Driving in America Sucks Arse. Period.

Since leaving Australia on June 8th, I have travelled far, though perhaps not so wide really, across the US. And one thing that seems to drive most of Aussies absolutely nuts when travelling over here is, driving in the States.

Approximate kilometres driven…

Canada: 2,430 kms
Alaska: 1,280 kms
Nevada, Utah, Arizona and California: 3,260 kms
Pennsylvania: about 240 kms

Anyway, with that little summary, I think I can safely say I am able to comment with some vague authority (or at least with excessively biased opinion based on personal experience) on Aussies driving in the US. 🙂 There are so many things that make driving here difficult for someone coming from Australia – the big obvious ones of course, are that you are sitting on the opposite side of the vehicle from that which you are accustomed to, and you are driving on the wrong side of the road! In all honesty, it didn’t take me that long to get used to driving on the righthand side of the road, well no longer than learning the quirks of a different vehicle. And after a few days the only time I had to even think about which side of the road I should be on was when exiting car parks, and occasionally when turning left at large intersections.

No, there were far more annoying things about driving here than just being on the wrong side of the road and the wrong side of the car! For example there is the complete lack of indicator lights on most vehicles. For some reason they do not have orange/amber indicator, or signal lights, on their cars. Instead, they just have the red brake lights flash when the indicator is put on. It wouldn’t be so bad, but if someone has their indicators on while they are braking… it is often really fucking hard to tell that the person in front of you is actually indicating and is therefore intending to turn. It makes no sense to me. So many of the vehicles here are similar in make and model to those at home (monster trucks excepted) so either we are altering the design of them to make the indicators orange and more obvious, or they are altering them to be red on red with a red motif and therefore, less noticeable?! Dunno. But it totally sucks depending on the scenario and it makes no sense whatsoever. Such a tiny little thing like amber indicator lamps would probably save countless lives.

Another thing I severely dislike here was the lack of signs telling you how far it was to your destination. This was pretty much anywhere. In Australia I leave Brisbane and head to the Gold Coast, and some where along the way will be a big sign telling me which highway I am on and distances to extended destinations… so literally on the way to the coast there is a sign that says ‘SYDNEY… 978kms’ along with distances to smaller stops on the way. Here? You’re lucky to ever get a sign that tells you how far it is to the next town, let alone how far it is to the one after that or the next major metropolis on the road you’re on. Without the GPS telling us how far things were, we would have been all at sea and never knowing how far we had left on our trips.

And speaking of fucking signage… what is with the ‘Last fuel for 157 miles’ signs being placed on the road either AT the fuel station in question, or worse still, AFTER you’ve passed the fuel station! No shit, we kept seeing signs saying that there was x miles until the next opportunity for fuel AFTER we had passed said opportunity. Stupid bloody nonsensical lack of system if you asked me.

Another pet hate I have discovered over here is the 4-Way or All Way Stop sign. These are usually found at the sort of intersection that doesn’t have enough traffic to warrant a traffic light, but more than enough to just leave it with a couple of give way signs – the sort of place we would put a roundabout and all be giving way to the right as a rule. Now the problem with these intersections is that NO ONE seems to know who has right of way. I have asked at least a dozen different people from Canada, Alaska, California, Nevada, Arizona, Wisconsin, Virginia, you fucking name it. None of them were entirely sure who has right of way at a 4-Way Stop sign. Some people told me that who ever arrived at the Stop signs first had right of way, some people told me it was people going straight on had right of way, followed by people turning right and then finally anyone turning left. One guy even told me who ever had the damn biggest truck had right of way at these intersections! Every single time I approached them I’d be entering the intersection with my hands metaphorically thrown in the air going ‘I dunno who gets to go!?!’, and that pretty much remained the way of it for traversing these particular traffic control cluster fucks for the entire duration of my trip.

But worse than non existent indicators and 4-Way Stop signs, were the speed limits. Up in Alaska, you could go 40 miles without seeing a speed limit sign, so if you were over taking a truck, taking in the scenery or just plain missed it… you never knew what the damn speed limit was! Not that it really mattered anyway, because NO ONE is EVER doing the speed limit – having NO SPEED CAMERAS will kinda do that. Whether there is one lane or eight moving in your direction, I don’t think I saw a single person actually moving at the speed limit through any of the states or provinces I drove – British Columbia and Alberta in Canada; Nevada, Arizona, Utah, California and Pennsylvania in the US. There would be the occasional truck doing the speed limit, but everyone else it seems to be doing a minimum of 5-10mph to a maximum of 20-30mph OVER the posted speed limits. No shit. Everyone speeds here and everyone is in a hurry. And if you are driving here, you sure as hell better keep up with the traffic or you’ll find someone doing 75mph tailgating you pretty darn quickly, and they think nothing of riding your arse until you find a way to get out of their path… that or start honking their horns at you. So impatient it’s unbelievable. The most discourteous drivers I’ve ever had the misfortune to encounter were in the South-West, primarily in California. In hindsight, I’m a little surprised we made it out of that area unscathed.

