I don't recall who gave me the life saving piece of advice "Righty tighty lefty loosey" but God bless you. Leaving the Avis dealership I was filled with more than a little trepidation as I headed out into Los Angeles traffic for the first time but I kept chanting this mantra at varying volumes and intensities reassuring myself during frequent moments of near death.
Driving in America can be a challenge for an Aussie. Firstly, many of the roads are horrendous with potholes that try to swallow your vehicle whole and settle for spitting you out minus your intact suspension. Secondly I was sitting on the opposite side of the car to where I normally like to conduct battle. Finally, according to my 20 years of ample driving experience, I was steering my red beast down the road in the direction of oncoming disaster.
"Righty tighty lefty loosey" "Righty tighty lefty loosey" "Righty tighty lefty loosey" old habits die hard and more than two decades of turning corners in a particular fashion is hard to shake but shrill screams of "Righty tighty lefty loosey" reminded me each time that when I turned right I was to turn tight hugging the gutter hard putting me in the closest lane and when I turned left I turned loose ending on the far kerb.
Within an hour I had almost mastered the safest choice of lane direction although car parks still defaulted to my old ways and more than one angry Asian lady in a Mercedes gave me a death glare to freeze over hell.
Brazenly I headed out onto the freeway to cruise north. If you refer to the road as right lane and left lane driving in a new country will do your head in. If instead you think of it as the driver sits in the centre of the road and slow cars stay to the outside lanes you quickly get the hang of it. It occurred to me within minutes of entering the freeway that regardless of which country you are in or what side of the car you sit on or which direction you cruise in, universally the driving population does not understand the concept of slow lanes and fast lanes.
In America the left lane is the fast lane and if not overtaking another vehicle you are required to move over to the lane to your right allowing faster vehicles to overtake you safely. Not rocket science. Look to your right. If there is no vehicle on your right that you are cruising past, move to your right. Yet for mile after mile I saw great long lines of vehicles one behind the other in the left lane frustrated and impatiently waiting to go faster while the right lane was completely clear of traffic.
Often in the far distance a truck could be seen. Those vehicles in the left lane also saw the truck and without being able to gauge its speed prepared themselves to overtake it from the left lane. Perhaps they are terrified of changing lanes and so they do not want to change into the right lane and back again when they are closer to the truck. Regardless it made the right lane a much faster lane to travel in as it was free of traffic.
The other curious American driving habit of note was the inability to maintain speed while overtaking a truck creating a bottleneck effect in the left lane every time. Cars have a speed limit of roughly 70 miles per hour (depending on the road) while trucks are limited to 55 miles per hour. Yet almost every car would slow to 50 odd miles per hour once they reached the truck making their passing of the huge beast very tedious and holding up the traffic behind them. By Australian standards these trucks were mere lorries. I doubt that the average American driver would ever overtake a triple road train even with glorious multi lanes freeways let alone on the narrow single lanes of outback Australia.