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  1. Default Traffic Lights in US and Palm Springs Question

    Hello All,

    I'm going to California next month. I'll be visiting my niece in LA for a week to start the trip and then meeting a friend in San Francisco at the end of the trip. I'm planning a solo 10 day roadtrip between LA and SF. It will be my first time driving in the US so I'm still a little confused by the traffic light system. I've searched on googlemaps and potentially having 4 lanes each way at a junction is terrifying and confusing! I've attached a picture and someone might be kind enough to take a look and see if I'm right in matching each light to the corresponding lane.

    lights.jpg

    The light I've circled in pink is the light to turn left, blue is the 2 lanes going straight and yellow is the light to turn right? Is that correct? Turning left will be tricky enough without second guessing which light I should be watching!!


    I'm also conflicted whether to spend night 1 of the roadtrip in Palm Springs or in San Bernardino. San Bernardino appeals because of the kitschy Wigwam motel which looks fun and nearby outlet shopping but perhaps not the most exciting town. Palm Springs has beautiful resorts but at the end of July is it too hot to lie at the pool and explore the town centre? Today it's 44 degrees c there which I cannot even imagine.

    Thanks all!

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Tucson, AZ
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    9,358

    Default Lights

    Welcome aboard the RoadTrip America Forums!

    I understand your confusion, but traffic lights in America are actually pretty straight forward. While there may be multiple physical lights at an intersection, they are usually there to re-emphasis a single point. In the case of the lights in your photo, you will note that they are all red. And no particular light is associated with any one lane with one possible exception. What will happen when it is time for traffic in this direction to go is that at least the central and right lights will turn green simultaneously. The one on the left may as well, but actually I doubt it. With multiple lanes entering an intersection there is often a dedicated left turn lane, such as here. The usual case is that traffic going straight ahead (two lanes here) will get a green light while traffic turning left has to yield to oncoming traffic. Left turn traffic may have a green light, but unless it has a green arrow, it has to yield. It may be the case that all traffic in the direction the camera is aiming will go at the same. In that case the light on the left will show a green left arrow (rather than just a simple green light) and left turn traffic can go - it has priority.

    After traffic in this direction has gone, and cross traffic has had it's chance, it may happen that traffic crossing the road you show gets a green arrow to turn right onto this road. In that case, you might also get a right green arrow in the right lane so that such traffic can move through the intersection while there is no conflicting traffic.

    So, green lights give you permission to go straight through and turn right at an intersection. You can also turn left if there is no oncoming traffic AND there is no light or signage expressly forbidding it such as "Left Turn on Green Arrow Only". Green arrows give you explicit permission to go in whatever direction they are pointing - and red arrows explicitly prohibit the same thing. In most cases it will be obvious what is being allowed or prohibited. But one final thing needs to be noted. Note that I never said that you will have the right of way. In American traffic law, no one EVER has the right of way. Right of way can only be yielded, not claimed.

    AZBuck
    Last edited by AZBuck; 06-17-2015 at 06:01 AM. Reason: critcal edit

  3. Default

    That's very helpful. I never knew there was a difference between a green arrow and a green light. So glad I asked or I would not have thought to still yield to a green light.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Location
    Melbourne, Australia
    Posts
    6,936

    Default Getting used to US roads.

    Getting used to driving on the 'wrong' side of the road, and all the signage associated with it, is much over rated. Of the countries in which I have driven, nowhere is the signage as clear as in North America. By far the best thing to do is drive at a speed with which you are comfortable, which within a city will probably be the speed of the traffic, keep your eyes on all signs and take it easy.

    What I have seen others do, and what I do when on the road, is put your national flag in the rear window of the vehicle. Let others know that you are not a local and hopefully they will be forgiving for any small traffic indiscretion. I have rarely had anyone honk their horn at me. Most of the road users are very courteous.

    Be sure to make your daily distances realistic and you'll find that before the first day is done you will be wondering why you worried at all.

