USA Driving RulesDriving
Rush hour driving guide
Driving and Distance Terms
Places to see
Events and things to do
Please note: All of the information below is subject to change without notice and is intended as a guide only.
- Due to the high cost of insurance in California there are a large amount of uninsured drivers (around 50 to 60% in some urban areas). They are usually the worst drivers therefore you should make sure you are well covered with either your travel insurance or car hire insurance options.
- Keep a safe distance from others while driving, often drivers will turn or change lanes without indicating.
- Drivers can legally pass in the slower lanes (to the right).
- Some freeway lanes (the right most lane) become exit lanes so if you’re not intending to exit it may become difficult for you to change into another lane and avoid having to go with the flow of traffic and exit anyway. It is advisable to stay in at least the second lane from the right until you know there is an exit you need to use coming up.
- Regarding the above points, if you need to change lanes keep an eye out for the cars in two lanes over from you as they may have their eye on the same space as you.
- Watch out for cars in front of you too as some cars enter the freeway at a dangerously slow speed. There are some onramps where it is physically impossible to get up to freeway speed before merging (some older ramps have tight uphill curves that are particularly bad).
- If you indicate to move into a clear space on the freeway, do so fairly quickly if it is safe to do so. If you hesitate too long, instead of holding back and allowing you to move in, the driver before the space may speed up and close the space (on purpose!).
- Don’t assume that because a traffic light is green that you should go. Quickly check that no one is running a red light first then proceed.
- On a similar note, beware of drivers who do not stop completely at stop signs, often they tend to “yield” to traffic rather than come to a complete stop. Or, the driver behind the car that did stop may assume that because it was clear for the car in front of them that they can go too.
- Be on the look out for cyclists and skaters/rollerbladers mainly in places like Berkeley, Santa Monica, or Palo Alto. Unfortunately some are a law unto themselves and expect traffic to give way to them at any time.
- The Californian Cut. This lethal move is said by some to happen every time you drive on the freeway. A driver will decide they need to move from one outer most lane into the opposite outer most lane in one foul swoop. This may be because they’ve just realised their exit is coming up or they want to move out of the slow lane into the fast lane. This usually causes screeching of tires, traffic swerves, heart palpitations and sadly, sometimes fatal accidents. You will be particularly at risk if you are just to the right of a big truck or bus near an exit blocking your view of the approaching lane-cutter as they race towards you. There isn’t a lot you can do except take extra care around freeway exits.
- Drive on the right-hand side of the road.
- Speed limits: in general for suburban and city roads the limit is 25 M.P.H. (40 K.P.H.) and for freeways or highways it is 55 M.P.H. (90 K.P.H.).
Limits do vary around these figures, e.g. 30 or 35 M.P.H. on some large city streets and 65 or 70 M.P.H. on many freeways.
- Seat belts. The driver and all passengers must wear seat belts. All children under the age of 5 or under 40lbs (about 18 Kg) weight must travel in an approved child-restraint seat or holder.
- Alcohol. The blood alcohol limit while driving is as low as 0.08%. You may also be charged regardless of blood alcohol amount if the police can prove you were affected by alcohol. Driving under the influence of alcohol is a serious offence in California, with criminal penalties and severe consequences. The US legal drinking age is 21, and any driver under that age with any blood alcohol may be arrested.
- Right turn at a red light. Where allowed, it is legal to make a right turn at an intersection even against a red light. You still need to stop at the red light and make sure it is clear to turn before doing so. Signs are posted at intersections where this is not allowed, however, these signs can be very small and hard to see.
- Flashing traffic lights at intersections. At some intersections, especially late at night, the traffic lights are set to continuously flash either red or yellow. This means that the lights are effectively off, and you should treat the intersection as if stop signs were present. A red flashing light means you must stop; and a yellow flashing light means you must slow down and exercise caution as you go through the intersection.
- U-turns. These are generally allowed at intersections except where there is a large sign saying "U Turns Prohibited". You make the u-turn from the normal left turn lane, if it exists. At intersections controlled by traffic lights, you will normally only be able to make u-turns on the green arrow or similar. U-turns on busy streets or in business areas are generally not allowed except at intersections; in most other cases, you can make a u-turn with appropriate care, unless the street has a solid yellow line down the middle. U-turns are of course strictly forbidden on freeways and most highways.
- You must use your headlights 30 minutes after sunset and until 30 minutes before sunrise.
Rush hour driving guide
Driving in Los Angeles will provide you with a unique insight into the local way. The public transport system isn’t the best in the world and thus travelling by car is a necessity to get around in a lot of cases. And because almost everyone has a vehicle the roading network, while extensive, can become overcrowded and you can regularly find yourself in traffic jams.
