Tips for driving in Austin
Here are some pointers for those new to Austin and trying to drive
around town. These come from things I have found odd or visitors have
asked me about over the years. I'm not a world traveler by any means
but I have driven all over the Midwest including Chicago, down to
Florida, around Texas, in Colorado, Hawaii, and several cities in
California including about a months stay in L.A. In almost 30 years of
driving, I think I've seen a lot of what people tell me the worst
places to drive. Austin is a melting pot of people from all over the US
and even many from outside. As I have discovered in the time I have
lived here (since 86) some of the worse drivers in the world have
migrated here. (See Cell Phones.) With the added plot complication of
many different, often conflicting, styles of driving. The interaction
of all these styles seems to make people gravitate to certain types of
driving behavior. In general I think drivers fall into the 3 types
below. When I refer to Austinites below I am referring to common
behavior of both type S and F drivers.
Austin drivers tend to come in three flavors.
R)reasonable drivers, in my view at least, they tend to drive
the speed limit to 5 over. If the weather is bad slower of course.
These are maybe 20% of the drivers.
S)low Those who think the speed limit is reserved for
emergency traffic only and therefore drive 5 to 10 miles per hour under
the speed limit. These are about 50%
F)ast Those that drive as fast as they can without actually
running into something. Typically 10 to 40 miles per hour over the
speed limit. For some reason many of these people drive Ford Mustangs.
This seems to be an Austin thing since I've not noticed Mustang drivers
be that more reckless than the norm else where. In Austin if there is
some one plowing through rush hour traffic like they a cop on their
tail and a dead body inn the trunk, about 7 out of 10 times it will be
a Mustang. These make up the remainder (30%) of the drivers.
Note:Austintes seem to think speed makes up for lack of
acceleration. Even type F drivers often accelerate slowing from a light
and then find they must get up to 10 or 15 mph over the speed limit to
catch me a couple miles down the road when I have stayed within 5 mph
of the speed limit.
Austinites will cross over lines even on (or especially on) a back road
blind curve that twists through the trees so tight you can not see a
100 feet down the road. Extra points if it's dark and you can just make
out lights coming the other way.
This is also true of double left turn lanes. When I left
Indy, I think we only had one double left turn lane in the whole
county. After seeing how Austinites handle them, that was probably a
good thing. Double lefts can greatly increase traffic flow through an
intersection but here it seems about half the time the guy in the lane
next to you, does not matter right or left, forgets he is in a double
left and starts fading into your lane. Funny they could forget when you
consider the traffic is so heavy at many of these intersection when I'm
at them that I have set through the light changing at least twice.
Austinites don't only ignore lanes while driving. You will
often find them walking down the middle or on the left side of an isle
in stores or the lanes in the parking lots too.
A reasonable driver will try and leave space between himself and the
car in front of him. In Austin however, this is taken to mean that you
want to be passed or are leaving room for people to jump in front of
you. As in offering cuts in the line you are probably in. You will find
it's safer and your brakes will last longer if you close ranks. At
least in heavy traffic.
A reasonable driver tries not to sit next to another car when
it can be avoided. In Austin and I must admit some other places I had
driven there seems to be a magnetic effect with passing cars. A car
will come up on you fast, even in another lane, but as it gets closer
to you it slows till almost matching your speed. Sometimes it even
takes a maneuver on your part such as speeding up and then rapidly
slowing to shake one of these cars loose. Once free, these cars will
speed away. I've had people suggest to me that this is an illusion but
it is not consistent enough to be an illusion (some people do just fly
on by)and that does not explain having to shake some of these cars
Austinites do not like sitting in lines. Probably because the roads
here are so congested that there are many of lines to wait in. The
common answer to this problem is to go around the line, on the shoulder
if necessary, to get near the front of the line and then push their way
into the line counting on the fact that the person they just cut off
can not afford to get their insurance rates increased. I should note
here my car insurance almost exactly doubled when I moved here from
Indy. At the time a town of over a million people and I lived inside
the city limits. Austin at that time was less than a half million and I
lived on the out skirts of town.
Austinites don't use turn signals and to survive the Austin drive the
reasonable drive should avoid them too. At least when changing lanes.
