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Help a hick drive out of the sticks.
August 27, 2007 3:01 PM   Subscribe

What are your best tips and techniques for driving in a big city?

I'm moving to Houston from a very rural area. Everything I know about driving is geared toward rural conditions. While I have been in lots of cities, I've only driven through them rarely and mostly at odd hours. I've heard lots about the driving conditions in Houston and I'm a tad anxious.

While there are lots of sites on the internet about driving in a city, most of them deal with choosing an automatic, staying in one lane, know your navigation, etc., things that seem like common sense. I also found this AskMe thread.

However, what I'm looking for are tips on how to merge, should I go the speed limit or follow the flow of traffic, etc, the kind of things that tend to be instinctive to people who drive in heavy or *any* traffic all the time. Tips on Houston driving would be a bonus.

FWIW, I am a very defensive driver (probably too defensive), and pretty good at dealing with all types of weather. I also understand that I'm not the greatest driver ever.
posted by barchan to Travel & Transportation (52 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
Also, if my google-fu is weak for both the nets and this site, I apologize.
posted by barchan at 3:02 PM on August 27, 2007


When attempting to change lanes: Look for the opening, then signal AS you change lanes. Rather than signaling before you change lanes. Most of the time people will not let you in if you signal in advance of making your move.
posted by metawabbit at 3:11 PM on August 27, 2007


Driving in L.A. for the past 7 years, I've learned to always expect someone to run a red light. I see it happen almost daily -- not just someone pushing through the yellow light at the last second, but someone who blasts into the intersection at least a few seconds after the yellow's turned red. I find that, instinctively, I rarely go straight through when it turns green without first giving it a beat, or at least being alert in my peripheral vision for movement that shouldn't be there.

As for merging: again, this may just be an L.A. thing, but for god's sake, MERGE FAST. There are few things scarier than zooming down the highway and seeing someone merging on in front of me well below the speed of traffic, because I know that even if I'm paying enough attention to slow down, I can't trust that they guy behind me in the SUV riding my bumper whilst on the cell phone will be paying attention.

And please use your blinkers when you turn or change lanes, but don't be surprised that half the people around you won't. You'll start to learn that you can often tell when someone's getting ready to switch lanes right in front of you, even if they don't have their signals on.

Finally, always wave when someone lets you into traffic. It's good driving karma.
posted by scody at 3:16 PM on August 27, 2007


Avoid left turns as much as you can. While in theory they may be an option, in reality they may not be.

I can't offer much more than that - I'm also from a very rural area, currently living in LA. LA may well be the land of the automobile, but I have ignored this fact and use public transportation whenever possible. People look at me askance when I mention this, but I've found that the reduction in stress (and savings on gas money!) are completely worth the extra time this sometimes entails.

If you can, try using public transportation in Houston and see if it will work for you (at least some of the time). Either way, good luck...I empathize with your anxiety about city traffic.
posted by splendid animal at 3:16 PM on August 27, 2007


A lot of good driving, in the city or otherwise, is common sense.

1. Go with the flow of traffic. Don't be the jerk going 50 while everyone else is going 80.
2. If you do go 50, stay to the right. The left lane is for passing.
3. Stay off the phone.
4. Keep your gas tank full so you don't stall out during rush hour.
5. Pay attention to your surroundings.
6. Be nice to people. Let them in when they want to merge.
7. Don't put your hazards on if you are moving.
8. If you get in an accident and your car is in any way operable, or if it's not and you have someone who can help you, move it out of the way of traffic. You don't need to "preserve the scene" because the cops will know exactly what happened when they come.
9. Don't let your insurance lapse.
10. Carpool, telework or take transit as much as you can. It keeps the air pollution down, saves money on gas, wear and tear and insurance and also makes you feel better.

These city driving tips brought to you by an experienced Atlanta commuter.
posted by FergieBelle at 3:16 PM on August 27, 2007


I cut my teeth on Houston freeways. Drivers can get aggressive here. In recent years, people have lost the custom of waving when they accidentally cut you off or make a mistake. Many people don't signal for a turn until they've already started braking for it. The freeways are in a constant state of repair, and I-10 at Beltway 8 west is a huge mess most days now. Stay in the middle lane on the freeways and keep it around 65-70 and you should be fine. People here seem to think the same rules apply to the left lane on the local freeways as they do on the interstate --passing only. So they'll get uppity if you don't get over if you're going slow in the left lane. Definitely check traffic reports on places like www.click2houston.com if you're going to use the freeways to go across town.

