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15 Tips for New Drivers in Unfamiliar Los Angeles Territory

15 Tips for New Drivers in Unfamiliar Los Angeles Territory


15 Tips for New Drivers in Unfamiliar Los Angeles Territory

15 Tips for New Drivers in Unfamiliar Los Angeles Territory
Driving in Los Angeles is unlike any other place you have been to. You could find yourself cruising on a beautiful, sunny day down from Torrance, North, on PCH. And then, all of a sudden, find yourself in the middle of unfamiliar territory or even a riot in Santa Monica, near the pier. As you dodge bricks and bottles, you may already be learning some safety tips you might want to share with new Los Angeles drivers.

Most of us locals are aware of the risks of driving motor vehicles in Los Angeles, CA. And if you’re from the U.K., you still have to learn how to go on the wrong side of the road! So it’s no fool’s errand.

You may have just relocated to a new job and are learning how to and from your new house. But when you first start traveling, a significant, unfamiliar locale like L.A. County can be terrifying first. While you may recognize photographs of famous landmarks like the Rose Bowl, for example, you or any visitors in your entourage are unlikely to understand the routes to get to them by heart.

People from smaller towns can also become easily distracted by all the billboards, flashing signs, including other sights. But like anything else, a little recon work goes a long way to safely prepare for a trip in an unfamiliar location. Whether you moved here or are vacationing, a few precautions will help you safely drive to a new place like Greater Los Angeles. Let’s work on stress reduction, avoiding nightmare Los Angeles car travel while visiting.

First, breathe, then count to 10 before reading this long-winded article. Next, once you arrive, before entering your car, after your L.A. arrival, do it again.

Tip 1. Research – Look for Safest Routes Before Arrival

It’s not just our world-famous SIGALERTS you must observe. As noted above, if you are preparing for a trip to Los Angeles, California, landing at LAX, for example, take some time. Do your research about rental vehicles, Uber, Lyft, taxi stands, etc.

For example, the City of Los Angeles no longer allows curbside to pick up dropped airline passengers from airport arrivals through most ridesharing or taxi services at LAX. So that means you have to wait for a massive bus with no social distancing, drag your luggage aboard, offloading where designated spots exist.

More daring travelers will brave thick layers of diesel residue accumulating on their skin, breathing deeply, briskly departing their luggage carousel location, seeking their designated ride-share pick-up location, and dragging heavy luggage. But it’s a mile or more away.

TIP: Getting Out of LAX Fast, Staying Safe! So, you are not just looking for the best routes between the places you want to visit. But yes, after you get out of the nightmare, that is LAX. One of the smart moves is to pay for a limo service, letting them pay to park inside the airport’s paid parking structure.

These chauffeurs will meet you at the arrivals gate holding an iPad or sign with your party name. From there, they can walk with you, helping carry your bags. They will walk you through the crosswalk, helping you escape. Once leave the messy LAX, less stressful options present themselves. You can use your Apple Phone Navigation, Google Wave, and other navigation apps to help you develop the quickest famous landmark attraction routes, like Muscle Beach in Venice, California.

Arriving back at LAX is another matter, but I would always use a limo, sedan, or Uber-type service. Mixing up your different transportation options helps you avoid the stress associated with the lack of familiarity you’ll have when driving around a new place. But for now, let’s talk about L.A. as a newcomer in unfamiliar territory.

IMPORTANT: Some vehicle navigation devices react slowly during downtown driving. You must pay special attention; you are in the correct lane, slowing down, so you don’t miss your turn. Also, it’s an old city with narrow streets, many being one-way roads! More than one newbie driver has turned the wrong way on a one-way street in Downtown L.A.

  • Beware of Risks Attendant With DTLA Driving

Most of all, when you decide to get behind the wheel, you’re not going to be an expert. So be cautious while cruising in Los Angeles. Pay attention to potholes and uneven maintenance hole covers while driving, looking out for homeless people presenting road dangers everywhere.

