If you are planning a trip to the Los Angeles area, you may be a little trepidatious about driving the streets and highways there. You likely have heard that the pace is fast, drivers rarely signal for lane changes, and the freeway system is complicated. All of these are true. But there are some tricks that can help you fit in on the roads of Los Angeles without looking like a tourist or getting in an accident. Check out this list of tips for driving in L.A.. After all, you are likely to spend a great deal of time in the car during your visit.
Know Your Freeways
There are more than a dozen freeways that you will come across when driving in Los Angeles and its expansive environs. Remember that each one is referred to by its number and the word “the.” Some someone might advise you to take “the 405” to your destination. There are state routes, interstate freeways, and U.S. highways, all with their own sign color, but they are fairly well marked with direction and major exits nearby.
Surface Streets Are Your Friend
Many times, those infamous traffic jams will force you to say off of the freeways. Morning rush hours are from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m., and at night it is 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. During these hours, it is best to travel via surface streets. Still, be careful which one you take. Large, famous streets such as Wilshire Boulevard and Sunset Boulevard can be parking lots no matter what time you are driving.
Most of the city streets are set up in a grid pattern, so familiarize yourself with a map or set your GPS for “surface streets only” before you head out.
Several highways in the Los Angeles area feature high-occupancy vehicle lanes, also known as HOV lanes or diamond lanes. The entries and exits to these lanes are indicated by a break in the double yellow line. You must have two or more people in your car to be allowed in this lane. Motorcycles also may use them. There is a steep ticket for anyone using caught by police or cameras driving solo in the diamond lane.
Speaking of police, expect to see many and from several jurisdictions. Because there are dozens of separate cities within Los Angeles county, you may see city police, Los Angeles police, county sheriffs, or even California Highway Patrol officers at any given time.
Most California rules are the same as other states. Here are the basics:
• Cell phones must be used hands-free.
• Everyone must wear a seat belt.
• You can’t smoke if there is a minor in the car.
• Children and pets should not be left unattended in parked cars.
• You must yield to emergency vehicles.
• The speed, if not posted, is 25 in the city and 65 on the highway.
• Littering carries a hefty $1,000 fine, especially cigarette butts.
Of course, there are some rules that apply only in California that you should be aware of. Such as:
• Motorcycles are allowed to drive up the middle of lanes (lane splitting). So watch out for them when changing lanes.
• Expect drivers turning left to do so after their light has turned red. They likely will drive into the intersection and wait for a break in the traffic, which probably won’t come. So they will turn after the light goes red. Then, the drivers with a green light will have to wait for them all to clear the intersection. It happens. Just be prepared and patient.
• Honking is frowned upon. Unless there is an immediate danger of a collision, L.A. residents rarely use their horn.
• Highways are crowded, and it take a while to move lanes. If you have an exit coming up, start moving over immediately.
• The far right lane or slowest lane is for entrances and exits. Don’t travel in it for long distances.
Armed with these tips and insider tricks, you should get along just fine on the roads of Los Angeles. Remember, it’s always best to be a courteous driver, even if others aren’t.