Another extra special fucking fun piece of shit traffic rules that no one tells you about is the turning right at red lights. It seems you may be able to turn right when the lights are red… I think… well most of the time you can sort of. Occasionally you would see a sign that says no turning right on red signals, but for the most part it seemed okay. But I was never quite sure as we went from state to state, so… erring on the side of caution, I got in the habit of stopping and waiting no matter what. Sometimes I was obviously doing the right thing as the people behind me were quite happy to wait too, but then there were times I was obviously supposed to go, at which point some impatient bastard behind me would start honking his horn and inching closer to my bumper to make me go right on the red anyway. But I could never tell the fucking difference. By the end of it, I just adopted a kinda ‘approach, stop and see if someone honks’ method that seemed to mostly work for us… mostly. :S

Oh and even more driving fun – in Alaska, there are many major roads that are pretty much closed for the vast majority of the year due to severe weather, and only opened back up in the summer with the tourist season. It seems to be a yearly ritual… the snow melts, the roads get trashed, the Powers That Be decide which bits need to be rebuilt, renovated, worked on or whatever. Anyway, they get fixed, tourists come, then winter comes and then repeat renovation of destroyed roads again every spring. Or at least that’s the theory. Driving along some of these hideously shoddy, almost makeshift, roads in Alaska was down right dangerous. The speed limits were mostly 55mph or 65mph, and the roads were not level or remotely even and shoulder-less and poorly banked, but the worst of it was the overtaking lane markings were dodgy as all hell. I think they kinda sorta remarked the overtaking lines each spring roughly where they might have been the year before rather than surveying the current state of the road. The result of which was, so many times I went to pull out to over take a truck or RV, when the line markings indicated it was safe to do so, only to discover that the line markings were full of shit! And that visibility towards the oncoming traffic was either very poor to non-existent! You’d pull out, realise you couldn’t see around the bloody obvious looming corner, or that there was a huge dip ahead and couldn’t see didley, and would have to swiftly pull back in behind the slow moving vehicle to avoid potentially making a very, very bad decision. If I had used and trusted the line markings on some on some of the roads in Alaska, I strongly believe they would have eventually gotten us killed. It was no surprise that people up there told us most motor vehicle accidents from Anchorage to Denali occur due to speeding and when people are overtaking slower vehicles… next most common cause of motor vehicle accidents – moose strike. 😉

Oh and another thing I totally won’t miss is paying for your fuel BEFORE you can use the pump. Most of the servos we went to wouldn’t accept my international Visa card so I ended up having to go into the kiosk and either LEAVING my Visa with the questionable peoples behind the counter or telling them an arbitrary dollar amount to put in the car that would potentially be over or under what I needed, estimating the right amount being particularly tedious given the whole miles and gallons thing was doing my head it… so much harder than just ‘filling her up’. It was either that or they put a ‘hold’ on your account which they return the unused portion of, when they damn well feel like it, which could be literally days later. On the odd occasion the pump would take my card (PetroCanada in BC, Shell in Nevada and Arizona and 76 in California were okay), it all worked well and after weeks of this, I’m probably now far more likely to pay at the pump at home and skip going into the shop. You know, come to think about it, the little petrol station convenience stores are really shooting themselves in the foot by not forcing their customers to come in to pay for their petrol and impulse buy snacks and drinks….? Oh, in another major pain in the arse move of fucktardery, down in California, many petrol stations would get you to swipe your card and then ask for your zip code. No doubt people think this is some sort of verification process against their card akin to entering the CCV number to check that it matches – but several times I tried entering random zip codes to try and avoid going into the store. The zip code for my hotel worked fine once. My own postcode with a zero chucked on for good measure was also fine on occasion. The zip code of the guy at the next pumped worked fine for me too… so definitely not verifying against information held on file that relates to the card! Most of the time however, it just rejected my bogus zip code entries and I had to trudge into the shop anyway. Grrrr…

The first time I drove in the US, was a sort of baptism of fire – picking up a car at LAX after a long haul flight from London. Far out what a nightmare… no GPS back then. But this time was seriously, no fucking better at all.

UPDATE:
JeysusTittieFuckingKrist!!!! I’m home! Which is awesome because I’m looking and feeling as bad as the person in my passport photo, so it was well and truly time to come home. However, I jumped into my car this afternoon to pick up a parcel that I had sent myself and that was a complete disaster. Oh yeah, btw, USPS International Priority Post can go get fracked with a rake… I sent a 13lb flat rate box from Healy Alaska on July 5th and it was supposed to be here in 3-5 business days. Only arrived today: 30th July. Bastards… but I digress.

I drove to the post office after spending exactly 32 hours, 18 minutes and 34 seconds in transit (yeah chucked on the stopwatch on my phone for shits and giggles). I had trouble staying on the left side of the road. I switched the wipers on at least four times to indicate I was turning the corner. I jerked us all over the place as I seem to have forgotten how to drive a manual vehicle. I almost turned us out of the car park and into the oncoming traffic… Not to mention that every bastard on the road was pissing me off. I couldn’t figure out while everyone was going so slow! And then I realized that everyone was doing the speed limit.

So it seems I’ve spent the last two months in training for driving like a Californian and it might take a while to dial it down to drive all proper li again! 😀

PS – Roundabouts rock! No more 4Way Stop signs!

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