King of the Road


So far in the 8 weeks I’ve been out here I’ve clocked up just over 3,200 miles on the roads and generally, I’d say that it’s been a pretty stress-free experience. Whilst here in San Clemente I’ve had been driving a Toyota Highlander SUV which has been very good as it ticked the primary box, namely, shed-loads of space to comfortably accommodate surfboards, people, luggage, my ego etc…

Public transport is very limited compared to the UK (e.g. there’s a single track rail line between San Diego and LA offering an infrequent and slow service and whilst there are buses, they support local municipalities only) so the only way to really get about is via car and so consequently the volume of traffic is colossal. Major travel of any distance is via the freeways and the ones between here and LA and San Diego are simply enormous. They’re all at least 5 lanes in each direction and in many cases 7 or 8 and seemingly at all times during the day they are chocker – I’ve not been out at night much admittedly, so can’t comment, but 6am-10pm they’re full. A recent addition to the freeways are the car pool lanes for vehicles with 2 or more people in them and I’ve been able to use these a fair bit when I’ve had folk staying, but car is very much king here as the overwhelming majority of folk travel alone – be it to work or to the shops.

I’ve been very impressed with how people drive. As you’d expect there are the usual loopers, who weave in and out of traffic at high speed – but let’s be honest you get those muppets everywhere. In the main, folk are very considerate on the road, e.g. if you happen to be in the wrong lane, people will let you move across without trying to block you and I’ve not come across any road rage or drivers being cut up or flipping the international digit of disdain. I’ve rarely hear horns going off either and as a bonus there are no middle-lane pootlers, who refuse to pull-over and slow everyone else down (that said, this could be because there are more lanes to choose from).

However the two most noticeable things are :

  1. Everyone drives either at or above the speed limit – on the freeways, where 65mph is generally the limit, there’s hardly anyone below that, including trucks and 90% of folk will drive at 75 or more and
  2. Overtaking on the inside is a regular and legal approach to going passed other cars. At first I found doing this a little disconcerting as it goes against everything we’re taught and told in the UK; however, given the size of the roads and amount of traffic, provided it’s done safely an sensibly, it actually works really well as it stops traffic bunching on the inside lanes and reduces driver frustration as they can decide for themselves when and how they should pass other vehicles, rather than relying on someone else to move over. It may not be to everyone’s taste and it may not work everywhere, but for me it’s certainly not the devil it’s often made out to be.

Similarly the condition of the roads is also very good; the freeways are mostly concrete and well maintained and the ordinary town and country roads are usually tarmac and in most cases mill-pond smooth, which makes for very comfortable driving. I certainly found this going up into the mountains to Big Bear where a lot of care is clearly taken to ensure the roads are in good nick, as the contrasts between winter and summer conditions are stark and must play havoc with the surfaces.

I’ll be able to let you know if this idyll is constant throughout the state and beyond in a couple of weeks as I’m away up north to the top of California on a grand road trip, for which I’ve hired a Jeep Wrangler – oooh, can you see that American Dream…