Tip 2. Take Time to Adjust To LA

As noted above, you really must take some time to get your bearings once you arrive in an unfamiliar place like Los Angeles. And this is why it’s smart to get a driver or have someone you know to pick you up at the airport. Get used to your hotel. Go for a walk and note the street names, drug stores, gas stations, and any areas that appear to be seedy or dangerous.

Get friendly with local convenience store employees and learn the good, bad, and ugly. Most of all, learn how to pay attention to your surroundings by gathering as much evidence as possible. After all, you never know when you want to eat Denny’s or Spires’s food, but you will want to get there in one piece. Like anything else, once you know your location, you can navigate around town better.

Because you become mentally familiar with your area, you can get to the places you need to go with little problem. If you attend a conference or stay at a hotel, you may want addresses to locate conference rooms or Kinkos locations.

You never know when you may need to have a private meeting or have t make copies. Lawyers traveling out of town will usually do this research, as it remains vital to trying a case in a far-off jurisdiction. If you want to know the lay of the land, most hotel concierges will provide you with a paper map with the local area’s coordinates. Most hotels keep these maps in the hotel room as well.

Always ask taxi drivers, front desk people, and locals, like hotel employees, about cool things to do, including great places you can eat. If possible, use the hotel’s free shuttle to reduce driving risks and familiarize yourself with the lay of the land. Even some total stranger may lead you to California’s Gold.

Tip 3. Beware the 91 Expressway Lane Traps

Although many of you are from the back east, used to tollways, and paying to use roads, many visitors assume California is all “Freeways,” which are tax-funded roads, rather than pay-per-use roads. But California has its underused diamond lane for carpools only.

Next, many miles of road user-paid expressways remain near high-traffic areas of the State. The ten miles of a paid expressway called the Route 91 Expressway are of particular interest. Since the 91 East carpool lane tends to merge into the Route 91 Expressway, many visitors assume they are in the carpool lane. But they are wrong.Downtown Los Angeles Injury Lawyers

To use that stretch of uncrowded road, you must pay a fee for a window badge that sends a signal authorizing you for paid lane use. If you are not allowed in the path, unique automatic cameras will photograph your license plates, documenting the carpool lane violation. Next, your rental car company will receive your ticket through U.S. mail and blame you. You will face huge fines, penalties, and points on your driving record as a result.

When you elect to drive around Los Angeles through Riverside using the 91 East Riverside, make sure you understand the carpooling, including California ridesharing laws. For example, before carpooling to Palm Springs for a gay festival, Splash House, or visiting with retired family residing within Indian Wells or Indio, you should research toll roads, including carpool lanes, or rule out using them.

However, beware of Orange Crush traffic, avoiding the 55 East or 91 Freeways during rush hour traffic. When traveling through Greater LA, you must be relaxed yet aware until your final destination.

Important. Understanding Wildlife – Other Roadway Hazards

Some people from other states are used to seeing dashing deer, barely missing trucks or cars. But in L.A., that is less common. Of course, you can undoubtedly face more risks in Big Bear or Catalina Island. Drivers in the neighborhood streets need to look out for darting dogs off-leash and little kids chasing balls, for example.

Common risks to drivers include many pedestrians walking around and mingling among bicyclists. Beware, you must provide a cushion of space for bicyclists. We already discussed looking out for some road hazards. But keep an eye out for curves, cliffs, hills, and dips. Areas like Palos Verdes Estates on the way to the Trump Golf Course are notorious for launching speeding cars airborne.

The area near Terra Nea is abundant with wildlife like rabbits, raccoons, and hawks, including other predators. Any of these things can present hazards at any time of the day or night. Don’t forget about prospects for black ice forming while driving through higher elevations, including Rancho Palos Verdes or Palos Verdes, proving hazardous. Next, areas like Old Orange, including Torrance Beach areas, with their turnstiles and roundabouts.

These road features may be familiar to an Englishman. But most people, even locals, are not used to these odd entry/exit patterns.

Tip 4. Learn Where to Park in Los Angeles

Sign that says passenger loading only in Los Angeles, CA.

