Town Square

Post a New Topic

Bad driving in the Silicon Valley

Original post made by Nayeli, Midtown, on Apr 21, 2015

When we relocated to the Bay Area several years ago, we noticed the strange driving habits of many local drivers. I noticed that many drivers seldom use blinkers. Blinkers are important for safety reasons but they are also a measure of vehicular politeness.

We also noticed that some drivers leave very long distances between them and the car in front of them when parked at a red light or stop sign. I've seen cars that were parked two, three and even four car lengths behind the car in front of them. While this isn't normally a big deal, it does cause problems when some of the cars behind you are trying to make it to the turning lane but are blocked from it because one or two drivers are parked so far behind the car in front of them.

The other day, I was driving on 101. A male driver was merging from an entrance ramp. He was eating a breakfast sandwich when he almost hit me. I was driving in this lane because I was approaching my exit. Instead of being apologetic, the driver was noticeably angry (he shook his hand in the air -- still with food in it -- in anger) even though he was the one in the wrong by failing to merge safely or use a blinker.

Yesterday, I noticed a woman who took a left turn from a residential street onto Alma during heavy traffic. She didn't cut anyone off, but actually turned into the center turning lane and stopped there and waited for her chance to cut into traffic. The problem was that she was parked in the center turning lane and now blocked the two or three drivers from turning too. She wasn't merging into traffic even when she had the opportunity. One driver honked at her, but this only elicited a "crazy" response (shaking violently with both fists in the air). It seemed like she was oblivious to her own poor driving skills.

Anyone know what causes this? At first, I thought that this was a cultural issue (i.e., differences between driving laws in other countries and the U.S.). My husband cautioned me about driving stereotypes -- stereotypes that I didn't even know existed. It just seems that the state should do a better job reinforcing some good driving techniques.

Comments (20)

Posted by Moi et Toi
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 21, 2015 at 3:19 pm

What I have noticed most are stop sign runners! I have even seen the police commit this one. Also, illegal left and U turns, double parking, blocking driveways, and of course, speeding recklessly.

It's as though everyone thinks that their particular destination has priority over anyone else's.

Some of the local CEOs are the biggest offenders.

Posted by Most are above average
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 21, 2015 at 3:40 pm

Two things: the use of a blinker used to be much better. It is in decline in the Bay Area. It is considered offensive and a sign of weakness in LA, people there will cut you off just because you use a blinker. That attitude is moving north.

Why do people wh drive poorly remain unaware of their incompetence: Dunning Kruger effect.

Web Link

Some of the best research I have ever read.

Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 21, 2015 at 3:45 pm

@Nayeli, I agree with you...
[Portion removed.]
My pet peeves, as a driver of a small car, include:
- people texting or using their cellphones while driving. This inattention results in minor to major problems, inconveniencing others, like their "waking up" in time so only THEY get through the light, etc., or else major safety risks from their poor driving as they come close to running down pedestrians, etc.
- people who drive arrogantly with their monster SUVs (examples: drive over the lane lines - risking causing a collision with nearby normal-sized cars, and parking rudely - again, over the lines or SO close that us regular sized people can't get out of our regular sized cars!)
- the rise in status cars here has led to a definite entitled state as in the Bimmer drivers.
- the not signaling thing is a California thing, sorry, that has been a problem for a long time

Posted by pedestrian
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 21, 2015 at 3:50 pm

The stop sign runners are the worst. In the residential parts of Palo Alto, cars will run the stop signs almost 100% of the time. Pedestrians really have to watch out, even in bright sunlight, but especially after dark.

After one driver almost hit me, she yelled that she didn't see me. Maybe if she put down that cell phone and stopped at the stop signs and paid attention, should would save someone's life.

Posted by Stop the Trolls
a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 21, 2015 at 4:07 pm

[Portion removed.]

And as to the point Nayeli makes in this post: If you think drivers in this area are bad, spend some time in the District of Columbia. The drivers there will make you want to quit driving altogether...

