Nine Warnings About Driving in Los Angeles, Part 1

Large wind farms on the hills near the roadside with the Sierras visible in the distance.

Wind farms are a common sight on California hills.
Photo © Laura Martone.

Last week, my husband, Dan, and I spent two days driving from Los Angeles to New Orleans via I-10. We had been in the City of Angels for what amounted to a long weekend – basically, just enough time to oversee our seventh annual Beverly Hills Shorts Festival. Neither of us had been in L.A. for the past year – since the time of our sixth annual festival – so admittedly, we experienced a bit of culture shock while there, particularly in regards to the unique demands of driving in that sprawling Southern California city. In fact, due to the brief length of our stay, we never quite grew accustomed to the perils of driving in L.A. – and, instead, faced constant reminders of our gratitude for living elsewhere.

Dan and I lived in Los Angeles for roughly five years, so believe me when I say that driving there is no picnic – a fact that one especially appreciates after visiting or inhabiting other U.S. cities.I apologize if that sounds harsh – especially to residents of Los Angeles County – but I’m not exactly speaking as an outsider. Dan and I lived in Los Angeles for roughly five years, so believe me when I say that driving there is no picnic – a fact that one especially appreciates after visiting or inhabiting other U.S. cities. Here, from my humble perspective, are four (of nine) warnings for those planning to drive in Los Angeles for the first time:

Intense traffic: If you’ve never been to Los Angeles, then you probably can’t imagine just how snarled the traffic can be at times. Rush hour seems to last all day there. So, unless you’ve lived in places like New York or Chicago, you might not be prepared for the traffic in L.A., where a distance of 20 miles could take you three hours or more. Needless to say, it’s best to allow yourself plenty of time to reach your destination, whether that’s Pasadena, Santa Monica, or somewhere in between.

Aggressive driving: Beyond the intense traffic, you’ll also face a lot of aggressive drivers – not only those afflicted with road rage but also ordinary motorists who, out of sheer habit, routinely cut off other drivers, stubbornly refuse to let them into their lane, and mercilessly ride the bumpers in front of them, often causing accidents – minor or otherwise.

While we were living in L.A., my father and stepmother once visited us from New Orleans, and they were both shocked to witness such a “road rage” incident on the freeway. Mired in a typical L.A. traffic jam, the four of us watched as one oblivious motorist rear-ended another, then bolted onto the shoulder, trying to shirk his responsibility and ultimately inciting a dangerous car chase. To say my father, a lifelong New Orleans driver, was flabbergasted would be an understatement.

Distracted drivers: In spite of California’s requirement that motorists use hands-free cellphone devices while driving, it’s a sad fact that L.A. drivers tend to be some of the most distracted in the country. Perhaps that’s because there are so many of them – increasing the odds of distractedness – or perhaps it’s because many have to endure long commutes – encouraging them to save time by multitasking. Whatever the reason, it seems that Dan and I have seen a disconcertingly large number of L.A. drivers applying make-up, reading books, rehearsing lines, texting on their phones, or pursuing some other potentially distracting diversion. So, be aware of your surroundings at all times – and try to stay clear of unfocused drivers.

Crisscrossing freeway ramps: Although Los Angeles isn’t the only U.S. city with crisscrossing freeway ramps, it sure seems as though they’re more dangerous there than anywhere else. Near downtown, where the 5, 10, 101, and 110 freeways intersect, can be particularly harrowing, with aggressive drivers crisscrossing each other with nearly wild abandon. So, as always, it’s best to drive defensively in such cases, balancing a lack of hesitation with the need to keep an eye on everyone around you. Of course, you could always just opt for surface streets, not that they’re much of a picnic either.

I hope that these warnings have helped to shed some light on the challenge of driving in and around Los Angeles. If you’re still curious about this particular aspect of California travel, stay tuned for my next post – in which I share five more long-observed warnings – and stay safe, no matter where you find yourself behind the wheel.

Continue to Part Two →


Maps of Los Angeles

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3 Comments

  1. John says:

    I’m from San Diego and It’s my first time driving in LA. Thanks for the article. :)

  2. Hi, John. Glad you found this article helpful. Just in case you’re curious, Part 2 of this two-part article also covers issues like the prevalence of narrow streets, the scarcity of left-turn arrows, the craziness that often occurs on rainy days, the often blinding sunshine, and the baffling fact that motorcycles are allowed to drive between lanes. So, watch out for those obstacles, too!

  3. Susan says:

    Thanks Laura, we’re from New Zealand but live in Australia. I’m not looking forward to the LA traffic and road rage, but quite used to it here in Sydney. Do you know what it’s like driving in other major cities? Palm Desert/Phoenix/Las Vegas/San Fran?

    Cheers
    Suz