Before California earned its current notoriety as the state of high taxes, the epicenter of homelessness, human fecal dodging and criminal coddling, it had a reputation as the casual, laid back center of the country, if not the world. This stereotype was pretty true to form for most Californians with the exception of one activity: driving. The laid back surfer dude, the easy going suburban soccer mom and the casual Friday businessman would become near homicidal road warriors once the woody, minivan or BMW was backed out of the driveway.
There were certain unwritten rules of the road that the majority of California drivers followed. On any of the innumerable freeways in the urbanized coastal cities, a driver could never put the turn signal on if he desired to change lanes. When a turn signal was observed, freeway fighters in the lane that the original driver desired to turn into, would speed up so that the lane change was never possible.
On the other hand, a lane change without a turn signal and the requisite twenty car length cushion in front of the car in the next lane, was considered a high grade misdemeanor violation of California driver etiquette, and would elicit the immediate long, loud, horn honking, most often accompanied with the international, one finger salute.
When driving down a street in traffic, a Californian would never, ever stop to let a vehicle get into the flow of cars on the street from a commercial or private driveway. It is their tough luck that traffic was backed up and common courtesy wasn’t common in California since the 1950s.
The infamous “California Stop” was named after the golden state because it was perfected there. The rational of most Californians, was that it was a waste of gasoline to come to a complete stop when approaching an intersection with a stop sign, if no other cars were coming from any direction. Some would even argue that by increasing one’s gas mileage by not coming to a complete stop, they were helping the environment by reducing the need for fossil fuels. “Yeah, yeah, that’s the ticket, officer. I was protecting the environment by slowly rolling through that stop sign. I was trying to stop global warming.”
Now I have a confession to make. I drove in CA from 1966, when I first got my driver’s license until to 2004, when we moved to Prescott. I was guilty of all these offenses when I drove in California. I’m not proud of it, but it is a fact that I was a part of the hysteria that is California driving.
When we moved to Prescott, I found a different driving style. When you put on your turn indicator to change lanes, other drivers would actually let you in. The honking horn was rarely heard, and when it was, it was usually someone who knew you and they would wave all five fingers at you, instead of just one. People came to complete stops at stop signs. And most drivers would slow down when approaching a yellow light, rather than speed up to beat the red light.
All that seems to be changing. With the influx of Californians understandably leaving that failed state, and with our local governments encouraging more and more housing developments, our traffic is becoming more congested and a lot more drivers are exhibiting the California driving psychosis. Expatriates from the sunshine state should be advised strongly to leave two things behind in California: the politics that ruined a once beautiful, financially sound state and the driving style that made driving there a nightmare.