One thing is sure, in Los Angeles, everything has a price. If you are lucky enough to find street parking, your risk a vagrant or criminal breaking into your car or vandalizing your vehicle; plus, you may have to walk more than a mile once you struggle to fit into the parking space. Or, maybe you found a parking meter.

Many of these are for two hours only. So don’t plan on doing any drinking or partying. Why? Because parking cops will mark your ties with white chalk. And adding more coins or credits to the parking meter doesn’t stop the meter maid from citing you with a sixty-dollar-plus parking ticket.

So unless you already have a parking space or are paying for overnight parking, you should research where you can park or plan to take a cab.

  • Other Concerns

California requires small children traveling in motor vehicles to use child safety or booster seats. You can read the California regulations on child restraint systems, ages, and weight, here.

Tip 5. Get Used to Your Type of Rental Car?

So the next item, assuming you are brave enough to drive in L.A., is to try and rent a similar auto to what you are used to driving back home. Most of the time, people try and rent a car at the airport. However, we think it is better to get a rental car after getting out of the airport area. It’s just too stressful and unfamiliar to a non-Angelino. Even people who live in Los Angeles are not thrilled with the LAX locale.

So, reserve a car as close to what you usually commute and have Hertz or some other rental company send a driver to take to do the paperwork later. Get a vehicle closer to where you plan to stay, if possible. So if you are used to driving a Cadillac Escalade, or another SUV, grab one. Just go with what you know and stay safe on the Los Angeles roads. Never get some exotic car rental to impress the girls.

The new dash, HUD, and other high-end dashboard features are notorious for causing sensory overload. The last thing you want is to hit a dangerous intersection while operating a car with strange amenities. So don’t run off and get a convertible, a hot rod, or a motorcycle unless you are already familiar with that particular make and model. Just like a trucker needs to learn how to operate their vehicle’s Jake Brakes, you need to understand your car’s safe operation and how it all works.

To recap, when driving in an unfamiliar city, you must focus on what’s in front of you while scanning your mirrors. You drive the wrong car if you can reach for knobs and dials out of muscle memory. The last thing you need is to try to find the A.C. knobs or radio’s volume controls as you try and pay attention to your GPS.

Next, ensure you have AAA or roadside assistance insurance if your rental car suffers a breakdown while you are touring around the county. No matter what, you don’t want to be stranded anywhere in an unfamiliar town. Just make sure you know that the rental car company or someone will leave you in the middle of nowhere.

Tip 6. Make Sure You Have Comms

All of you military people know what I mean. If you end up lost, out of gas, or broken down, you need that extra layer of protection that a great smartphone offers. No, no guarantee exists that you will find a cell tower signal. But if you were too inept at stopping and filling up for gas, for example, at least you have a chance at getting help.

Tip 7. Fill Up Your Gas Tank

Assuming you failed to get a Global Positioning System (GPS), but it fails, you must know where the gas stations are. This tip applies especially to people headed to La Quinta or Rancho Mirage, CA. You have to ensure you keep gas in your tank or that you can charge your hybrid, or electric vehicle, for example. Most of all, allowing your fuel gauge to drift too far to the left can mean sleeping in your car. Tourists will likely never know how far they are from the next gas station. And this is when heading down the 10 East or 60 East Highways to the more rural areas. Experts say that you should always keep your fuel tank 1/4 full.

  • Don’t Rely on a GPS to Find Gas.

Besides the fact that GPS is just one more driving distraction while driving, it can also succumb to tower signal failure, run out of power, etc. Most vehicles warn the driver not to adjust or change GPS settings while operating a car. Your primary function should be to focus on the road, not locating a gas station. If you have a navigator in your car, let them deal with your GPS, give you verbal commands, go left here, etc.

Traveling with a passenger who can help you get your bearings is super helpful. And as discussed above, sometimes a GPS will send you in circles or give commands too late for you to make the turn necessary to follow directions. Also, sometimes the GPS data is old or outdated, and your provider is slow updating.

Because of this, you must step up, have your map ready, use additional hazard avoidance methods, avoid accidents, emergency construction traffic-related issues, etc. Only then will you be positioned to prevent wrongful death or severe injuries while navigating the mean streets of LA.