Take this all too common example. You are driving down Mopac. It's 3
lanes each way and you are in the inside lane. The middle lane is
moving faster. This is Austin after all. A space is coming up. (See
Spacing.) Now in the outside lane there is a car about at blind spot
angle or a little farther back. There maybe some one in front of them
but believe it or not, for this example it will not matter. As space
comes up to where you can get into it, meaning the guy in the outside
lane has already had a shot at it, you turn on your turn signal. The
guy in the outside lane will immediately jump into the open space and
then pull up even with you and match YOUR speed. Not only closing the
hole but also slowing down the people behind him. If you had instead
turned on your signal as you were changing lanes this would not happen.
It makes no sense but I seen it happen regularly and this is Austin
reasonable driving rules do not apply.
You will also notice people pulling out of parking lots often
do not have a turn signal on. A reasonable driver might assume this
because the only rational way for them to go is to the right. Many
times thought the real reason is they want to turn left or get across
all 3 to 5 lanes of traffic to get to the left turn lane. This also why
many drivers may be reluctant to let you out of a parking lot if you do
not use your right turn signal.
I guess that brings up another one. Austinites tend to leave
by whatever exit is closest to where they parked. The fact that they
want to turn left and there is a traffic light 50 feet further on will
have no effect on this.
There is one good use for your flashers.If someone is in
front of you doing 10 mph under the speed limit or slower, turn on your
flashers to embarrass them into speeding up or getting out of the way.
As for headlights, Austinites don't use them till it gets
dark enough that they can no longer see. They don't seem to understand
headlights are mainly for being seen.
A reasonable driver will tend to get in the lane going the speed he
wants to go. In Austin though even the slow drivers tend to hang in the
left lane. I've even seen people stopped in the left lane with their
right turn signal on, close to an intersection, waiting for the traffic
to stop and allow them to get over so they can get over and turn right
at the intersection. Not I am not making this up. It generally happens
because people get in the left lane and then slow down when they want
to get in the right lane causing people to past them on the right.
Which causes them to slow down even further untill they have to stop to
keep from missing their turn.
Austinites don't seem to understand that the trick to passing
someone is not to be in their lane while you are doing it. They also
have a tendency to stay in a lane once they get there. Especially the
left lane and especially the type F drivers. I've seen many people
driving along at a good clip to come up against a type S driver in the
left lane and no one the middle or outside lanes. The type F driver
will follow the type S driver very closely till one of them looses this
test of wills and changes lanes. I've seen this last for miles but by
then I've usually gone around and am watching in the rear view mirror.
Note being passed tends to break the will of the type F more often than
the type S of course. Also note I have seen this exact same scenario
carried out in the outside lane.
Passing can change the type S into a type F in the blink of
an eye as well. If you find yourself stuck behind a type S, pull into
another lane even if you know you can't get around. They will often
which to a type F and speed up.
Elsewhere you will see people entering turn lanes and exit
ramps start to slow AFTER changing lanes. Assuming of course that the
lane is not full. In Austin it is quite common for people to slow or
even come to a full stop before entering a turn lane and cutting their
speed to that of the exit ramp before ever even turning on a turn
signal (see above) much less starting to change lanes.
One reason for this might be that turn lanes, especially
right turn lanes are a rarity here. For example they recently put a
light in where a county road runs into a major road. Soon after the
added a 2nd left turn lane off the county road onto the major road.
They did this buy repainting the road so now not only is there no right
turn lane for the return trip, but the lane you turn into on the county
road is very narrow indeed. BTW the speed limit on the major road at
this intersection is 65 mph. So the many cars that take this route hove
to slow to almost a complete stop, in a 65 mph zone, so they can make
This is probably a good place to mention the paving habits of
the road crews here. They seem to like to pave a lane for miles before
going back to pave the other lanes. They will also start in the middle
if there is a left turn lane and work their way out instead of starting
on one side. I'm not sure of their intent on this but out come is it
maximizes the area for you to screw up your suspension on.
I suppose this one goes here too and again I've seen this one
elsewhere. Austinites are big on pulling out into an intersection, or
street if coming from a parking lot, to wait for a large enough
opening. This of course slows or even sometimes stops traffic that now
needs squeak past the car taking up part of the lane they are driving
in. People in Indy are big on something similar to this. They pull out
and then notice you are coming so they stop dead in front of you. You
then have to stop and wait for them to figure out if they are going to
proceed or back up out of your way. I guess this is a milder variation
This might just be because of the population density in town. But in
the summer in Austin you find vast areas of burned grass along the road
ways were people have thrown out lit cigarettes even though it may have
not rained in months. Oddly out side of town where there is more grass
to burn you see this much less frequently. So I have to wonder. Do city
dwellers hate grass?
