Home » California drivers, the end of a myth : a French driver’s experience
September 4, 2011

California drivers, the end of a myth : a French driver’s experience

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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, 2×2 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 whatever i want to do no matter he consequences, get off the road” attitude.
Read more: http://www.city-data.com/forum/california/308366-driving-california-california-drivers-end-myth.html#ixzz1WwBgqjb3

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