Top Ten driving tips for a Brit driving in California

Before I went to America I was nervous about driving there. Although I've driven happily and safely in the UK for Over twenty years, driving in another country was something I'd never done before and I had all sorts of worries. The most obvious being the fear of forgetting which side of the road to drive in and accidentally setting off in the wrong direction on a dual carriage way killing us both!

So I searched the internet for advice and tips on driving in the US and California in particular. It turned out there were things to worry about that I hadn't even imagined!

So I'm sharing my learning and my experiences. Here are my Top Ten things you need to know about driving in California if you are British.

1. Get an automatic car. If you drive in Britain chances are you drive a gear shift car. There are lots if reasons for this, fuel economy and control being the main two. I would suggest to remove one worry of driving you get an automatic, they are more common, it's probably what you will be offered anyway, don't ask for gears. The petrol (gas) prices are way lower in the US than in the UK even though Californians will whine and tell you gas prices are high. They are not, so don't worry about the fuel saving. And if you drive in hilly San Francisco or busy Los Angeles 'stop/start traffic you'll be glad of the rest your "clutch" foot will get.

2. When you buy gas in the US you have to pay FIRST. I was slightly overwhelmed by this, how would I know how much my hire care held? How would I pay? Credit card? Cash?. Credit cards are accepted at the pump but only if you have your card registered to a US address, you don't, so you have to go in to the kiosk and pay. You can pay for more than the car will take, you go back after for your change. The same if it's cash or credit card. So you go in, ask for, say, $40 regular on pump 4, fill, find it only took $37 and pop back in for the change. Simple and you get used to it. Of course you don't have to fill up you can but just a few dollars worth, most pumps will shut off when you reach the amount you paid for. And don't forget that as with many credit card payments you may have to sign rather that use your PIN and you may need photo ID - carry it all the time, your plastic driving licence card is enough. Also Petrol (gas) pumps are different colours to the ones we have in the UK! Diesel comes from the green nozzle, regular unleaded AND super unleaded come from the black one. For petrol, you push a button on the pump to select either regular or super and it's dispensed from the same black nozzle.

3. Pedestrians have right of way. All the time. Every time. Even if they are idiots. You are not allowed to run them over (obviously) but you also have to stop for them when they are crossing the road, any road, anywhere even if they are jaywalking. There are Crosswalks on lots of intersections and pedestrians should use these, be aware that even if you have a green light the pedestrians may have a green light too! (yes really) and you still have to stop. Even though the car is king, the pedestrians win on the road. You have to wait for them. Watch out for the walkers...

4. Drivers are on the whole more aggressive than in the UK, people rarely 'let you in' or 'let you out' you have to be pushy. And no one flashes their headlights to mean 'after you'! So just keep alert and get on with driving. On the freeways people pass on either side, you can too, check everywhere before changing lanes, Californians often don't signal a lane change. (don't let that stop you doing it though!)

6. I hired a satnav (GPS in American!) and I'd recommend that, but don't think that means you don't need a paper map too. Take  a decent road map of the area you'll be in and maybe some city maps too. There are places that the GPS won't work and mine broke altogether! (I did get a refund in the hire charge) Luckily I had also downloaded a free app for my phone that uses GPS and not data to guide you, it proved very useful. I have an android phone and used NavFreeUSA , there is an Apple version, and I expect there are others out there, don't forget to check it doesn't need a data connection to work!

7. There are hardly any roundabouts so turning the wrong way is unlikely. Freeway entrances and exits are clearly marked and if you are tempted to take the wrong one they have large signs saying "WRONG WAY" so as long as you are not asleep you are unlikely to suddenly forget.

8. Probably should have started with the obvious...Californians drive on the right. It's easy to remember, even when you are turning left as the centre of each road is clearly marked with yellow markings, lane marking if there is more than one lane on your side are white. Stick to the right of the yellow and you're done. Narrow road signs in California rarely indicate a narrow road! Don't panic, the road will probably still have two lanes and will only be narrow if you are driving a huge truck. The speed limit may be reduced.

9. You can turn right on a red light if it's safe to do so (ie no cars are coming from the left ) unless there are signs to the contrary. All the road signs are pretty clear and self explanatory but there are a lot of them! Stay alert. U turns are also common unless signs say otherwise.

10. Parking spaces in car parks are bigger than here so don't panic if you have a big hire car. Some spaces are marked 'compact' and are for the smaller European style cars. Most car parks also leave spaces between the cars so you can get out! ( something the UK could learn from) I didn't park on street much but signs are clear as to where you can park. Do not park next to a fire hydrant.

And that's it! I had a fantastic time driving my Mustang Convertible, I miss it now I'm back home to my Fiat Panda. Let me know if you are going to be driving stateside, especially if it's for the first time, and if any of this has helped!

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