Tip 8. Be Like a Marine – Arrive Early

Marines are famous for filthy language as well as punctuality. But we can just set aside the foul mouth, working on timeliness. If you are headed out for dinner reservations, a concert, a conference, or any event with a specific start time, allow yourself extra time to get there. Rushing to your destination may cause you to violate traffic laws, such as speeding or following another vehicle too closely.

Even if only by a few miles per hour, slowing down gives you a better chance to note landmarks, read road signs, identify intersections, and avoid accidents.

Furthermore, speeding down unfamiliar roads might cost you more time if you get into an accident, get pulled over by the police, or miss a critical turn or exit, forcing you to backtrack. You want to travel with traffic flow, but other drivers will be ok with you slowing down some as long as you remain inside the right-hand lane, letting them pass you when an opportunity arises.

Okay, this often happens with slow GPS systems used by automobile drivers remaining unfamiliar with their surroundings. Typically, a newer driver misses their Freeway onramp or offramp, another entry, exit, or driveway turn off from the surface streets. Sometimes, a more recent driver will become distracted by kids, or some other activity may rapidly change lanes while maneuvering their turn.

Sometimes, you may see your exit ahead, changing lanes quickly, rapidly turning, slamming on your brakes, or engaging in some other unsafe maneuver. Most importantly, don’t make an illegal U-turn or back up on the road’s shoulder. Keep yourself safe, including passengers and pedestrians, by going around the block, exiting later, or turning around. If you are using a GPS, it will adjust your route as needed.

Tip 10. Don’t Drink Booze, Smoke Weed, and Drive?

First, rapid and sporadic lane changes and weaving left to right are familiar with drug users and people drinking and driving. But it could just be your woman is giving you some nookie, and you lose focus for a second. But what if you have had a few, but now you smell like an alcoholic beverage? You risk getting pulled over by the LAPD for an embarrassing investigative stop and possible arrest leading to Twin Towers Jail.

And trust us, it is probably more dangerous there for a stranger than State Prison. Jail is a far worse health risk than consuming alcohol and taking a cab.

  • And the Same Goes for Smoking Weed

Marijuana is legal in California. So you may be tempted to get high without fear of arrest. But think again. Once you roll down your window, the officer will probably smell the skunky odor of marijuana and conduct a roadside investigation for DWI. So forget about bong tokes, drinking wine, cold beer, cocktails, or conducting serious business that dehydrates and exhausts you. Even fatigue could be enough to make you miss your exit.

If you plan on driving, stay hydrated straight edge. As discussed, Uber, a public bus, a taxi, or a limo will help you avoid police contact and probably keep you from getting your Driver’s License Suspended. Erratically avoiding lane corrections instead of exiting the freeway will keep us safer. Better to go, make your U-Turn, and head back rather than sideswipe or be injured during a T-Bone collision.

Tip 11. Don’t Drive During Rush Hour Traffic

As touched upon in Tip 2 above, traveling in a motor vehicle during bumper-to-bumper, rush hour traffic, or dusk driving is the worst time of the day for any driver. These high traffic times can lead to fatigue, frustration, and road rage. True, sometimes you can’t avoid heavy traffic. Even when it’s not rush hour, road construction and fender-bender distractions off the road’s shoulder tend to create snail’s pace traffic.

But no matter what, you must eliminate as many negative factors as possible with driving in a new area. Heavy traffic makes it harder for you to navigate your way. California drivers are notorious for speeding up when you signal to make a lane change. Aggressive driving pervades California’s road routes, including our busy freeways. Safely arriving at your exit may mean staying in the slow lane behind the big rigs.

Trying to see around a big truck makes focusing on finding that miniature golf course or amusement park you seek. Plus, your focus is no longer on the road; it’s on trying to spot your destination. So try and avoid the stress of heavy road traffic by traveling before or after the peak travel times. Get there in one piece!

Tip 13. Use Rest Stops

You want to see the sights and find the designated rest areas before beginning your driving route. But it’s also part of staying calm, clearing your head, and gathering your thoughts. So when driving for prolonged periods, you should pull off when safe, allowing passengers fresh air, a stretch, refreshments, hydration, and urination.

