Monday, August 22, 2016

Things I learned while in California

On our road trip a couple of weeks ago, we passed through Nevada and Arizona but spent most of our time driving in California. I made some observations about California driving.
  • Shop around for petrol. This is true everywhere but doubly so in California. In Utah, from one end of the state to the other, it's not unusual to see prices differ by up to 40 cents per gallon. In California I saw big-branded petrol stations - Shell, Chevron etc - within a couple of miles of each other with huge price differences. The most extreme was in Huntington Beach where one was selling premium for $1.96/gallon and 1.3 miles away, the same brand was selling the same gas for $4.69/gallon - over double the price. I expect to see price differences like that on the motorways, but these were both on the side of Highway 101 and within sight of each other.
  • Californians don't seem to like breaking the speed limit. From crossing the state line coming in from Reno, driving 2000 or more miles inside California, to leaving via I-15 after Barstow, the average driver seemed to prefer to be at or under the speed limit rather than over. And the speed limits are appallingly low in CA with many freeways still stuck in the 1950's with 55-60mph limits. Compare to Utah, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and other surrounding states where people generally drive 5-10mph over the limit. Of course once you talk about the 405, I-5 and I-10 anywhere near L.A, speed limits are a moot point because you're inevitably sitting in 5 or more lanes of 10mph crawl.
  • Californians have a dangerous inability to drive hilly or mountainous roads. Not only do they spend the entire time on the brakes when going downhill - to the point where you can't tell if they're slowing down or not because you've been following brake lights for 30 miles - but they brake at EVERY CORNER going downhill. On I-80 from Reno to Sacramento, it's two lanes and about a 35 mile descent. The limit is 55 to 60 depending on the section of road. We were stuck in 35mph traffic almost the whole way for no apparent reason other than every car in front of us - for as far as I could see - was on the brakes. All the time. It's as if they don't know that going down a gear will do a much better job than the brakes will on a long, shallow descent. The same was true when trying to get to and from Palomar observatory on S-6, and on the hilly sections of I-15 and SR76 near Pala Mesa. I'd say some of what they were doing on the mountain roads was downright dangerous. You don't ever, EVER come to a complete stop because of a corner on a freeway, no matter what. Doing it on blind downhill bends would be something I'd start ticketing drivers for if I was in the highway patrol. Yet we saw this time and time again - any slight deviation from a dead straight line and everyone dropped their speed to the point where we ended up in phantom traffic jams of stationary traffic at almost every bend.
  • Like Utah drivers, Californians don't like to overtake. On one of the more open sections of Highway 1, we came across an armored truck bumbling along at 30mph - slower uphill obviously. We joined the tail end of a line of probably 10 cars who seemed to be quite happy to sit behind this truck. As the opportunities presented themselves, nobody would overtake. So we did. Two or three cars at a time, until we got to the truck. We had to wait a little for another broken yellow line in the middle of the road, but when it came, off we went. After that we had no traffic behind us for nearly an hour. It was only when we got to some roadworks near Bixby Bridge that the armored truck caught us up with a massive line of traffic behind it. Overtake, people. It's easy and it makes your drive a lot more enjoyable.
  • Californians love the left lane. Doesn't matter how many lanes, they'll get into the left lane and sit there, normally 5mph below the limit. I lost count of the thousands of cars we passed simply by staying in the right lanes. The left lane was always full of nose-to-tail slower-moving traffic so we hardly ever used it. It was more efficient to use the right lanes to pass.
  • Lane splitting is now legal in CA. It used to be "not illegal" but now it's actually legal and the motorcyclists embrace this law with a vengeance. I'm a motorcyclist too and I used to lane-split all the time in England. In Utah it's illegal which just kills me when I'm riding, so I'm fully, 100% behind the law in CA and it made me smile every time a motorcycle passed us between lanes.
  • Californians seem bizarrely tolerant of people pushing into queues. When we came to the toll plaza at the San Mateo bridge, we joined the lines of traffic waiting to pay cash as we didn't have a SpeedPass. We then watched as 12 different cars drove all the way to the front of the line and just started nosing in to the line. Every time, someone let them in.
    So top tip - if you want to get through a toll plaza quickly in California, drive to the front and push in because there's a 100% chance someone will let you do it without so much as a honked horn or a shouted insult.