Peculiar Driving Habits in Different US States, Cities, or Regions

A non-scientific observational listing of the quirks considered normal by residents of particular states and regions that are not, frankly, considered normal by any normal person, and including cautionary notes for the wary traveler through said regions.

 Washington DC region:

1.) *While normally and officially yellow traffic lights are considered a caution to slow down, in the DC region they are considered a warning that if you don’t step on the gas hard, you’re going to miss this light and sit for up to 4 minutes waiting for the next green light.

Cautionary note: When your traffic light turns green, pause to look both ways before proceeding into the intersection or you’re liable to get wiped out by that last car trying to sneak through on the yellow (by now red) light.

* This seems to apply to most cities in the northeast

2.) Except in DC itself, where it is illegal, cell phone use (talking or texting) while driving a vehicle is common. A rigorous scientific study conducted by my boyfriend and me (he is a real scientist, with a PhD, if that matters) concluded that 50-75% of all drivers on the road at any given time are talking (hand held) or texting on their cell phone. Of the remaining 50-25%, half of those are fixing their hair or makeup, reading the paper, or trying to deal with a recalcitrant child in the back seat. The remaining drivers are foreigners, the majority being Hispanic (aggressive and apparently lacking knowledge of a use of signals) or Asian (slow and tentative to the point of extreme aggravation to all drivers in their immediate vicinity). 

Cautionary note: Granted, more than half of all time spent in a vehicle in the Washington DC Metro Area is spent sitting in traffic at stoplights. Regardless, that still leaves half of any journey open to being killed by cell phone-wielding drivers, multi-taskers, and foreigners. When driving in the DC Metro Area, do not assume that the drivers around you are conscious. Drive defensively at all times.


Changing lanes in heavy traffic? Trying to make a left hand turn out of a side road onto a busy street? Attempting to get out of the gas station near a crowded intersection? No problem. Whether due to innate Southern graciousness or the presence of a lot of old people who were raised in a different world, Florida drivers are polite to those around them.

Cautionary note: If you’re stuck in a long line of traffic, expect those ahead of you to let in every car that comes out of a side road in front of you, exacerbating your already snail-like progress.

Mississippi & Louisiana

A following distance of ten feet is considered adequate for all speeds up to and including travel on highways and freeways. In one ten minute drive across town in Hattiesburg, I witnessed five rear-end collisions. I’m not sure cars down there are even equipped with turn signals.

Cautionary note: If you have to slow down for a turn, signal your turn and slow down well ahead of time to allow the idiot on your bumper to react. When at a stoplight, watch what’s coming in behind you because I’ve seen an inattentive tailgater plow right into the car in front of them when a light turned red. Although it’s unlikely that any of the drivers around you will signal their intentions, go ahead and signal yours – they’ll probably be able to figure out what they mean.


On the generally crowded highways of Ohio, drivers are erratic and aggressive. Signals are sometimes used, sometimes not. Drivers change lanes and dart toward exit ramps as if on a sudden and unexpected whim. Cutting in front of another car with less than three feet of clearance between the front and rear bumpers is apparently acceptable.

Cautionary note: Drive defensively at all times – these people are erratic and dangerous.


Understand that speed limits are a vague suggestion.

Cautionary note: Drive with the speed of traffic, even though it’s up to 30 mph over the speed limit. Try to avoid driving to or through Chicago if you own a slow, clunker car or have slow, clunker instinctive reaction times.

Upper Midwest *

Generally polite, practical and able, Midwesterners are perhaps at their most inept when merging onto a freeway. Not all have grasped the concept of speeding up to seamlessly merge with the flow of the freeway traffic.

Cautionary note: As you head down the entrance ramp, don’t assume that the car in front of you won’t come to a dead stop at the point where the entrance ramp meets the freeway. Plan accordingly.

*more generally true outside metro areas; includes Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, rural Illinois, and Indiana


Traffic lights are NOT strung up across the roads. Instead, they are located on posts on the street corners. Blizzards would destroy lights hung on cables across intersections.

Cautionary note: Watch for traffic lights to be located atop on posts on street corners.

South Dakota

If it’s a two-lane street and cars are only traveling in the left lane of it, a right hand turn onto it from a side street is de rigueur.

Cautionary note: If you’re one of the cars traveling in the left lane and suddenly see a car emerging from a side street, stay alert but try not to panic. If the right lane is clear, that’s what they’re aiming for – and they’ve had a lot of practice so they’re pretty good at it keeping their nose out of your lane.


Many of the older freeway entrance and exit ramps are very, very short.

Cautionary note: Natives really hit the gas on the ramps in order to work up a decent amount of speed to merge with traffic. Don’t expect those on the freeway to shift their trajectory too much to accommodate you – adjust your own speed if possible. If you have to crawl out into fast traffic to get off the ramp and avoid the inevitable next exit that’s only about 100ft away, go for it. Natives seem to have quick reactions and hey, they’ve had to do the same thing themselves on the same damn ramp. 


Every California driver that I know describes him/herself as a really good driver, and brags (yes, I chose that word specifically) that California drivers are the best drivers in the world. There’s your first clue to the reality: California drivers are arrogant. They are generally assertive and impatient with any form of dilly-dallying, legitimate or not. They also consider a ten foot following distance normal at any speed. On the plus side, they are more attentive than Mississippians and use cell phones less than East Coasters, so you’re unlikely to get rear-ended unless you fail to signal your intentions.

Cautionary note:  Know where you’re going before you start your journey, or as you peer at the street signs or slow to figure out which exit you need, you’ll have some self-important Californian right up your butt – as if s/he can push you faster by forcing that small airspace between your bumpers to act as a plow. Use your signals, and use them well ahead of time to avoid a heart-stopping near-miss rear end collision. Pay attention: it’s a fast-paced world but you’ll usually get warning time to react if you watch for other drivers’ signals.

Arizona & New Mexico

See California above, though without the arrogant (and erroneous) assumption that they’re the best drivers in the world.


1. ) Some genius (honestly) has designed most left turn traffic arrow lights to come AFTER the through-traffic green lights. As through traffic thins, some drivers waiting for a left turn can execute, and the rest will clear on the green arrow.

Cautionary note: While waiting to make a left turn, it’s acceptable to creep out into the intersection because you’re not going to get stuck out there: the green turn arrow is coming up. Check the intersection signs – if the green turn light does NOT follow the green through traffic light, the signs will tell you that.

2.) In Tucson and Phoenix, be aware that U-turns are happening all over the place.

Cautionary note: Before you make that right turn on red, check that no one is U-turning into your lanes.



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