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Yes, I Do Own the Road

Accustomed to California driving.

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Test Your “Street Smarts”

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1. The correct speed to merge with traffic on a freeway doing 65 mph is:

  1. As close to 65 mph as I can safely do by the time I’m merging.
  2. 25 mph.
  3. c. Whatever speed I damn well feel like. Are you from the government?

2. A red painted curb means:

  1. Do not park, stand or stop there at any time.
  2. Stop, but don’t park.
  3. Be especially careful to watch for parking police before parking there.

3. The so-called “fast lane” on the freeway is for:

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  1. Passing slower vehicles.
  2. Avoiding getting stuck behind trucks in the slower lanes.
  3. Me.

If you answered mostly C on the quiz, you’re considered rude and crude enough to drive in California – at least that’s what Hamish Reid says. Reid is a British-born software designer/photographer/writer who’s lived in the Golden State for 10 years. In that time, he’s become somewhat accustomed to California driving, but realizes that traffic is pretty hard to deal with for newcomers and tourists. To help them out, he’s created a Web site – www.caldrive.com – devoted to the irritating driving habits of Californians.

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“I can’t pretend that bad driving is indigenous to or even unique to California,” says Reid, “but it does seem to have much more than its fair share of lethally stupid, maliciously reckless and just plain careless driving.”

Case in point: Reid vows that somewhere between one-half and two-thirds of all turns and lane changes in California are done without using turn signals. “What this means is there’s no way to tell for sure whether a car is going to turn or change lanes or not. The lack of turn signals means nothing,” he says.

Even if a California driver isn’t planning a lane change, Reid cautions against letting your guard down. “Lane discipline is non-existent,” he says. “Most drivers feel it’s their inalienable right to drive in whatever lane they want, at whatever speed they want. It’s unfortunately common for an entire freeway to have all four lanes in the same direction moving at much the same under-the-limit speed for no other reason than there’s no way past the four slow-moving cars.”

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But bad driving isn’t just an occurrence on the freeways. City drivers also have their little quirks. “Some California drivers regard stop signs and red lights as purely advisory rather than mandatory,” says Reid. “This isn’t a case of running a changing light or not coming to a complete stop at a stop sign. What’s being described here is simply ignoring the red light or stop sign and going through at full speed.”

If you’re a tourist planning to visit California, you may think you’d be better off not bothering with a vehicle. Think again, says Reid. California is simply a state meant for cars. “In an increasingly large part of suburbia, streets are deliberately built without sidewalks to discourage pedestrians,” he says. Remember that scene in “L.A. Story” when Steve Martin drives to see his next door neighbor? In other areas, police consider people walking around outside to be suspicious. (Unless the person is moving around like a chicken – then it’s just considered power walking.)

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Faced with such driving habits, is it safe for an out-of-towner to consider renting a vehicle in California? Sure – if you answered C to all the questions in the quiz.

Writer Emily Canning is an intern with BodyShop Business.

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