Posted by Facts please
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 21, 2015 at 4:40 pm

"Some of the local CEOs are the biggest offenders."
I would like to know on what you base this statement. How do you know who the drivers are? How do you know all about the local CEOs driving habits? Which CEOs are you referring to?
Bottom line, there are bad drivers EVERYWHERE. It is just that in Palo Alto we think we are so special, that everyone should be a perfect driver

Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 21, 2015 at 8:28 pm

@ Facts please: I agree that it isn't very wise to accuse CEO's of bad driving. I've seen a few well-known CEO's out-and-about on the road and they seemed to drive well.

As for bad drivers: Yes, I think that there are many everywhere. However, Palo Alto tends to have a different type of bad driver. From my own observations, they included the ones mentioned in my initial post. I haven't seen as many drivers like this in the other states and countries where I have lived, studied and visited.

My question was whether it was due to a difference in driving culture (e.g., laws, norms, habits, etc...) in the countries from which many Palo Alto residents have originated. I recently returned from an out-of-state trip and was surprised at the difference in driving behavior. Yes, there were some bad drivers, but they exhibited "normal" driving habits and not the ones that I mentioned in my initial post (or some of the other behaviors mentioned in subsequent posts).

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 21, 2015 at 8:35 pm

Some states have distracted driving laws. These do not just cover cell phones and texting, but eating and drinking too. I have even seen people driving while shaving.

Anyone who thinks that they can eat and drive, or drink coffee and drive doesn't realize how distracted they actually are.

Posted by Interesting
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 21, 2015 at 10:22 pm

That's an interesting observation about the blinkers. You are so right. What's interesting about it is what "most are above average" says about LA -- because that's how Boston was. If you used your blinker, you'd never be able to move over. In fact, if you even looked over your shoulder, too bad for you. I had to unlearn all those habits when I came here. Maybe it happening here is a function of just more and more traffic.

I've noticed the same thing about people leaving too much space, but more often I've had the experience of people coming up behind me and honking aggressively to get me to move into the crosswalk or even the street so they could move by. I was on East Meadow and Alma just this week and this woman comes up behind me and honks like crazy so she can turn onto Alma. I first made sure there weren't any kids around, but I really moved my car just a little too far forward if there had been pedestrians (or the light wasn't going to turn to favor my lane soon) and she was really close pulling to the right of me. I waved to acknowledge, thinking she would at least wave a thanks, and she never looked, she clearly was just annoyed that someone else had been in her way, nevermind that I just pulled a little too far into the road for comfort just so she could get by. I've been honked at by people at El Camino and Arastradero more than once even when there were people crossing the street in the crosswalk, as if I should move into the crosswalk so they could bean the people and turn right a few seconds earlier. Of course I didn't move then, but it's really annoying to sit there and have someone honking and honking at you when you refuse to move your car into a crosswalk with people in it. I've had far more of those experiences.

On the other hand, I do wish to apologize to everyone I've ever cut off at the El Camino Way East Meadow turn. There's just something about that intersection that gets people going in the wrong order kind of automatically. I've cut people off accidentally and been cut off by people not taking their turn. I don't get mad because I've done it myself, there's just something about that intersection. I do try extra hard to pay attn because of it. Maybe it's because it's busy 2 ways for much for the day but coming from the other side only occasionally.

Posted by Sparty
a resident of another community
on Apr 21, 2015 at 11:26 pm

Sparty is a registered user.

Some cars don't come with turn signals, ie BMWs, Audis, and Prius. However everyone should have had to demonstrate hand signals when they took their drivers' test right?

Posted by Palo Alto Native
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 22, 2015 at 1:10 am

Ha, I completely agree that the lack of using the blinker has come from Los Angeles! I use my blinker and have not yet found that I get edged out on the freeway, but my husband refuses to use his blinker due to the LA drivers.

