LIFE IN NEW JERSEY: NJ drivers have been voted the worst in the USA, in some previous polls (2008 US News). As recently as 2010, they were rated 48th out of 50 states, for their lack of driving rule knowledge.
Potential new drivers are required to learn the full contents of the NJ MVC Driver manual before being licensed. It is rather surprising then, how often you see the MVC road rules and regulations ignored by ‘licensed’ NJ drivers. You start to wonder how these drivers actually passed their tests in the first place.
Here’s a sample of road rules frequently not followed by NJ drivers:
1. State law prohibits the use of handheld electronic devices (e.g., cell telephones) by NJ drivers while driving a motor vehicle on any public road or highway: NJ MVC Manual
Unsurprisingly, talking on your cell or texting while driving, is a big issue here. Numerous accidents occur annually due to this and it is not something that only younger NJ drivers are guilty of unfortunately.
Here in NJ, we are a bit more talented than this photo shows. Usually we can talk with our phone in one hand, hold onto our coffee cup or container with the other hand, all while driving with our knees. It’s a truly special skill.
2. New Jersey law requires motorists to yield to pedestrians: NJ MVC Manual
More surprising than texting, is the habit that NJ drivers have of NOT stopping at pedestrian crossings, even when well-marked, and when there is adequate time to stop. Even when there is a mother with a pram or an old person with a walking stick, drivers will not always stop. This is something that I still don’t understand as an expat.
Here is the introduction to the pedestrian rules section of the NJ MVC Manual:
New Jersey has experienced a large number of pedestrian injury crashes and fatalities, as compared to the nation as a whole. The most important pedestrian safety message for New Jersey residents is: Pedestrian safety is a shared responsibility.
3. Use an indicator to signal turning at a T intersection : NJ MVC Manual
Maybe it’s just the area I live in but I estimate about one third of NJ drivers do not use indicators when turning into a street (or a T-intersection) or even when pulling over to the curb. Perhaps not all cars here are equipped with this high tech equipment? You know, the stick on the left hand side of the steering column that is moveable…
4. Motorists should give way to oncoming traffic: NJ MVC Manual
Here’s a a no-brainer question for you: Why would anyone NOT want to give way to oncoming traffic? They enjoy car crashes perhaps?
Sometimes it seems that this may be the case, as in NJ, drivers often do not give way to oncoming cars. This happens most often at traffic light intersections. When the lights turn from red to green, drivers turning left across the traffic, hit their accelerator hard and turn in front of you as you drive forward. Before you can say ‘ILLEGAL TURN’, they are gone.
These drivers are often obvious. They have started to turn the nose of their car before the lights even change. Perhaps they use the time sitting at the lights to try and judge how fast you are likely to be going and what is required to beat you.
It often reminds me of a face-off between gun-slingers on the street. The period of the traffic light changeover is used to stare at your opponent and estimate whether you can drive forward faster than they can turn. Then it just happens very quickly. It is amazing that there are not more accidents at lights considering this.
So the answer to the original question: because they can’t wait that long, for the oncoming traffic to pass. They need to get going faster than everyone else – their life depends on it.
5. Adhere to the road speed limits
Speed limits vary depending on what type of road you are driving on. Basic speed limits (Source: NJ MVC Manual) include:
- 65 mph on certain highways and turnpikes
- 55 mph on certain state highways and all interstates
- 25 mph on all business or residential districts (school zones have posted regulatory signs)
- 35 mph on suburban business and residential areas
Many people speed here. However, it is most obvious that NJ drivers feel free to speed beyond set limits on major highways or interstates. Nothing seems to deter them. Even though penalties are doubled on 65 mph speed zones and roadwork sites, and car insurance rates are affected by driver license transgressions.
Is this related to the fact that NJ has more expensive car insurance than any other state? Quite possibly.
6. When a bus stops, all motorists traveling behind or approaching it must stop their vehicles at least 25 feet away: NJ MVC Manual
This is a real hit and miss situation. Sometimes people are confused on major roads whether they have to stop. Sometimes they are just oblivious to what’s happening in front of them so they will either drive by or abuse someone else for stopping.
