LIFE IN NEW JERSEY: As an Australian expat, I come from a country that drives on the left side of the road, so adjusting to driving in New Jersey (NJ) was a challenge in the beginning. Expats may think learning this skill will be their biggest problem to overcome. Well, here’s the lowdown. NJ drivers can sometimes be a bigger challenge. According to one of my local contacts, they are known for being some of the worst drivers in the US. While I can’t comment on this, due to lack of driving experience outside NJ, there are definitely some local idiosyncrasies that you need to be aware of when driving here. Here are a few personal guidelines that you won’t find in the NJ Driving Rules:
- NJ drivers are not always fond of using their traffic indicators when turning; so a car stopped in the middle of the road in front of you may just be turning and waiting for a break in oncoming traffic (or it may not). It’s easier to guess of course when the car is close to the middle of the road. However, not all drivers here move their car to one side of the road when turning. Unless you’re a mind reader, it is wise to pass on the outside lane, around the right-side, with caution and do not overtake on the inside in case they are turning…
- Often if the car’s indicator is used, it may be at the last minute, so learn the common intersection spots where turning is frequent, and avoid driving in that lane. Don’t trust that the car in front isn’t going to turn, just because it doesn’t have its indicator on.
- Traffic indicator lights here on many cars, particularly in older cars and local brands, are red, not orange as they usually are in Australia. A red indicator is very hard to see from behind, often making the last minute indicator use, easy to miss. Keep your eyes peeled.
- At intersections with traffic lights (when waiting for the red light to turn), as soon as the light goes green, many drivers have a habit of turning in front of oncoming traffic, rather than giving way to them. They are in too much of a hurry to wait for oncoming traffic to pass, so they just turn to avoid delays. They are counting on the first oncoming car to takeoff slowly or that there will be a delayed takeoff. Of course, many of us don’t shoot out from the lights at full pelt, so this tactic can occur without mishap. But one can only wonder how often this is the case. So be warned: if your car is the first-in-line to take off from an intersection and the car facing you in the opposite direction has an indicator light on; when the light goes green, they may turn in front of you. An interesting dilemma if you take off from lights quickly. Er, ever heard the phrase ‘head on collision’?
- Driving at the speed limit on motorways and major roads will put you in the minority here. After having children, I somehow gave away most of my young driver recklessness [my kids may argue otherwise]. I don’t want to be booked for speeding or lose control of my car at 65 mph (>100kph), so I keep to just near the speed limit mostly. As I drive along in NJ at this speed, it does feel like ‘Driving Miss Daisy’, as cars streak past me sometimes at horrific speeds. Stay out of the right lane on major roads, as these are nearly always merge lanes for traffic entering motorways or exit lanes for other cars.
- People are in a big hurry here and are often prepared to take big and little risks while driving. They will race you off at the smallest intersections, so they can cut in front to be first. Driving too slowly or stopping at pedestrian crossings can get you abusive honks on the horn because you are holding up the drivers behind you. So don’t be alarmed if you get honked here and there. It’s just part of the culture.
- Ironically, pedestrians here can also be just as crazy. Some people have a habit of just suddenly walking out from the side of the road at non-crossing points, irrespective of whether there is traffic or not. Talking on their mobile phone is also a problem. It amazes me how brave or stupid these people are: strolling across a busy road, so busy chatting that they aren’t looking to see if that car coming their way is actually going to stop. Perhaps they have a good life insurance policy. As the law actually requires drivers to give way to pedestrians here, it is almost as if they have decided you will have to stop, whether you like it or not. The funny paradox to this, is if you are standing on the curb to cross at a non-official spot, waiting for the traffic to go by before attempting to cross (an Australian practice), cars will often stop in the middle of the road, to let you pass. This is very generous of course. However, by crossing there, you have now made the other drivers stop, usually in both directions. Perhaps like me, you will feel self-concious of everyone looking at you as you cross. After all, wasn’t it your intention to not inconvenience all the cars?
- Some other ‘different’ behaviors you may see is people commonly ignoring ‘No Standing or Parking’ signs. When there are no legal parking spots available, NJ drivers become far more creative. For instance, on the road where school pickups are, it is a popular thing to just park wherever you can squeeze your car in; whether it be across or in driveways, on pedestrian crossings, or on corners. The lesson here is don’t pick a road to live on near a school unless you like watching the chaos outside your house, for its entertainment value!
All this aside, NJ actually has a fantastic road system, with major motorways, highways and other roads, crisscrossing the state to make it much easier to get from one point to another. You will find a GPS indispensable here to help you navigate the main roads but also to find your way back home through alternative routes, when a traffic problem occurs.
I sincerely hope my guidelines help you, at least a little, to navigate your path smoothly through the ways of NJ drivers as well.
Good luck and may the Force (Police) be on your side.