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Driving in Los Angeles


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Los Angeles Traffic Etiquette and Unique Customs
Traffic Chaos

Traffic chaos at the intersection of Hollywood and Highland in Los Angeles

Photo © 2009 Kayte Deioma, used with permission
Be Courteous & Don't Take it Personally
Los Angeles drivers tend to be self-absorbed, but generally considerate. Perhaps it is due to several episodes of violent freeway attacks over the years, but people are generally trying NOT to piss off other drivers. Drive defensively, but don't take other people's bad driving personally. That person who just cut you off probably just realized he needed to be three lanes over. The first three people who don't let you change lanes, even though your turn signal is on, were too busy talking on their cell phones or rehearsing lines to notice you. The next person was back far enough to see your signal, make room and let you over. Be that considerate person. When you see a turn signal from someone trying to change lanes, make room; it won't make you any later than you already are.

Left Turn on Red
When I moved to Los Angeles, cars' turning left after the light turned red was one of the things I found most disconcerting about driving in LA. Things have improved since then, with more left turn signals in Hollywood and other areas, but there are still many intersections where there is no left turn signal, and the flow of traffic will make you wait a half hour to make a legal left turn.

Common practice in Los Angeles when you want to make a left hand turn at an intersection with a standard signal is to pull as far as possible into the intersection as you can while you have the green light, and after opposing traffic has finished clearing through the yellow light, make the left turn to get out of the intersection. Up to 5 cars will often push through that left turn, even though only two or three were in the intersection.

I am not telling you that you can't get a ticket for doing this, but it is a well established practice in LA, and if you're sitting at a red light, you need to be prepared to wait after the light turns green for the cars in the other direction to finish turning left. In the same vein, if you're a few cars back and the light turns green, be patient for the first car to start moving, because they have to wait for the cars turning left on red. Honking at them won't speed things up.

On the Freeway

Don't drive in the exit lane. Freeways in Los Angeles may have six or more lanes in some places. The far right lane on the freeway is considered the "slow lane," but on a multi-lane expressway in LA, it is considered the "exit lane," for people getting on and off the freeway. By avoiding driving in this lane for long distances, you allow a better flow of traffic.

Don't drive the speed limit in the fast lane - If traffic is moving, and you're planning on driving the speed limit, stay out of the fast lane. Try the second lane from the right.

Move Right for Faster Drivers - Whatever speed you're driving, if someone is coming up fast behind you, move right.

Go with the Flow - The best way to avoid getting a ticket is to stay with the flow of traffic, even if it is over the speed limit.

Don't Weave -You're more likely to be pulled over for weaving back and forth between lanes, or obstructing the flow of traffic by driving too slow in the fast lane.

Leave Time for Lane Changes - Give yourself plenty of time to cross multiple lanes for your exit. Along most LA area freeways, green signs on the left identify the next three exits. When you see your exit in the third position, start moving to the exit lane.

Exit Right, or Not - Most surface street exits off the freeway are to the right, but other freeways may exit on the left. Sometimes the exits for the opposite directions of a freeway are on opposite sides, so when you're approaching a freeway interchange, look for the overhead signs and pay attention to the direction you want to head.

Don't Honk

Angelenos don't honk unless there is imminent danger or possibly a light tap to get the person illegally texting at a red light to notice the light is green. It's actually in the CA driver code "Do not honk your horn unless it is a safety warning to avoid a collision." Honking simply because traffic isn't moving just identifies you as a tourist. Don't do it.
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