The surface streets are generally more pleasant. Though they can get pretty clogged during rush hour. People now pull out into traffic even if there is only one clear lane, so beware of a lot of that going on---pulling into the right lane of a four lane surface road when you're whizzing towards them in the left lane.

But really, like anything, just take a few breaths before you get started and give yourself time to learn roads and driver manners and you'll be adjusted in a few months if not sooner.
posted by Burhanistan at 3:18 PM on August 27, 2007


I've driven in heavy traffic in at least half a dozen big cities, and the most important thing to do is to anticipate every boneheaded move someone else is likely to make. If you have to go downtown and just sit and watch traffic for a few hours, do it. But you should be able to look 3, 5, 15 cars ahead and know who's about to change lanes without signaling, who's about to slam on his brakes, and who's about to start drifting out of his lane, causing everyone in the next two lanes to swerve suddenly. Preparing for other drivers driving badly is the best thing you can do to preserve not only your expensive sheetmetal, but also your sanity; when someone does something stupid and dangerous, it's less nerve-wracking and rage-inducing if you knew it was going to happen.

And be sufficiently aggressive. Like scody says, above, one of the most stupid and dangerous things people do is merge timidly. Do that, and you are very likely to cause an accident.
posted by uncleozzy at 3:21 PM on August 27, 2007


If you can, try using public transportation in Houston and see if it will work for you

Check www.ridemetro.org for bus routes. The local bus service in Houston is not too bad inside the loop 610, kind of sucky between the loop and the Beltway, and unthinkable outside the Beltway unless you're using the Park and Ride to commute downtown.

Also, look out for people who quickly cut over to make left turns instead of going a few blocks down to make a U-turn. If you want a good lesson on Houston traffic, drive the length of Westheimer from it's start in mid-town to its terminus at Highway 6.
posted by Burhanistan at 3:21 PM on August 27, 2007


Driving in Houston Tip #1:

Watch out for freight trains.
posted by dersins at 3:25 PM on August 27, 2007


Oh, as for driving the speed limit vs. going with speed of traffic, I'm very much a speed-of-traffic person, but the decision is up to you. However, each carries a caveat:

If you go with the speed of traffic and it's over the speed limit, be aware that this is not a defense if you get picked up for a speeding ticket. So you're rolling the dice a little bit for the sake of going with the flow.

If you go the speed limit and it's under the speed of traffic, get in the far right lane. As FergieBelle says, don't be the jerk that holds up the fast lane and forces people to pass you on the right (which is unsafe and, in some places, illegal).
posted by scody at 3:26 PM on August 27, 2007


i recently began driving again after 6 years as a non-driver (living in new york). i did this in massachusetts, which has the most aggressive drivers i've ever seen.

all the above advice is good. another thing i would suggest is getting to know your frequent routes in off hours, so you can anticipate things like lane changes when the pressure's on. one of the hardest things i had to get used to was simply seeing and interpreting my location quickly enough--on foot, i was never going more than 3 miles an hour, so i had much more lead time to get my bearings. if you can do this ahead of time, you'll be in good shape.

also, do try to relax. while you don't want to be going super-slow--unsafe as well as annoying--don't be afraid to drive the speed you're comfortable going at, and ignore the honking if you have to wait to make a left turn in traffic. you'll pick up skills the more you practice. people really don't want to hit you, so unless they're just being careless, it's more of a mind game. assert your right to be the guy still just finding his way around.
posted by thinkingwoman at 3:27 PM on August 27, 2007


One more thing: Houston streets can flood pretty quickly after a heavy rain, and with potholes it can be difficult to judge how deep a puddle might be. When in doubt, don't drive through standing water here.
posted by Burhanistan at 3:28 PM on August 27, 2007


f you go the speed limit and it's under the speed of traffic, get in the far right lane.

I would avoid the right lane on most Houston freeways now unless you're trying to exit. On I-10 and many other places there is no acceleration lane due to construction so you have a lot of mad merging going on. Stay in the center even if you're going only the speed limit.
posted by Burhanistan at 3:30 PM on August 27, 2007


signal AS you change lanes....most of the time people will not let you in if you signal in advance of making your move.
I hate people that do that and I've been driving in cities for 20 years. Plenty of people will respond to your signal and let you change lanes. And plenty of people will rear-end you if you don't.