Most Austin drivers break when seeing a police cruiser. It does not
matter if it's moving or parked or if they are doing 20 over or 10
under the speed limit. They hit the brakes. I hear many people complain
about being pulled over here. I've been driving greater Austin since
86. I've been pulled over 3 times. Once for speeding that I flat out
deserved. Once because my stickers were about 6 months expired. (She
did not ticket me by the way.) And once in a speed trap in Cedar Park.
HERE for info.
I find if you drive responsibly you don't really need to worry about
getting stopped. If you stay out of Cedar Park anyway.
UPDATE:Cedar Park Police seem to be patrolling further and
further outside the city limits so you might need to avoid more than
Cedar Park proper.
Another tip:If there is a line going the other way at a light
on a road where there is usually isn't one, consider going a different
way. It most like means the road is blocked some where down the road
you can not see. For example the other morning on the way into work I
turned onto the country road we use to bypass 1431 and 183. (An
intersection that is so far behind as to have lines a mile or more in
most directions at it for most of the day.) Cars were lined up to come
off this country road but there was no problem as far as the eye could
see. I turned down the road anyway and drove close to 2 miles before
finding 3 police cars blocking the road. Still no reason to be found
for them being there. I assume there must have been some accident
around the curve. As you can imagine the line at the light continued to
grow since that light is not timed for the level of traffic. Since
there is only one intersecting road between where they were parked and
where I turned on, not to mention 3 of them you would wonder why at
least one of them did not turn around cars back at that intercection.
But then it was not their commute having and extra 15 to 20 mintues
added to it.
I live a ways out but at the same time I can take main roads most of
the way into town. So for my various jobs I've commuted 20 to 40 miles
each way. Recently I started adding up the number of times someone has
done something stupid enough for me to have to react quickly to stay
out of an accident. What I like to refer to as a near death experience.
I seems to me that these happen on average of about 1 every 10 miles or
so. According to friends it's not the way I drive but that I attract
bad drivers like moths to a flame. Your drives may not have as much
adventure as mine. But the point is I noticed about 2 years ago when
all the uproar about cell phones causing accidents started, that most
of these people that came close to hitting me were not using one. Many
drivers were using them just not the ones I was worried about. As time
has marched on though I've noticed more an more of them are on the
phone. So my theory is not that the cell phones are making drivers bad.
It's that bad drivers are buying more cell phones. Personally I think
if you can't talk and drive at the same time you are probably not
skilled enough to be behind a wheel in the first place. Maybe if we put
those driving simulators in the license branches and made people talk
while they took the tests, public transport would have enough customers
that our tax dollars would not have to prop it up. And those that can
drive would have a much nicer ride to work. Just a thought.
Austinites break many times that make no sense. As in going over a hill
or over pass for example. Also if it even looks like rain they will
break more frequently. Oddly enough after an ice storm I found many of
them would see a patch of ice on an over pass and instead of braking
before getting to the ice they would brake on the ice. Austinites tend
to treat wet roads like people up north treat icy roads. Even most of
the type F drivers tend to drive slower than necessary. But a few of
the type Fs will drive faster to help balance things out. If there is
ice on the roads your best bet is to either leave before people think
of risking or just stay home till the roads are dry. This is Austin
after all. It's usually in the 70s within 36 hours of an ice storm.
I have been told I left out one major aspect of driving in Austin.
Namely finding a parking spot. First I should explain that while Austin
does have a Texas feel that it also can be described as an island of
hippies in a sea of red necks. To that end you have 2 factions of
drivers. Those going for the Texas size vehicle, as in if does not have
6 tires and 4 doors it is considered compact and those that think
smaller is better. Some how most of the parking seems to have been laid
out by the smaller is better group even though most of the vehicles on
the road are at least full size SUVs and larger. Many places my Montero
(considered a mid size SUV here) my tires are almost touching the
outline of the parking spaces on both sides. The up shot of this is
that it is common to find a truck taking up 2 or more parking spaces.
To make things worse other than at the malls you often find there are
barely enough parking places even if everyone only took one.
do what when the light turns green?
Black Toyota pickup in Cedar Park (08-03-14)
Just waiting (08-03-14)
A Classic Case of Ass Hole Sense of Entitlement (08-03-14)
stories in web log
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