what was i thinking, did i even think about driving a car in america. Because when it comes to that, I’m a bit of a shithead. at home in the village, for example, i really like driving my manual car, i am used to my swift and have been driving very long distances with it for years. After all, I’ve had my driver’s license for a good ten years now. since i live in berlin – which is already an incredible six years – i drive less car of course. I don’t need it here, the traffic would only annoy me and the search for a parking space as well. That’s why I became a child of the public transport system, because the bus and train network is, of course, very well developed. things are quite different in america, of course, or rather in california. Before chiaras and my road trip i knew i couldn’t avoid driving a car. The ways are finally far and to be covered only by cart. The public network is almost non-existent and not very safe either. Everyone in L.A. Advises you not to take the metro, which only comes every half hour anyway, and if you’re unlucky, you’ll be robbed right away as an obvious tourist. From L.A. So the only way to get to san francisco and yosemite national park was by car.
Don’t get me wrong: such a road trip was on my bucket list for a long time, I find driving great. But still I had incredible respect for the whole thing. And also some panic. On my first trip to the USA in 2013 with toko, he did the driving and I was the bagel-smearing passenger. And damn good at my job. Now, in 2017, chiara and i have shared these two jobs. And looking back, I want to tell you all: it was a lot of fun. Driving in america is in my experience much more relaxed and pleasant, than in germany.
The thing with the automatic car
I have NEVER driven automatic before america. That funny stick with the funny symbols in the middle of the car scared me off. Mentally I always saw myself stepping on the clutch or accidentally braking. Simply out of habit. I thought I was building 27 accidents right away and in case of doubt I can’t get away from the spot. on the flight from germany to los angeles, i had a stomachache, because i knew that as soon as we arrived at the airport, our automatic rental car would be waiting there, and i’d have to somehow manage to chug it to my girlfriend jenni’s place.
The end of the story: it was super easy! I took my time and took a good look at our ford mustang first. I’ve looked at all the buttons and functions. Where does the light come on again? Which gear is the right one? It took some getting used to that my left leg has absolutely nothing to do. And that the annoying gear shifting is omitted. The important thing is: as soon as you step off the brake, the car starts rolling. Even if you are not yet stepping on the gas pedal. It was a short time of shock, but in the parking lot of the car rental I timidly made the first rounds and can only recommend it to you. an interesting experience was the hill start: that the car doesn’t roll backwards when i let go of the brake, was quite curious. And short panic I had of course anyway. But this is absolutely unfounded. My conclusion: automatic is much more pleasant and easier to use than a manual car. That’s what my friends in berlin used to tell me, but in the end I had to experience it for myself to understand the feeling.
Alcohol behind the wheel
In california the rule is: don’t drink and drive. in most states you are not allowed to drink alcohol in public – and in your car you are not allowed at all. Even the co-driver is not allowed to drink when someone else is driving. PLUS: alcohol belongs in the trunk. If you go to the supermarket or. Liquor store with it, please do not put it on the passenger seat. This alone is enough to get you pulled over and is often punished with a night in jail. And you don’t need that when you’re on vacation. by the way, depending on the state, the blood alcohol limits for drivers are between 0.0 and 0.8 per mille. drunk driving is considered a crime in america, can quickly end up in jail. Even refusing a breathalyzer test (even if you are absolutely sober) can be very expensive.
The traffic lights are not placed at the stop line like in our country, but mostly in the middle of the road / in the middle of the intersection. Nevertheless, please keep to the stop line& a special feature: often you are allowed to turn RIGHT, although you have a red light. If the lane is clear, you can turn off. It has often happened to me that when the blinker is set to the right and the light is red, the drivers behind you honk and get restless if you don’t turn. Exception: if you see the sign "no turn on red", you have to wait until your traffic light turns green, just like in germany.
Car pool lanes
on many roads and highways you will find car pool lanes. Mostly the leftmost lane, on which the words "car pool lane" are sprayed. These are the lanes that carpools are allowed to use. Say: cars with at least two persons. This is a way to equalize traffic a bit and reward those who join together as a community. Convenient for chiara and me – because most of the time there is really less traffic on these lanes. because most americans drive alone (especially when they go to work or after work).
With your german driver’s license you can drive a car in america normally. You do not need an international driver’s license as a tourist. It’s different if you want to live in america: if you live in america for more than 60 days, you need a US driver’s license from the respective state.
Whenever we told our uber-drivers in california that we were from germany, they raved, "oh, germany! I would love to go there, because you have these highways without speed limits, don’t you??? Does this really exist. " what is normal for us, is unthinkable for the amis. There are speed-limits everywhere, which you should keep to. Going a little faster is not a bad thing. but i so often wanted to just push the gas pedal of our ford mustang – but wasn’t allowed to. Especially on the free highways, where far and wide no other car is in sight, really a pity. But reason has triumphed.