Don't talk on your cell phone when you're driving; keep all distractions to a minimum so that you can concentrate on the driving. Since this will be a new place for you and conditions will already be stressful, be sure you check on a map before you get on the road so that you can be somewhat confident of where you're going.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 3:32 PM on August 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


And be sufficiently aggressive.

A slight distinction here is that I would suggest driving assertively. If you drive aggressively you're no different from every other asshole on the road. And moderate your assertiveness based on the norms of the area you are driving. Driving too conservatively actually makes your style difficult for other drivers in the city to identify and thus harder to predict actions.
posted by quadog at 3:33 PM on August 27, 2007


(I live in LA.)

I agree that going with the flow of traffic is a good plan, but on the other hand, I'm not interested in speeding just to please some jerk I don't know. So if you're not comfortable going 85 in a 65 zone, I vote you don't do it. A freeway isn't middle school. You're not required to succumb to the peer pressure. Stay in the slow lane, though.

Where I live, a lot of left turns aren't protected (don't have the turn arrow) and congestion is bad, so usually you'll end up edging into the intersection and turning left on the yellow light. That can be harrowing. There's a kind of social rule that you allow two cars to make the left, so if you're car one or car two, YOU ARE ALLOWED. Take deep breaths.

Honestly, I think that if you're an okay driver who's interested in being safe and polite, you'll do just fine. There's no need to join the ranks of the enraged assholes. We all get where we're going eventually.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 3:33 PM on August 27, 2007


signal AS you change lanes....most of the time people will not let you in if you signal in advance of making your move.

I hate people that do that and I've been driving in cities for 20 years. Plenty of people will respond to your signal and let you change lanes. And plenty of people will rear-end you if you don't.


Sadly, this is not the case in many instances on busy streets and freeways in Houston. It is almost a given that if you put on your signal someone will speed up to close the gap. If you've ever had to make your way across one of the nasty 6 lane surface streets here you'd know that a bit of polite aggression is in order to get your goal accomplished.

Ok, I'll give it a rest here for now...
posted by Burhanistan at 3:35 PM on August 27, 2007


When attempting to change lanes: Look for the opening, then signal AS you change lanes. Rather than signaling before you change lanes. Most of the time people will not let you in if you signal in advance of making your move.

I disagree. As an Atlanta native, all and my friends go ballistic when someone changes lanes without prior signaling. Signaling as you change lanes defeats the whole purpose.

On the freeways, the left lane is for the speedster in you. Don't drive just at the speed limit unless you want to get run off the road. As everyone's saying, go slow in the right lane. Nothing wrong with driving the speed limit, just beware.

MERGE FAST
I cannot reemphasize this enough!!!
When you change lanes or merge traffic, do not excessively slow down. Stopping to merge is a death sentence- and I don't mean that metaphorically.
If you're coming to a "Keep moving" sign, keep moving. It's OK to slow down, but try to avoid treating it like a stop sign. I've seen my fair share of accidents from drivers assuming someone will keep moving only to have them stop and rear end them. With aggressive drivers, fault doesn't matter- avoiding accidents and serious injuries is.

Speaking of death sentences, honking and flicking off people can literally be one of the highways. There are some crazy mofo's out there. If you get cut off, avoid hitting them and live another day.

If you see a massive amounts of people slowing down for no visible reason, it most likely means there's a cop lurking up ahead.

If you weren't already aware, you can turn left at a stop light from a one-way street onto another one-way street. I'm not sure if Houston has oneway streets, but they usually occurs in inner urban cities.
posted by jmd82 at 3:36 PM on August 27, 2007


nthing Fergiebelle.

If you possibly can- arrange it so that you do not have to drive in rush hour traffic.

Definitely go with the flow of traffic. Assume that at least 10% of the drivers (and I'm being conservative) are either on drugs, or simply insane.

Be decisive in situations involving merging, turning.

Be aware of pedestrians, skateboarders, cyclists. People often don't look, or think when they walk/pull out into traffic.

Left turns at busy intersections are often dicey. If you can't avoid them, look, and look again. Some jackass may be trying to run the yellow light.

Parking can be quite dicey. Be sure to read the posted signs regarding where, and for how long you can park, and practice that parallel parking. Also be extra careful in parking lots (especially when backing up)- pedestrians coming out of nowhere, pulling out without thinking, etc.