You must be confident; you’re almost there! Assuming you ran into bad weather, take some time to inspect the vehicle. Make sure your wiper blades are acceptable if it’s raining, etc. Remember that you need to increase the following distance during snow, ice, or rain. Especially in California, fresh rain raises oil as grease above the asphalt. So the roads are very slippery when wet here.

You may wish to consider parking, letting the rainstorm oil wash away, staying at a hotel, or getting a Lyft or a Taxi to complete your trip in these scary situations. Besides, do you want to come home from vacation needing a break? Tip 12.

Tip 14. Makes Use Of Hand or Turn Type Signals

Sometimes your turn signal fails for whatever reason, or you don’t want to use it because the guy in the other lane always speeds up! Well, that’s California for you. But you are not them.

Be courteous, especially when driving in an unfamiliar city. Always use your hand or the vehicle’s turn signals when changing lanes or turning your vehicle. If you feel someone is following you too close, you may decide to tap your brakes lightly. After all, the guy behind you may be daydreaming.

Also, inclement weather may lead to decreased visibility. So make sure you stay out of the fast lane. Nothing pisses off a California driver more than a slow car in the fast lane. This causes many car accidents and bad blood. If you have difficulty reading street signs or markers, slow down, and read the posted markers as visibility increases with closer distances.

Just let the drivers pass if you are on a single-lane highway. Do what you can to avoid angering others while avoiding terrible accidents and getting there safely.


To recap, avoiding a potential motor vehicle accident in an unfamiliar place like Los Angeles takes training and education. The fear of driving a vehicle on the unfamiliar street and alleyways of L.A. can terrify a newbie.

But you don’t always have to drive. Moreover, you don’t need to be scared when doing everything correctly. The above steps in staying safe while surrounded by an unfamiliar city or town are just a few tips.

Most of all, with preparation comes confidence, and good driving habits come with repetition. So focus on safely driving as you begin your journey navigating the streets of Los Angeles.

Keep in mind that people on our roads drive illegally, careless about our driving laws. Even citizens don’t always obey traffic safety regulations. So you remain at risk for crashes in L.A. because you have no control over the negligent acts of inattentive or reckless people sharing the roads. Just drive carefully; don’t forget about using your mirrors.

Tip 15. Get Yourself, Lawyer, If You Get Hurt In A Vehicle Collision

Last, it would help if you got worthy legal assistance when you become injured in a Los Angeles Traffic accident while traveling around town. It would help if you did so immediately, do not pass go. Failure to maintain liability insurance on your car means you may not get money for pain and suffering, so don’t lie when renting your vehicle.

Since you already have insurance, and it’s the other person’s fault, your attorneys will make a liability insurance claim for you. Even if you are out of State, your local attorney will continuously contact you to ensure the other person pays their fair share.

Once you file an auto liability insurance claim, your local attorneys will handle the aspects of your car crash case. You may even have a request for the diminished value of any destroyed items’ property. It matters not your color, State of residence or political affiliations. When you hire us to get you money, we are your sword and shield till victory! Calling us creates a chain in a series of events, such as hiring accident scene investigators and gathering witness statements, video evidence, and copies of police reports.

Next, we file the necessary legal documents as we parlay with the other side’s insurance company or self-insured defendants. If they refuse to play ball, we will file your matter, seeking a court trial if needed. But you must not waive the statute of limitations by sleeping on your rights. Call Ehline Law Firm Personal Injury Attorneys, APLC, at (213) 596-9642.

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Michael Ehline

Michael Ehline is an inactive U.S. Marine and world-famous legal historian. Michael helped draft the Cruise Ship Safety Act and has won some of U.S. history’s largest motorcycle accident settlements. Together with his legal team, Michael and the Ehline Law Firm collect damages on behalf of clients. We pride ourselves on being available to answer your most pressing and difficult questions 24/7. We are proud sponsors of the Paul Ehline Memorial Motorcycle Ride and a Service Disabled Veteran Operated Business. (SDVOB.) We are ready to fight.