LIFE IN NEW JERSEY: Are New Jersey road rules very different for an expat to learn? Well that depends on where you come from, no doubt. For Australians, who are used to driving on the left hand side of the road, switching sides is probably the biggest hurdle. That is, besides surviving NJ drivers. My apologies to my New Jersey friends (if I still have any) who may understandably take issue with this statement.
Overall, the road rules here are very similar to NSW, where I come from. Naturally, the speed limits, the fines and the license points system are a bit different but it’s easy enough to learn these.
Probably, the biggest changes that you need to adjust to are listed below:
1. Turning right when the light is red
A wonderful NJ road rule that I love, is that you are able to turn right when waiting at a red traffic light. When turning, you have to give way to traffic coming from your left, just as you do at any T intersection. Turning right on red is prohibited at some traffic light intersections but these are usually well signposted. Anyway, if you are sitting at a traffic light and you get tooted by the person behind, it’s probably because you are blocking them from turning. So pay attention to this one!
2. Traffic has to stop in both directions when school buses stop
Another fabulous rule, which would be terrific to see at home, is that school buses here have absolute priority on all roads, when they stop to pick up or drop off children en route to or from school. What happens is that the buses’ lights flash (yellow, then red) to indicate stopping and an automatic STOP sign swings out from the bus.
These two signals tell drivers that they must stop at a distance of no less than 25 feet from the bus. Vehicles in both directions have to stop on suburban and non-highway roads.This allows children to cross the road safely to get on or dismount the bus, without worrying about traffic. Kudos to New Jersey for this system which beats ours hands down.
NB: The rules are slightly different for highways, so get a copy of the New Jersey driver manual to become familiar.
3. At 4-Way Stop signs, you give way to the right if you arrive simultaneously or whoever was there first – I think…
This is one of those rules where no-one seems to be sure what the correct interpretation is. Just try driving through one to see what I mean. Some people give way to their right and some don’t. Others give way to anyone who arrives before them. Then some drivers, as per my experience today, don’t give way to anyone. They just bulldoze through.
We have just as many pushy people and as much confusion with roundabouts in Australia.
The actual rule here is to give way to the right, if you arrive at the same time. If someone else is at the intersection before you, then they have right of way. With such varying behaviours though, you need to be wary when you drive through a 4-way stop intersection, so you are not in an accident.
4. All New Jersey drivers have to put on their driving lights in rain, snow, ice or bad light
Another good rule that smacks of common sense. Some cars actually have automatic car light turn on when you start the engine (like mine) but this is not always the case. You might want to check if your car does the same.
5. You can’t park within 10 feet of a water hydrant legally
A small issue perhaps but water hydrants are very common on roads around here. So unless you want to rack up some parking fines, it is worth remembering this. If you notice when you drive along a heavily parked road, that there is a gap where no one is parked – this is likely to be the water hydrant! It seems to be one of the few rules that NJ drivers take pretty seriously.
Other important things to watch out for
There are lots of railway crossings in New Jersey townships and across major roads, although not highways. This means stopping 15 feet away from the crossing until the train passes. There are flashing lights and barriers that operate to stop you crossing but if you are unaware, these can surpise you. If you are caught in a delay somewhere and wonder why the traffic isn’t moving, a train crossing may well be the reason. Be patient and the train will eventually pass.
By law, buses and some other transport vehicles must stop before crossing a railway line, as a safety precaution. You will notice that their danger lights start flashing to warn you they are stopping. Watch out for them.
Often areas where you can’t park legally are marked with a yellow paint on the curb, at least in main township roads near the centre. If you see a yellow curb where you are parked, move your car, as you will definitely get a parking ticket.
Traffic lights here are not positioned on the side of the intersection as in Australia. They hang down usually in the intersection from poles with long arms holding them over the road. Basically you need to look up to see these. You get used to this pretty quick.
Please be aware these are only New Jersey driving rules I am referring to here. New Jersey rules differ to other states, so if travelling elsewhere outside NJ, you need to learn what the applicable driver regulations are for where you are driving.