking space, so please position it accordingly.