How fast you can drive depends on the state you are in. For california, the speed limit is 25-30 mph in the city and 65-75 mph on the interstates (the equivalent of our freeways). As an example: the maximum speed of 75 mph is 120 km/h. So not exactly fast. &
In america there are often great roads. This means that you will have to pay a toll when using the road. So you have to pay for crossing there. With the USA rental cars everything is very easy: you just drive along the road, through customs and don’t need to stop. Because by devices on actually every rental car the customs price is then directly debited from your deposited credit card. If your rental car has such a device (transponder), you can also use the "fasttrak" lanes. In case of doubt ask the car rental if you can use the toll-roads with your car normally.
in los angeles you only stand in traffic jams. Always. And everywhere. At any time of day. L.A. It is one rush hour and we have never used our own car during our entire days there. Because parking spaces are rare, crazy expensive and also cost many, many nerves. I therefore recommend you: always use uber to get around in the city. Is really affordable, faster and less stressful. We also never used the car in san francisco unless we wanted to stage the car at sunrise and drove to photo spots.
If you want to park in the city, the following applies: never park in front of hydrants! Never! three meters to the right and to the left there is an absolute no-stopping rule. Mostly the curbs are marked with colors and the colors show you how and how long you are allowed to park there:
red: absolute no stopping, never stop.
yellow/black: loading zone, here you are allowed to stand for maximum 20 minutes and one person has to stay with the car.
White: you may park here for a maximum of five minutes during business hours. So z.B., if you want to buy something briefly in the kiosk etc.
Green: here you can park for ten minutes or the parking time is written on signs on the curb.
blue: only allowed for handicapped people
Is the curb not marked in color? no hydrant is blocked, no exit, driveway, bus stop or construction site is blocked? congratulations! You have found a free, normal parking space&
Overtake on the right
Unlike in germany, it is allowed to overtake from the right in america. This also applies to highways and was strange for me in the first moment. And at the same time means to be more vigilant. Because now cars are not only coming from the left, but also from the right.
As already said: in los angeles you will always be in a traffic jam. And other than that you should be prepared to be stuck in traffic. Which is why you should always plan enough buffer to get from A to B. it takes an hour to get from the airport to the hollywood walk of fame is nothing unusual. Otherwise: keep calm. The amis know their traffic jam situations and are fortunately very chilled out. What I personally found very pleasant – because honking, grumbling and mobbing is much less given than in our mini-jams in germany. In general I found the US drivers much more relaxed and friendly than at home.
Stop all way
in residential areas there is usually the "4-way" rule at intersections: all four streets of the intersection have a stop sign and it must always be stopped. Whoever gets to the intersection first gets to leave first. So different from our usual "right before left" procedure. Is unusual in the first moment, but more pleasant. You just look who is first at the intersection and in case of doubt you wait a short time. Someone will always drive off ;).
Refueling in the USA
I admit: I had the most panic before refueling in america. This is a little bit different than with us – but in retrospect really no witchcraft. Nice goodie: gas is much cheaper than in germany and is calculated in gallons and not in liters. Means: in the end you pay for your tank as much as in germany. But you have four times the fuel in the tank. Chiara and I are from L.A. To san francisco, on to yosemite and back to L.A. Dangers, sat not infrequently 7-8 hours per day in the car. And have had to fill up maybe four times in total.
important when refueling: you pay IN ADVANCE! This is how the amis want to avoid gasoline theft. Only when your credit card is charged, you can fill your car with gasoline. The americans pay with their credit card directly at the pump, without ever having seen the person at the checkout. This is usually only possible with a US zip code, which must be entered. Means: Chiara and I have not paid directly at the column, but as in germany also at the manned counter.
So I parked the car at the pump, went into the gas station, politely explained that I was from germany and my credit card as well. Each (!) gas station attendant has helped me then directly and super friendly. If you have never filled up before? Say it short. The people help you. Usually the gas station attendant charged my card (american express) with x amount. Mostly 30 or 40 dollars. I went back to the pump and was only able to fill up for a maximum of 30 or 40 dollars, after that there was no more gas. If that is too little for me, I can in case of doubt again pure and rebook. If I put too much money down and the tank fills up faster, I go back in and get the excess money put back on the card. But that was never the case with us – we always got there fine. Because the gas station attendant has always been so nice and asked how much gas we still have in the tank and then told us the sum, which probably comes out well. means: after refueling i just got back in the car and drove off. I had already paid before&
There are usually three different types of gasoline available at American gas stations: regular, plus and premium. About like us normal, super and super plus. Diesel is really rare to find in america. We have always filled our mustang with regular gas, which is sufficient for rental cars. By the way, this was confirmed by the first gas station attendant, whom I asked cluelessly for the right type of gasoline.
Be careful with school buses
Important rule: school buses must never be overhauled. so when you stop to drop off or pick up kids, don’t drive past them. And not only in the lane where the school bus is – but also in the oncoming lane. So all traffic comes to a standstill. Until a red light on the bus goes out. This is the sign that the bus is moving on and the oncoming traffic is allowed to drive away again. by the way, you can immediately recognize the school buses by their bright yellow look and there are a hell of a lot of them.