Good luck with your move, barchan!
posted by solongxenon at 3:37 PM on August 27, 2007


Cosign the advice that basically says, always be ready for other drivers about to do something incredibly stupid. Be ready for them to hit the gas and zoom through an intersection just as yellow turns to red, or to make sudden turns without signaling, or for taxicabs to break just about every possible traffic law to pick up a fare. it's served me pretty well (I drive in Washington DC)
posted by citron at 3:38 PM on August 27, 2007


In Houston, parking is really only a problem in downtown and to a lesser extent mid-town.
posted by Burhanistan at 3:43 PM on August 27, 2007


A slight distinction here is that I would suggest driving assertively

Well yeah, that's what I meant, which leads to the next point, on which you are spot-on:

Driving too conservatively actually makes your style difficult for other drivers in the city to identify and thus harder to predict actions.

Yes. Timid drivers are dangerous for everyone else, as dangerous as overly-aggressive drivers. At least you can be sure a stupid teenager is going to slip into every gap, run every light, and change lanes 100 times a minute. You can never tell what the hell Lucy Soccermom or Larry Traincommuter is going to do when faced with rush hour traffic.
posted by uncleozzy at 3:47 PM on August 27, 2007


I've spent a little time driving in Houston and find it very stressful. Thee-lane roads restriped as four narrow lanes. Exits on Loop 610 spaced so closely the miles-to signs are given in tenths of a mile. And the fact that everybody drives everywhere.

The advice that you should expect unpredictable behavior is good, but kind of unhelpful. You're going to need to build up experience with specific roads so that you'll learn things like "there's always some moron trying to make the Westheimer exit from the left lane here."
posted by adamrice at 3:48 PM on August 27, 2007


Don't panic.
posted by atomly at 4:18 PM on August 27, 2007


Jmd82, what is a "keep moving" sign?
posted by barchan at 4:39 PM on August 27, 2007


These are all excellent tips! Especially yours, Burhanistan. I think the gist is anticipate, be calm, anticipate, don't be an asshole, and anticipate the asshole. And don't be timid - be assertive! But don't be an asshole.

Actually, these are good tips for life: anticipate, participate, and anti-assholiate.

Thanks, mefites! You're all awesome.

posted by barchan at 4:47 PM on August 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


Houston driver's tend to not necessarily BAD, but very aggressive. Someone above said "be nice to people, let them in". This doesn't work in Houston. After driving in Austin for years, and living in Houston, there is a distinct AGGRESSIVENESS to the drivers there. If you let someone in, everyone behind them will tailgate them and force themselves in as well. This is almost a rule there.

So, it may be a bit counterintuitive, and many will disagree, but when in Rome.... In Houston, you have to be a bit more assertive and aggressive, or you get runned the F over.
posted by Espoo2 at 4:49 PM on August 27, 2007


Be aware that there is a lot of freeway construction in Houston. Look at Houston TranStar before you start driving across town so that you can avoid some of the worst and most predictable problem areas. Many areas (e.g. Katy Freeway!) have construction closures that last all weekend long. Driving in the Galleria area is maddening; it can take you three times as long to drive half the distance there. Some freeways will surprise you with left-hand exits; learn where these are so that if you are going to use them, you don't have to merge across three or four lanes unexpectedly.

Plan your route before you leave and try not to stress too much. Before long, you'll be driving like you lived here for years
posted by Robert Angelo at 4:49 PM on August 27, 2007


I don't have much experience driving in Houston but have a ton of experience driving in San Antonio. This is going to be really long so sorry in advance for the length. Here are my suggestions.

1. If you realize at the last second that you need to turn, just pass it up. If you slow quickly to make the turn, someone WILL rear end you. Yeah it will be their fault but your car will still be messed up and that's a hassle to have to deal with repair times etc. This goes for changing lanes at the last second--don't do it. You'll just end up side swiping someone in the new lane that you didn't notice was there.

2. When you are switching from lane to another look to see if the lane is clear. If it's clear, then that just means that you don't see the person in the lane next to you because it's never clear. Always look in your rear view mirror, your side mirror, then give a quick glance over your shoulder to see who is in your blind spot.

3. If you're pulling onto a major freeway do NOT stop before entering. I see so many newbie drivers do this and all it does is make it impossible for them to pick up enough speed upon entering that people behind them end up slamming on their brakes to avoid hitting them. You need to enter the freeway at a pretty good clip so you can merge into traffic without causing anyone to have to hit their brakes.

