The Essentials

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The Road Out Of Titus Canyon, Death Valley

The Road Out Of Titus Canyon, Death Valley

If you read nothing else in this guide, you ought to at least know the following things:

  • In an emergency, dial 9-1-1 for police, fire, or emergency medical services. Non-emergency health and community help and information is sometimes available by dialing 2-1-1.
  • Your out-of-state or foreign driver’s license is normally valid for driving in California if it’s valid in the country or state of issue, but you need a Californian driver’s license if you’re resident in California for more than ten days (this does not apply to people legitimately traveling in or visiting California for more than 10 days). “Resident” usually means you’ve established a valid address or got a job here, but don’t take my word for it.
  • It’s illegal in California to drive while talking on a mobile phone without a hands-free setup (bluetooth headset, in-dash controls, etc.).
  • The default urban and suburban speed limit is 25 miles per hour (40 K.P.H.); freeway speed limits are usually 55, 65, or 70 M.P.H. (approximately 90, 100, and 110 K.P.H. respectively).
  • Californians (and Americans in general) are clueless when it comes to metric lengths, speeds, weights, volumes, etc., so you’ll need to be temporarily fluent in the old Imperial system (or its American equivalent).
  • Many Californians don’t bother with turn signals when turning or changing lanes. This is usually both dangerous and illegal, but very widespread.
  • Californian drivers usually ignore lane discipline and drive in whatever lane they feel like, regardless of speed. Luckily it’s usually legal to pass (“overtake”) in a slower lane.
  • Red lights (“stop lights”) and stop signs are regarded as purely advisory by a significant proportion of drivers, especially late at night. This is highly illegal and dangerous.
  • Red-colored curbs mean “don’t park here under any circumstance”. Blue ones mean “only park here if you’re disabled and have an approved permit to park in disabled spaces”. Green-colored curbs usually have a short time limit (15 to 30 minutes) on parking. Grey or unpainted curbs are usually OK for parking if there are no signs restricting or prohibiting it.
  • It’s generally legal to turn right on a red light as long as you stop first, there’s no conflicting traffic, there’s no red arrow for the right turn, and there’s no sign saying “No Right Turn On Red”. It’s never legal to turn left (i.e. against oncoming traffic) against a steady red light or red arrow.
  • It’s generally legal to make a U-turn at an intersection, as long as it’s safe and there’s no sign prohibiting U-turns.
  • At an intersection with stop signs on each entry to the intersection (usually called a “four-way stop junction“), the first person to the intersection gets to go first, with the others taking turns according to when they got there. If two or more cars get there at the same time, the ordering is clockwise.
  • You and all your passengers must wear seat belts, and children must be secured in an appropriate child passenger restraint (safety seat or booster seat) until they are at least 8 years old (see the CHP’s Child Booster Seats and Safety Seats page for official details).
  • You can be charged for driving under the influence (DUI) if you are found to have a blood alcohol percentage of 0.08% or greater. This is a serious criminal offence in California.
  • Motorcycle riders must wear helmets at all times while riding. It’s mostly legal for motorcycles to split lanes in California (as long as it’s done safely).
  • The sign that you’re being pulled over by the police is usually a red light shining at you from the top of the police car (in addition to the other flashing lights).
  • You usually have to pay the cashier or attendant before you pump gas (petrol) into your car at a gas station if you’re paying cash. Virtually all gas stations take the usual credit cards (Visa and Mastercard at least) and most have automatic pay-at-the-pump facilities; these often require you to enter a US zipcode for your billing address, making life a little more irritating for non-USA residents….
  • Don’t even think of smoking in restaurants, hotels, offices, bars, and public spaces, at least without first asking. Smoking is illegal or banned pretty much everywhere now in California except private homes and other non-commercial private spaces.
  • You usually have to tip at least 15% of your bill at restaurants and cafes (at least if you want to go there again); most other non-professional service-givers (taxi drivers, bar tenders, bellhops, etc.) will also expect a similar tip.
  • Sales tax is (almost) never reflected in the marked price of products and goods, and will vary from city to city, and county to county. This means, for example, that a book marked $14.99 will probably cost closer to $16.00 by the time you pay for it.
  • As of April 2017, California’s long serious drought is over. But you should still not waste water, regardless of the drought being over (for now)….

 

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