California has been ranked the most populous state in the US for the past several years. It’s also a major tourist spot. From beautiful beaches and national parks to theme parks and historic landmarks, The Golden State sees more tourists than anywhere else in the nation.
That kind of traffic puts a lot of strain on the state’s resources. California’s roads are in poor shape, which costs drivers an additional $586 in repairs annually. Most were built more than 50 years ago and have had little — if any — resurfacing. Many, including freeways, are as narrow today as they were when they were built in the mid-20th century.
Watch for Wear and Tear
California’s roads are in poor or mediocre condition, ranking it within the 10 worst states for road conditions.
Tires are the only part of a car that is supposed to touch the road. If potholes, bumps and cracks are a regular part of your commute, AAA Exchange recommends frequently checking your tires for road damage and alignment problems that come with driving on uneven roads. Look and listen for potential damage to tires and other parts:
- Wear along the side of tires indicate alignment problems.
- Thumping sounds indicate an unbalanced tire.
- Pulling to one side could be caused by a damaged tire, bad brakes or poor wheel alignment.
- Put a quarter inside the tire groove. If you can see over George’s head, it’s time to shop for new tires. If you drive in wet weather and/or rough road conditions, use tires that are known for their durability and road-gripping technology.
Blindspots and Bumpy Roads
The transportation research group TRIP says three major California regions — San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Concord — have the worst roads among all large cities in the US. Four more — San Jose, San Diego, Riverside, and Sacramento — ranked among the nation’s top 25 worst roads.
These areas feature roadways like I-8, I-10, and I-15, which have extremely dangerous conditions on top of poor quality:
- Blindspots and sharp turns.
- Heavy, stop-and-go traffic throughout the day with drivers who weave in and out of lanes.
- East-west routes that put the sun directly in drivers’ eyes.
- Twisting, uneven and narrow lanes.
Be on the Defense
Even with today’s modern technology and safety features available in newer-model cars, defensive driving is the best strategy when driving on California — or any — roads. Here are a few useful tips to keep in mind:
- Use your directionals. Many Californians don’t use theirs, but using signals not only gives other drivers a clue, it might make them pay more attention.
- Avoid the right lane in urban freeways, where traffic merges on.
- Look over two lanes before making a lane change, California drivers dart around a lot.
- Cut out distractions. It’s illegal for California drivers to be on their phones while on the road, but that doesn’t mean local drivers abide. Make sure you’re paying attention in case the drivers around you aren’t.
- Be on the lookout for pedestrians, cyclists, and skateboarders, as they are often found monopolizing roadways.
Ironically, the deadliest road in the state is Highway 62, a two-lane road through the High Desert where stretches of emptiness collide with sudden traffic in smaller towns. The lack of a median, the sun-struck east-west route and virtually no night lighting make it particularly dangerous. So when you cross these deadlier, yet less-traveled roads, remember these warnings:
- Assume someone will run a red light, so proceed cautiously when yours turns green.
- Watch for “California stops,” the way Californians slow down, but don’t stop, at stop signs.
- Bad conditions aren’t limited to the roadways. Weather, including everyday sunshine, can affect a driver’s ability to drive safely.
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