4. If you're going to go the speed limit then get in the slow (right) lane.

5. Yield signs are merely a suggestions for other drivers. Just because they are supposed to yield to you doesn't mean they will.

6. Red lights are merely a suggestion. Everytime you go through an intersection as the first car, look left and right before going through because someone will probably be driving like a bat of hell to get through because they know they're running a red light.

7. Someone will eventually honk at you, yell at you, and/or flip you off while you're learning your way around. Ignore it. They aren't worth the effort of letting them get to you.

8. If you do get in a noninjury accident and both cars are operable, move them out of the main lane of traffic if possible while you're waiting for the police to come to make a report.

City drivers in Texas are aggressive drivers with Houston being home to some of the most aggressive. Stay with the speed of traffic (within reason) and know where you are going (even what lane you need to be in etc). Stay in the slow lane while you're learning your way around so the most aggressive drivers can just easily go around you. A lot of people are intimidated with driving in Houston and San Antonio. But, it's really not that big of a deal when you know exactly where you need to go and exactly what lane to be in. Just figure out your route before you drive and you'll do just fine.
posted by GlowWyrm at 4:54 PM on August 27, 2007


Do not go on the road at rush hour ever unless you have to go somewhere, or you really really want to go somewhere. Corollary: make sure your home is a place you can enjoy hanging out. People who hate staying home and feel they need to go out every night have a very hard time adapting to Houston. When you do drive at rush hour, give yourself huge margins of error time-wise. There are few things worse than sitting stuck in traffic and it's making you late.

(I moved to Houston two years ago and started driving again simultaneously after ten years not driving. It is stressful but not impossible.)
posted by bukvich at 4:54 PM on August 27, 2007


Lotsa good advice, but also make sure to develop a Houston driving style and keep it distinct from your existing rural driving style. Normal driving in the city may be interpreted as maniacal driving in your hometown.

As a fellow rural-to-city guy, I would also recommend not shying away from rush hour, in part because it's difficult to schedule around but mainly because it tends to be slower and more predictable than off-peak traffic. I live in the Boston area, and there usually isn't enough room or speed during rush hour for the truly, truly nutsy driving maneuvers I've seen (e.g., pulling into the right turn lane and then cutting across three lanes of moving traffic to make a left turn, against a red arrow, in a bus) to take place.
posted by backupjesus at 5:14 PM on August 27, 2007


Get a map or a GPS and know where you're going. You're going to be a hazard to yourself and others if you're constantly slowing and looking around trying to figure out your surroundings. Also, learn how to parallel park - and not just have an idea of parallel parking, but actually be able to reverse into a parallel spot as quickly as possible so you don't create a bottleneck on the road.

If you're looking to buy a car, don't get something brand new. It will get dented and scratched almost immediately.
posted by backseatpilot at 5:23 PM on August 27, 2007


When changing lanes or general merging you should use the turn signal to signal your intentions. In heavier traffic when it doesn't seem as if there is room to merge, keep the signal on and slowly move over to the nearest gap. If it doesn't look like someone will let you in you can move back to wait for the next gap or keep going. Most sane drivers will avoid an accident and let you in. Be confident.

One good trick to remember in tight situations is that you know where your driver's side of your car is located and you should have a pretty good idea where the front of the car is. If traffic on a freeway is constant you can merge into the space behind a car within a foot or two if their bumper. Then coast a little to give yourself the proper amount of car length. This helps to merge into a lane where the traffic is almost bumper to bumper.

Also, on a highway during construction the concrete jersey barrier or orange barrels are sometimes on the edge of the driving lane. Don't be afraid of them, you can get relatively close to it on the drivers side because you can more easily gauge your distance from it. Many times in construction zones I see drivers stay several feet away from it and subsequently cross into the next lane. Construction is something that you'll always run into and it is scary and sometimes not well marked. Slow down and pay attention. Read the signs.
posted by JJ86 at 6:06 PM on August 27, 2007


Another thing, barchan. Houston is notorious for red light runners. You might even get honked at if you stop for a yellow light. This is becoming a bit less of a problem now that the threat of citywide traffic light cameras is being delivered upon, but look out for it. Don't pull away from the intersection the second the light turns green but wait and look. Also, emergency vehicles are nuttier than regular drivers and will not hesitate to drive on the wrong side of the road and blow through red lights. They also will expect you to run through a red light at a crowded intersection if they are behind you and can't get around.
posted by Burhanistan at 6:13 PM on August 27, 2007