The first tip is to never drive in the early morning or early evening. Next, keep in mind that there are usually several options of freeways to travel on if the one you're planning to take is likely to be jammed. A good idea is to tune into one of these radio stations to get traffic updates - AM 640 or AM 1070. Or, to get to the Los Angeles Times traffic guide, copy and paste this address into your navigation bar (then click on Check Traffic in the left-hand menu): www.calendarlive.com
"Sig alert" - if you see or hear this term you should look for the next possible exit and leave that freeway as soon as possible. This term means that all lanes are closed on that freeway so you are going to get nowhere.
Also, you should avoid the 405 (San Diego) freeway if you hear of any traffic issues at all on it. Traffic on this freeway is so often jammed that regular "stop and go" traffic is seldom reported (locals call it the "parking lot"). This freeway goes to and from the LAX airport and follows past the beaches making it much more travelled than other freeways.
Here is a local guide to rush hour travelling:
5-9 am: Morning rush hour (don’t attempt to drive through LA at this time).
9-11 am: Some light traffic.
11 am-1 pm: Generally lunch time, traffic varies.
1-3 pm: The early rush hour will begin soon so leave now while you can.
3-7 pm: Evening rush hour (don’t attempt to drive through LA at this time).
7-10 pm: Moderate traffic, depending on events etc. in LA.
10 pm-5 am: It should be relatively easy to travel between these times.
The above is a general guide and there are always exceptions. Traffic, in any city, can change quickly due to the random nature of weather, accidents, events, holidays and seasonal changes etc. The best thing to do is to ensure you are not in a hurry to get anywhere and enjoy your LA experience.
Driving and Distance Terms
- California is still entirely pre-metric: all road distances are measured in miles; speeds in miles per hour (MPH); and gas (petrol) is sold by the US gallon. Hardly anyone will understand you if you try to use kilometres, litres, kilograms, degrees Celsius, etc. Twenty-four hour clock times (e.g. 23.45 instead of 11:45 pm) are also rarely understood.
- Blocks: in cities a distance may be explained to you in blocks e.g. “It’s just 3 blocks down the road”. Most city street addresses begin with the block number; e.g. "2125 Main Street" will normally be in the 21st block of Main Street (and the nearest cross street may well be "21st Street"). The block in this example may be referred to as the "2100" ("twenty-one-hundred") block.
- A lot of cities have numbers for street names, e.g. "14th Street", or letters for street names, e.g. "C Street". This sometimes leads to confusing signs like the one on an exit ramp in the Bay Area from the Interstate 880 freeway that reads "A Street Downtown".
- North, South, East, West. If there is a letter in the middle of an address such as N, S, E, W it will be a part of the directions to that address. For example, "1025 S. Figueroa" (or "1025 Sth. Figueroa"); the "S." stands for south, meaning the address is in the 1000 block of the part of Figueroa that is south of the city center or a particular intersection. It isn’t always clear what the direction is in relation to, it could be a local landmark or major street. Ask a local, such as the reception staff at your hotel, to help you out if need be.
If you’re planning a fun night out and don’t want to drive, the Holly Trolley nightclub parking shuttles cruise the Hollywood Boulevard in the Hollywood Entertainment District. You’ll see the trolleys easily - they are orange coloured and they shuttle clubgoers between City parking lots and Hollywood night spots, with stops at the Hollywood and Vine and Hollywood & Highland Metro stations. They are available from 8 pm to 4 am, Thursday to Saturday. You can buy tokens to travel on the trolleys for $1 at participating bars, restaurants and nightclubs and they are good to ride all night.
Places to see
Looking for your 15 minutes of fame? Here is a site that can at least tell you how to get you into the audience of live shows, studio tours, museums, galleries, including free admission attractions and maps of the city. Copy and paste this address into your navigation bar (click along the menu across the top for - attractions, studio tours, studio tapings and more): wherela.com/LA/la_ATlist_attractions.html
If you’re keen to indulge in the glamour of Hollywood then go to this site for a list of the famous names that appear in the stars on Hollywood Boulevard and where they are located on the Boulevard, plus celebrity home locations, film sites and everything you want to know about Hollywood. Copy and paste this address into your navigation bar: www.hollywoodusa.co.uk
Events and things to do
To buy tickets online for theatre (includes theatre seating plans), concerts and sporting events (NBA, tennis, Grand Prix, rodeo and more), copy and paste this address into your navigation bar: gotickets.com (then go to the right hand column under Tickets in Cities and select Los Angeles).
