Although I haven’t been here long enough to show non-existent visiting friends my favorite spots—mostly because I haven’t frequented any long enough to call them my digs—I am a verifiable expert of some strange driving habits of Austinites. This is sad in itself because that means I’ve spent more time in traffic on the roads of Austin than I have exploring what is supposed to be my hometown for the next year or so.
When I first got here, some of these habits confused me…but after having driven on these roads, it makes sense.
Driving on top of the car in front
First of all, anywhere else and this would be called tailgating a car; it’s rude and so unnecessary as long as the car in front is going at a reasonable speed for its lane. For the longest time, I thought Austin was just full of angry drivers, which is true, but isn’t why they all loved to tailgate so much. This freaked me out mostly because I’m one of those drivers that can’t tell how close a car is behind me, which is why I’m such a terrible parallel parker. Tailgating to me means: I have actually not used any gas for the past few miles; it was your car pushing mine.
After a few weeks though, I found myself tailing other people. Why? Because aggressive assholes see normal gaps between cars as opportunities to cut you off. Austinites are excellent at knowing (or maybe not knowing) the exact measurements of a gap and whether their car will fit through or not.
They don’t speed
One of the paradoxes of the Austin driver is that despite their road rage, most of them stay under the speed limit. This is purely self-preservation. Before moving here, accidents back home were a rare occurrence; however, days are few and far in between when I see only one accident on my way to or from work. I once saw three accidents on one journey and didn’t even bat an eye.
Perhaps the only people getting into accidents are those out of town because they don’t yet know the fear all Austin drivers take on before getting onto the road. I know that I’ve developed a hyper sense of where all cars are at all times and that checking my blind spot has never been more crucial than on the roads in Austin.
There are two types of drivers: those that let you in and those that can go die
You would think that after countless times of being that person trying to merge and not getting ANY leeway at all, Austin drivers would take on the Autobahn characteristic of seamless merging. Sometimes, this is not the case. On few occasions, I’ve had to depend more on my aggressive merging habits (see #1) than a kind stranger allowing me to merge in front of him. However, many drivers here are sympathetic to the this-merge-lane-is-10-feet-long so they let you in which is why the next habit is a thing.
Prolonged turn signaling
Usually in other states, the moment you turn on your turn signal should be when you’re in the middle of the merging process. Any earlier than that and it’s just an opportunity for the car you’re about to merge in front of to be an ass and speed up. That’s just how it is. But in Austin, if you don’t turn on the signal, no one knows what you’re trying to do and if you end up being honked at on all sides, you have no one to blame but your slow turn-signal finger.
Really slow merging
This drove me crazy specifically because merging usually isn’t that hard. You have one lane you can feed into for an appropriate run way before being asked to segue into the other lane. Here, however, you can run into two spots of trouble:
- The merging lanes are ridiculously short. It’s probably like 10 feet before you have to crowd into the other lane. That lane is usually ALSO used as an exit lane… something that other states actively try to avoid doing. So here, in Austin, there’s usually STANDSTILL TRAFFIC from people pulling switcheroos from one lane to the other. If you’re not exiting within the next mile, try to be as far left as possible.
- Say goodbye to normal 4-way intersections because here, we really like to multitask! It’s common to find yourself turning into a 5- or even 6-way intersection, so cars move super slow as they check out each corner of the street for cars that may be careening into your path at any moment.
Anyways, know these things before you come and driving here will be a breeze! Drive safely and good luck on the roads, kiddies.