    Lifey

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    Location
    South of England.
    Posts
    10,748

    Default Right on red.

    You don't say where you reside and you might already be aware of this, but there is one rule that is different from the UK and other countries, one that feels a little alien to us and goes against instinct, and that's is the 'Right on Red' rule. As with everywhere, the red signal light means "STOP." But you can legally make a right turn against a red light after you come to a complete stop and check that there are no pedestrians or vehicles coming and it is clear and safe to do so, as long as there is no signage telling you otherwise. Driving in the States is pretty straight forward after giving yourself a little time to adjust, if you are used to driving on the 'other' side of the road it could be worth reciting 'Long left' and 'short right' when turning on a quiet junction. Most of the time you are going with the flow of traffic anyway. If for any reason you miss your lane it's often safer to carry on until you find a safe place to turn around rather than trying to cut across traffic.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Location
    Melbourne, Australia
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    6,936

    Default Something with which I do not feel comfortable.

    Quote Originally Posted by Southwest Dave View Post
    But you can legally make a right turn against a red light after you come to a complete stop and check that there are no pedestrians or vehicles coming and it is clear and safe to do so ...
    I have never felt comfortable with that, and very very rarely even attempt it. Maybe having the flag in the back of my vehicle stops others from honking their horns. And of course, when in doubt.... don't!

    Lifey

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Location
    Joplin MO
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    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Lifemagician View Post
    I have never felt comfortable with that, and very very rarely even attempt it. Maybe having the flag in the back of my vehicle stops others from honking their horns. And of course, when in doubt.... don't!

    Lifey
    Mentally, just think about it as a stop sign at a through road.

    You also may turn LEFT on a red light in most states after a stop if you are on a one way street turning into another one way street.

  8. Default

    I'm from Ireland. The right turn on a red light makes sense of paper but I can see myself being very reluctant to try! People tell me it's very easy to drive in the States but right now I'm so used to thinking 'left' when driving that it's strange to even imagine shifting entirely 'right'. A co-worker has warned me that us left siders have a tendency to drive too far right in the lane. He lost a wing mirror 2 miles from the airport on his first trip to Florida! So I'm going to watch my lane position.

    I have a real phobia of being honked at. It brings back awful memories of trying to learn to drive as a teenager so I'll need to get a thick skin because I hear drivers are very honk happy in LA.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Location
    Melbourne, Australia
    Posts
    6,936

    Default Jillian, just do what you are comfortable with.

    Quote Originally Posted by JillianR View Post
    I have a real phobia of being honked at. It brings back awful memories of trying to learn to drive as a teenager so I'll need to get a thick skin because I hear drivers are very honk happy in LA.
    Put your national flag in the rear window. I have rarely had anyone honk at me, and I have covered almost 200000 miles over a decade and a half.... including in LA.

    Quote Originally Posted by glc View Post
    Mentally, just think about it as a stop sign at a through road.
    That's not quite the same. When there are vehicles waiting at the red light, it is almost impossible to see what is coming from the left, until you are almost in their lane. At a stop sign you rarely have traffic stationary to your left, and even when you do, you can wait till they move on. I don't have a problem where the right lane turns into a spare lane, but when it immediately merges into moving traffic........

    Lifey

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
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    South of England.
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    Default More natural than you may think.

    People tell me it's very easy to drive in the States but right now I'm so used to thinking 'left' when driving that it's strange to even imagine shifting entirely 'right'. A co-worker has warned me that us left siders have a tendency to drive too far right in the lane.
    I wouldn't overthink this as it's really not that bigger deal when you are driving a vehicle that is suited to the country you are driving in. The vehicle you will rent will obviously be set up to drive on the right side of the road, so it feels natural to be there. What your friend describes is something I have only heard of when a person from the UK takes their own car into Europe and you are driving the car from the kerbside which then feels unnatural.

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