Driving Tips For New Immigrants Moving South

Complaints of bad driving abound everywhere you turn. Google “which states have the most accidents/fatalities” and depending on the source/data chosen, competition for this honor is stiff but you will quickly see that the southern states, like the competition for high rates of beauty queens, and venereal disease, competes very well statistically. I think this is partially because immigrants (those from north of the Mason-Dixon Line and west of the Mississippi river- although you Maryland people are NOT southerners) are just not familiar with some cultural peculiarities of southern driving.
As an immigrant myself, but one who has lived here for almost 50 years, and who learned to drive here, but was taught by a native born New Yorker who did not move here until his 40’s, I feel uniquely qualified to assist you in this transition, (not really, but that’s all I got). In addition, I come to you only as an average driver, who has learned an above average number of ways to mime “I’m sorry” with both facial expressions and hand gestures so I write this as one of the great unwashed, not as as some “better than anyone else driver”. (See my prior blog, for example about BACKING into someone in the Starbucks Drivethru). In this humble mode, I provide you with some simple rules, which may help you avoid an accident your first year or so living here in the beautiful south.
1. Do not be deceived by our driver’s handbook. It looks deceptively like the Handbook from your state, with similar rules. HOWEVER, with general principles of state’s rights, individual freedoms, the first, second, fifth and tenth amendments, these are just guidelines, and do not impinge on an individuals rights to drive as they damn please. (Don’t ask). If you really wanna know, watch 30 minutes of Fox News, then come back.
2. Blinky or Christmas lights- you may be accustomed to referring to these quaintly as “turn” or “directional” signals and may think they are used to indicate that the driver is wishing to change lanes in the same direction or side on which the light is blinking or turn in that direction soon. This is NOT THE CASE. Let’s say the driver ahead of you has their left turn signal on. This may mean they are turn left in the next 25 miles (be prepared!). It may mean they want to change lanes. It may mean they want to turn right. It may mean they like Christmas. It may mean nothing at all. Safety tip- extend the courtesy that the driver ahead of considers this a turn signal, but do not rely on it.
3. Alternate Merge- in the South, we do not eat at our Altars, this is considered sacrilege. In regards to situations where two lanes are forced to converge to one because of construction, accident or other obstruction, rules of efficiency, logic or traffic law are irrelevant. In the south, the practice is twofold – the sanctimonious get in the “open lane” just as quickly as possible, backing up traffic for miles and miles, including by the necessity of changing from the “closed” lane to the open lane, just as quickly as possible, even at the expense of stopping traffic in the soon to closed lane miles and miles from the merge point. Generally speaking, the point is to slow down traffic and make the merge just as Inefficient and slow as possible. The misguided (you immigrants) quietly proceed In the closed lane to the merge point where you expect to alternatively merge, but instead, await punishment. I have no help for you here, but some states have adopted better signs:

4. Left on red. Corollary- right on red, no look no stop. Most states have “right on red after stop” laws. In the south, we believe a little of a good idea should be expanded, so you will see “left on red”. Again, don’t ask. Just beware. Likewise, expect right on red without that driver stopping. Or looking. Again, you’ve been warned.
5. Shopping Malls/ Commercial Property. Have you noticed that all shopping malls/centers are designed to get you in as quickly and easily as possible, with nary a traffic sign or signal anywhere, but when it comes to leaving, you are subject to a maze of turns, one way directionals, stop signs, yields, and a longer time extricating yourself then you spent shopping? That’s because once they have your money, they don’t care about you. This system was invented by a southerner, and is now used by shopping center developers nationwide. Likewise, something in DNA proscribed that because one is on private property, traffic signs and traffic rules no longer apply. Therefore expect people to stop unexpectedly at intersections in shopping centers with no stop signs and to ignore the one with stop signs. I call this bumper car rules. Again, you’ve been warned.
6. The straighter the road, the worse the wrecks. We all know about “dead mans curve”. Near my home, is 26 ish miles of 4 lanes of relatively new interstate, almost no curves, basically a straight road. More wrecks on a daily basis than a dog has fleas.
7. Texting and driving- do not be surprised when the lad from your office, after giving the lecture about. To texting and driving, gets in her car to go to happy hour and while pulling out of the parking lot, turns on her radio, reaches for a Mountain Dew, pulls out her mascara, lipstick, and blush, starts touching up her makeup, reaches in the back seat to get her “goin out” shoes; Changes shoes; changes bras, spritzes her perfume, and checks her block in the glove compartment all before she gets to the happy hour spot. But she didn’t text.
8. Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and a Passing lane: I know, elsewhere only TWO of these are fictional things. In the south, all THREE of these things are fictional. There are several reasons for this. For some it’s a matter of faith, they just don’t believe in a passing lane. For others, they believe in it, but believe they are the left lane “police”- you can pass in the left lane, but you can’t drive any faster than they are driving. And then there’s a subclass, which thinks its fine to drive slowly in the left lane, but objects to you passing on the right. Some states have started ticketing slow. drivers in the left lane. You can’t make this stuff up.
These are my favorites. I’ll save the rest for a future blog. I’m sure you have some of you’re own. Ya’ll come back now, heah?

2 replies on “Driving Tips For New Immigrants Moving South”

I moved to SC in 2002 and within 6 weeks came up with a few of my own observations about the drivers here:
1. Speed limits are only suggested.
2. Red lights are optional.
3. It’s perfectly fine to cut someone off in traffic as long as you wave to them while you’re doing it.
And in the years since Hwy 17 and Hungryneck Blvd. were widened, people pass on the left, pass on the right, you can be going 15 mph over the speed limit and they have to pass you, only so they can zoom to that red light and have to slam on their brakes. It’s as if they think Mt. Pleasant built a NASCAR track and they’re qualified to run it.
Thanks for allowing my two cents. And FYI – my car will outrun most of the others on the road, but I prefer to be sane. And safe.

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