If you’d like to buy premium tickets to an event (everything from sporting to concerts, theatre, even speedway races) you can book the best seat in town, or even get into a “sold out” event, then copy and paste this address into your navigation bar: tickco.com
Need to “cut to the chase” then go to this site that shows the 10 best of everything (with more categories within these) including; hotels, lodgings, nightlife, restaurants, sights and activities, neighbourhoods (know before you go) and purchase tickets to events as well. Just copy and paste this address into your navigation bar: 10best.com
Dining: For a local restaurant guide or to book a table online, copy and paste this address into your navigation bar: opentable.com (you’ll find out the top 10 restaurants in LA, restaurants suitable for groups, outdoor dining, search under food types, see price ranges and more).
The best time to visit Los Angeles is almost any time when it comes to the weather. As a guide August and September are usually the hottest months with temperatures ranging from the mid-40s (F) during the winter to the mid-80s (F) during the summer. Los Angeles gets most of its rain in February. During the day people are usually dressed in casual wear such as shorts and t-shirts. However in the evening the temperature can drop so it is best to have something warmer handy to wear at night.
To see what the weather is like in LA today (or to see year round trends scroll down to History & Almanac and click on Seasonal Averages), then copy and paste this site address into your navigation bar:
American bank notes (bills) can be confusing for visitors. Bills are all the same size and colour so you must take great care to read them all before handing them over. You should also always check your change carefully. Also, be careful not to accept torn or incomplete notes as they can be refused by the next person.
Bills come in denominations of 1, 2 (rare), 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 dollars.
It’s time to learn the lingo. Coins come in denominations of cents: 1 (penny), 5 (nickel), 10 (dime) and 25 (quarter) and there is also a one dollar coin.
Changing Your Money
Major credit and debit cards, including the Visa Cash Passport Card, are widely accepted. Double check with your bank before travelling as to whether your cards (especially debit cards) are accepted in the US and what charges you will incur for transactions and to find out the best way to use them. Travellers cheques can be converted to cash at most banks quite easily. Usually you'll save yourself hassle and expense if they are in US dollars. You should bring your passport (for identification) with you when cashing in travellers cheques.
For a list of public holidays in Los Angeles, California this year, then copy and paste this site address into your navigation bar (then click on “550 countries and regions” at the bottom of the home page, then select “USA (California)”: bank-holidays.com
Los Angeles sits under California Time which is in the Pacific Time Zone. US Pacific Standard Time (PST) is 8 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time (GMT-8).
Like most states in the USA, Daylight-Saving Time (DST) is observed in California Time, where the time is shifted forward by 1 hour to PDT; this is 7 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time (GMT-7).
After the Summer months the time in California Time is shifted back by 1 hour to US Pacific Standard Time (PST) or (GMT-8).
To see what the current time in Los Angeles, California is right now (automatically synchronised with the time on your computer) copy and paste this site address into your navigation bar:
If you’d like to stay friendly with the locals then if you’re not accustomed to, you will need to embrace the art of tipping. Almost everyone who provides a non-salaried service (i.e. they are paid weekly wages) expects a tip. As a guide you will be expected to tip;
- Sky caps (baggage handlers outside airport terminals - usually tip them more than bell hops);
- Bell hops ($1 or more per bag depending on bag size and how far they are moved);
- Hotel room service staff (15-20% for room service meals and drinks, around $2-$5 per day for room cleaners);
- Valet parking attendants ($1 - $2 per car retrieved, depending on the size of the car and the difficulty and efficiency of retrieval);
- Waiters and waitresses 15% of the check (cheque)*;
- Bar staff (leave the loose change on the bar);
- Hairdressers 15-20%;
- Taxi drivers 15%.
You don’t usually tip in fast food places, nor do you tip sales assistants, etc. in the normal line of duty.
* As a guide leave around double the amount of the sales tax (i.e. double the 7.5-8.5% tax) which is listed just above the full total. Before tipping make sure a 15% "service charge" hasn’t already been added to the bill - this is usually added for groups of five or more. Tips can be left as cash on the table or included in the credit card bill. If the service was poor you can tip less, however don’t attempt to return to the same restaurant again as staff rely on tips as a large part of their income (employers pay less knowing that staff will be tipped) as opposed to countries where tipping is received as an added bonus.
In California, state law prohibits smoking in restaurants and almost all other workplaces. In addition, hundreds of California communities have passed their own local smoking restrictions. Nowadays restaurants, bars, clubs and bowling alleys are almost entirely smoke free. As bans are ever increasing, if you need to light up, it may pay to find out where it’s permitted to do so first.
Last updated 27.07.06