Sometimes cars that should stop on suburban town roads continue past the bus or other cars stopped. A very alarming scenario if you are a parent of one of the bus’ school children!
Watch out if you drive past buses like this. There are gangs of watchful, angry mothers carrying pitchforks and torches who will hunt you down.
7. Motorists should only use a GPS system that is attached to the dashboard, not one that is attached to the windshield.
Only recently, I found out that windshield-attached GPS systems are not legal in NJ. Most drivers do not seem to use the older windshield-mount type of GPS here but there are still a few that do. I’ll bet that they do not know this law exists either.
8. Throwing trash, debris or rubbish from a moving or parked vehicle is illegal: NJ MVC Manual
No ashtray in your car? No handy trash bin in there either? No problem. Just flick that cigarette butt out the window. No-one will notice or even comment. You can get rid of that food trash once you stop. Just open the door and put it on the ground next to the car and then just drive away.
Don`t worry. Someone else will pick it up for you. I hear your mother is cleaning up the car park later today……
9. A motorist should always keep a safe distance from other vehicles on the road so that he/she has plenty of time to react to emergencies i.e. the rule of thumb most often used is to keep one car length back (about 20 feet) for each 10 miles per hour of speed [2-3 car lengths distance in suburban areas; 5-6 car lengths distance on highways, turnpikes etc.] NJ MVC Manual
Basically this means no tailgating. If you are in a tearing hurry, naturally it is very hard not to tailgate slow drivers, especially if they are driving the speed limit or even worse, below the speed limit. I guess this rule mustn’t really apply to you. After all, no-one else needs to be on time, just you. Right?
10. Motorists should slow down when it is raining or weather conditions affect the roads adversely: : NJ MVC Manual
Raining, snowing. It doesn’t really seem to make a difference to speeds here. Even when there is a lot of water on the ground and the chances of an accident are high, NJ drivers seem to have cruise control set on fast.
11. Cars should be cleared of snow before driving on roadways: NJ MVC Manual
After it snows heavily, most people have to clear their driveways and sidewalks from snow before getting to their cars. However, it is not a surprise to see cars on the interstate with snow flying off their cars because they didn’t bother to scrape off their car. It’s hard to know whether it’s because they are running late, or too tired after snow shoveling or are just plain lazy,
Being behind a car like this is actually quite frightening at high speed. As snow hits your car, it makes vision difficult and distracts you from what’s ahead. It is easy to imagine a serious accident occurring.
12. Children should not be seated in the front seat until 12 years of age or above: : NJ MVC Manual
If your children are anything like mine, they want to sit in the front seat from very early on. However, this can be quite dangerous. This rule has probably been established to prevent critical injuries from impact, which is worse in the front seat. This is especially true if there are side airbags, which can kill children who are too young. This is because younger children are not tall enough to avoid the airbags covering their faces on impact. Instead of protecting your child, they can then be a weapon that suffocates them, if they are not tall enough to avoid this problem. Children often like the electronically warmed seats that are provided in the front during the cold months but the dangers involved are not worth it.
My own expat driving
Some of you may think I sound judgmental in my assessment of rule-breaking by NJ drivers. Embarrassingly, I am no saint when it comes to road rules. To my own horror, I have found myself doing some appalling parking with increasing frequency. Often I am tempted to turn left before oncoming traffic. Sometimes I almost forget to use an indicator while pulling over to the curb. Somehow, it sort of catches up to you here. Perhaps there’s something in the water that makes you willingly break rules or helps your vision deteriorate.
Interestingly, one of the previous survey articles included an opinion that immigrants (read expats) were possibly the cause of the low driver knowledge scores. Due to confusion about the laws here, after arriving from our own countries, we may be part of the problem. Eek, let’s hope this isn’t the case.
The best thing you can do as a new expat NJ driver is to learn the rules, which are laid out in the NJ MVC Driver Manual. Then, at least you can choose which ones you will ignore like the rest of us, after you know what’s illegal and how much it will cost you when you are caught.
What driver rules do you find hardest to follow while driving in NJ?