1. Pay attention to traffic conditions before you leave home or work either by listening to the radio or on the web.
2. Learn what streets and off ramps flood and learn alternative routes.
3. Don't rubberneck as you pass the accident.
4. Ask co-workers, friends, neighbors, etc. if they have a special way to get to work, etc.
posted by govtdrone at 7:01 PM on August 27, 2007


Daily New York City driver here. Anticipate. Keep up with the flow of traffic. If you're not passing stay to the right. Be assertive but patient. Be quick, but don't hurry. Do not take it personally. Your car is only an object. Do not make it about you and another driver. You never know who you are giving the finger too, so do not chance it. Other than that, relax.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:24 PM on August 27, 2007


Almost 20 year Houston driving vet here.

If you need to merge or change lanes in heavy traffic watch for large vehicles like tankers or eighteen-wheelers. They'll accecerate slower and are more likely to leave a you-sized gap in front of them for you to pull into as the cars in front of them pull away. Just make sure you can see both headlights in your side mirror.

If you have three lanes, stay in the center one. Previous comments about that are spot on. You avoid the mergers on the right and the batshit crazies on the left.

Use your blinkers when trying to switch lanes in heavy traffic. Sure, a bunch of assholes won't let you in, but eventually someone will. Be sure to wave. Just don't be the person who drives all the way up to the front when a lane ends and try to merge at the front of the line. I will never, ever let you merge in that circumstance if I can help it. You're part of the problem at that point and can starve to death on the side of the road for all I care (but you'll be new here, so don't sweat it too hard if you screw up and find yourself in that situation. Just remember where it happened and merge into the lane that isn't closed further back the next time.) (New construction makes me a bit more generous. I didn't know it was going to be here today either. But after a month? Part of the problem.)

Sometimes the best way the move one lane over is to move one lane the other direction, pass whoever is in your way, and then move two lanes back the way you want to go.
posted by Cyrano at 7:46 PM on August 27, 2007


And, even as long as I've lived here, I still spazz out a little when I have to drive downtown. If someone else can do the driving the first time or two so you can get a feel for how it works down there, you'll be better off. But that's really more of a navigational thing: where you want to go + where you're going to park + which freeway are you going to be leaving on?
posted by Cyrano at 7:51 PM on August 27, 2007


I'm just going to agree and re-emphasize many of the things that have already been said. This comes from my experience driving in New York City.

Always be aware of your surroundings on all sides. Always anticipate what other drivers are going to do. The person who suggested you should be able to sense when others are about to stop short or change lanes without signaling has a great point - you'll find that after a while, this becomes a sixth sense. Cars have body language just like people do.

Watch out for people running red lights.

Keep an eye on the people who approach stop signs entirely too fast when you have the right of way. Most of the time they're trying to intimidate you into yielding so they can run the stop sign, but they will stop if you make them - don't let them push you around, but don't get yourself into an accident either.

Like it's been said, don't be overly courteous. Just follow the rules of the road. People who sacrifice their right of way in order to be the nice guy cause traffic congestion.

I don't know what Houston cabbies are like, but if they are in any way similar to NY cabbies be ready for war. They are looking to get where they're going as fast as possible, and they do it by bullying you out of their way. This often means getting within inches or even centimeters of you, often at quite moderate speeds.

Speaking of cabs, beware of driving behind them in the left lane in downtown areas. They'll be doing 45 mph one minute, and stop short to pick up a passenger 100 yards later. I stick to the middle lanes unless I'm planning on making a left turn.
posted by tomorama at 8:22 PM on August 27, 2007


Cabbies aren't much worse than regular drivers. The tow truck drivers, however, are really aggressive and will tailgate you and abuse the fact that they have flashing lights on their roof. Best to let them by.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:27 PM on August 27, 2007


Cars have body language just like people do.

This is such a great way to put it. I'm a nervous driver, but coming from Los Angeles/San Diego, I had to learn how to do it to get around (read: I had no way to get food because it was all too far to walk). When I first started, I told my dad I was really nervous about how people would expect me to always know where I was going or what I was doing, and he said, "No, drivers can tell when someone doesn't know what they're doing. They'll give you room."

Only a month or so later I found myself doing the same...knowing when someone was lost, or had an attitude problem, or was worried about the health of the car. You can totally tell when someone is about to change lanes. I think that people who feel you won't let them in often subconsciously disguise that car body language so they can cut you off in a sneak attack, although usually you can still tell.

