The American Traffic Rules Confused by Aussies

Before I set out on a recent road trip, I asked a motoring journalist buddy to give me her driving tips. I then learned a rule that made me flawed.

Before setting out on my recent solo road trip from New Orleans along the Gulf Coast of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, I asked an Australian motoring journalist to give me her tips for Aussies driving in the United States.

Her biggest warning? Except of course keep to the right?

“You can turn right at a red light.”

uh… what?

That’s not going to happen, I told her nervously. I’ll be too scared to worry about driving on the right, steering wheels on the left, figuring out what “miles per hour” means, and about 289 other potentially life-ending things to run a red light anywhere. “People in the South are very polite,” I told her. “They’ll understand if I just sit there and wait.”

It turned out that they didn’t understand and they beeped. Very much. In America you have to turn right at a red light if you can do so safely, otherwise other drivers will let you know.

Over time I got used to it and driving in the US turned out to be a lot of fun. Here’s what else I learned:

1. The speed limit is only a suggestion

The speed limit along most of the Interstate along the Gulf Coast was approximately 110 km/h. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a roaring Chevvy or Lincoln truck on an Interstate between New Orleans and Mobile going under 90 mph (145 kph).

For a Sydneysider who is currently three terrifying points away from losing her Australian driver’s license due to continued speeding under 10kph, this was a shocking – and exciting – revelation. At first I diligently obeyed the signs like a good girl. But finally, when in Rome…

2. The inner lane is the fast lane and the outer lane is the slow lane

I’m not sure I would have ever thought of this had I not questioned an Uber driver on his way to pick up my rental car, because every lane in the south looks like it’s speeding past at supersonic speed. But yes, this is the case. If you’re not sure, stay in the middle lane, which is more or less the “anything goes” lane.

3. If a car has stopped on the verge, you have to change lanes to avoid it

This was something I encountered several times. It was either a roadside accident or – very rarely – a state agent pulling someone over (not for speeding I don’t think – I really don’t believe speeding is considered a criminal traffic offense in the southern states of America).

Before I realized what was happening, the other cars in front of me all lurched into the left lane to give the car a wide berth on the berm. Me? I was too busy not to die in about 28 different ways, so I was never that good at doing the same thing. Luckily I didn’t encounter any stray pedestrians.

4. Car rental companies HATE credit/debit cards and charge huge fees if you use one

As in, about $US500 ($A700). So be prepared and make sure your map is fully loaded.

5. In cities, many intersections have stop signs on every corner

By that I mean you arrive at a four way intersection and there is a stop sign on every corner. The idea is that you do a polite eye contact dance to decide who gets there first, and thus who gets to cross first. Americans are very polite drivers (don’t be surprised about this – Americans are generally very polite people, despite what the rest of the world often thinks of them), so this is rarely a problem. But do not be that person who tunes in and does not pay attention to the tacitly agreed order.

6. In cities too, cars often give way to pedestrians

There’s that courtesy again. There’s no rule that says cars have to stop for people wandering the road, but more often than not. Note: This probably applies more in smaller, more polite towns in the south than, say, mid-town Manhattan. As a pedestrian, you apply this observation at your own risk.

7. You can actually park

This has never surprised me. Even in huge cities like Los Angeles it is possible to park on the street. Almost everywhere. Coming from a city like Sydney, whose population of five million people is competing for roughly 100,000 parking spaces at any given time, this was a shocking revelation. Parking is possible almost everywhere. Throughout the South, I regularly checked with hotels and restaurants to arrange valet parking or catch Ubers to get to their branches and was kindly informed that no, I could just park on the street. And time and again this turned out to be true.

I mean sure, I usually had to drive around the block a few more times in search of the perfect park. Because reversing into parking when you’re on the ‘wrong’ side of the car is a completely different boiler from impossible…

#American #Traffic #Rules #Confused #Aussies

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