I agree that you should ignore the people who say to change lanes while signalling. Somebody will let you in, because they all see that you've been politely signalling and not cut in. I just moved to Tucson temporarily, and I've been sort of put off by the fact that someone who I'm signalling doesn't either slow down or speed up. I'm fine if you don't let me in, but give me a sign that you see me and you know what I want to do, and just confirm or deny that it's okay. I don't know if this is a regional thing or what, but other Californians here agree that these Arizona drivers just do that wrong. Watch for what the convention is in Houston, I guess...
posted by crinklebat at 9:29 PM on August 27, 2007


Cabs are pretty much a non-issue in Houston. I know they're more common downtown, but I can't remember the last time I saw one outside the 610 loop.
posted by Cyrano at 9:53 PM on August 27, 2007


Please, please, please don’t just “stay in the center lane.” If the lane to your right is clear, move over. Sure, give the people entering the highway room to merge, but if you stick to the center lane while going slower than most traffic, you are an ass. Move to the left when passing slower vehicles, then back to the right again once you are clear.

Be courteous to other drivers, even when they aren’t to you. If you see someone signaling a lane change, give them room: they probably want to change lanes!

Never come to a stop on the highway if you aren’t able to merge or change lanes. If you miss your exit, take the next one.
posted by breaks the guidelines? at 5:27 AM on August 28, 2007


Thanks again, everyone. I feel more confident and learned a lot of great tips.
posted by barchan at 6:04 AM on August 28, 2007


My assertive driving tip is to use all the lanes that are available; we have a saying in my family about "magic lanes," perfectly good stretches of road that most drivers avoid for some reason.

When entering a highway, use the entire acceleration lane to get up to speed--that's what it's there for. Don't "panic merge." Conversely, don't slow down before you take an exit--exit at full speed, then hit the brakes one you enter the deceleration lane.

Likewise, if you see a sign that says "lane ends one mile," that means you have a whole mile to get over. If the traffic engineers or road construction crew wanted you to merge immediately, as most drivers inevitably do, they would have ended the lane right there, not a mile away.

Also, nearly always, if there are two turn lanes, one will be under-used. Use it.
posted by MrMoonPie at 6:47 AM on August 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


barchan: I've been a H-town resident for awhile now so if you have any other questions about getting around or getting situated, feel free to drop me a line (email address in profile). Houston can be very intimidating at first but you'll probably find that most people here are fairly laid back once they get out of their cars!
posted by Burhanistan at 7:30 AM on August 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


Likewise, if you see a sign that says "lane ends one mile," that means you have a whole mile to get over. If the traffic engineers or road construction crew wanted you to merge immediately, as most drivers inevitably do, they would have ended the lane right there, not a mile away.

This is important in Houston. HPD and State Troopers will write tickets for people obstructing traffic when trying to merge too early. Merging early is recommended when traffic is moving at speed. However, when the situation is already fubar-ed (as is often the case in H-town) not using the open lane causes problems for ramps leading up to the closed lane.
posted by GPF at 1:20 PM on August 28, 2007


One more thing since I keep flooding here: If you're planning on driving across town a lot then get an EZTag. Why? One of the tollways is EZTag only, it's cheaper than cash and you can blow through the toll plazas at 70MPH, the administration is pretty efficient, and you can use it to pay for parking at the airports.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:00 PM on August 28, 2007


Cabbies aren't much worse than regular drivers. The tow truck drivers, however, are really aggressive and will tailgate you and abuse the fact that they have flashing lights on their roof. Best to let them by.

Ah yes, tow truck drivers. These guys are total cowboys on the road. Stay away from them.
posted by tomorama at 8:55 PM on August 28, 2007


I would add to watch the front wheels of the cars around you. The car cannot make a move without first turning the front wheels.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:58 PM on August 28, 2007


When attempting to change lanes: Look for the opening, then signal AS you change lanes. Rather than signaling before you change lanes.

Do not do this. It's bad driving, just plain annoying, and where I come from, you're liable to get a ticket for it.
posted by oaf at 5:22 AM on August 31, 2007


I just wanted to add: It really does rain a lot in Houston. Please turn your headlights on when you're driving in the rain. It helps other drivers and pedestrians to see you better.
posted by Robert Angelo at 5:41 PM on August 31, 2007


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