ONE IMPORTANT NOTE that many non-native Palo Altans do not know: When turning right, pull into the bike lane when the lines break. Most people do not know this and they pull all the way up to the corner, then turn right. Drivers are supposed to give bikers a heads-up that they are going to turn right.

Another thing I have noticed is that Palo Altans don't honk. People who honk are usually not Palo Altans (assumption through appearance/non-scientific). I find most Palo Alto drivers to be polite.

My peeve: Drivers who wave you through when they have the right of way. They should follow the laws and find other ways to be polite instead.

I see a lot of red light running by commuters on Embarcadero and OrEx.

Another note: There are bad drivers of all ethnicities (because I've thought of the stereotype in my mind and have been proved wrong too many times).

Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 22, 2015 at 2:32 am

Judging from the police logs, PAPD issues about 4 citations per day for driving with a suspended license or no license (CVC 14601 or 12500).

How often do you get pulled over and need to show your license? One day out of a hundred? One day out of a thousand? And if you didn't have a license, you would probably be extra careful?

Does this tell me that every day there are 400 to 4000 people driving the streets of Palo Alto without a valid license? Or are the police just really good at profiling?

Posted by MostAreAboveAverage
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 22, 2015 at 7:43 am

You can sometimes tell if someone behind you has the "more aggressive than thou" LA attitude.

Here is how you cure them:

1) find a slow car in your right lane, slightly ahead of you.
2) put on you right blinker. this point if they are not from LA they will just stay put - nobody should pass on the right.

BUT if they are from LA they cannot resist trying to cut you off on the right. It's the blinker that draws them in.

3) they then rush the gap and find themselves trapped behind the slow car ahead and your car to the left.
4) the rage builds, but here is the best part - they could just slow down and get left to go faster. But they won't. Slowing down, passing on the left and using a blinker are unheard of in LA.

I call it blinker-baiting.

Posted by Another
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 22, 2015 at 8:33 am

Having lived elsewhere on the peninsula and in several other parts of the country, I think Palo Alto drivers are actually some of the most considerate I've seen.

It was a little jarring when we first moved here from another peninsula town to see how much drivers here slowed down for pedestrians and ground to a halt whenever there were school children nearby. I'm often stuck behind drivers who actually follow the speed limit on Middlefield and residential streets. I know that they're right and that everyone should be slowing down, me included!

And one thing you get much less of here is guys driving "monster trucks" and pickup trucks in a very aggressive way. You also don't get many teens in hot rods "laying a patch" and peeling out. I got a lot more of both things in that other town I lived in on the peninsula.

All in all, it's just a much more civil and considerate environment on the roads here, and I think that reflects the kind of people who live here.

Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 22, 2015 at 6:30 pm

@ Sparty: Are you sure? I looked up the companies that you mentioned (Audi, BMW, Prius) and they all seem to have turn signals that are manual.

Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 22, 2015 at 6:32 pm

@ Another: I am not pointing out Palo Alto specifically (although I have noticed many of these issues here). I am writing about the entire Silicon Valley.

Posted by Former Easterner
a resident of Professorville
on Apr 22, 2015 at 6:35 pm

As bad as the scofflaws in Palo Alto are, they have nothing on Boston or DC. One never sees indented cars in either city for a reason.

However, I have to say that my son was once nearly run over by the late Steve Jobs, who made an illegal left turn from Waverley to Santa Rita. CEOs are often preoccupied mentally while driving. Many still talk on cell phones while driving.

However, mentioning current CEOs of some high tech companies who live in Palo Alto and are preoccupied drivers could be risky, but I think those of us who live anywhere near them know who they are.

Posted by rick
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 23, 2015 at 1:01 am

rick is a registered user.

@Nayali, there are large collections of BMW and Prius jokes.

Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 23, 2015 at 1:05 pm

@ rick: Was he joking? If he was, that went way over my head! LOL!

Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 23, 2015 at 2:12 pm

Pedestrian is right - "In the residential parts of Palo Alto, cars will run the stop signs almost 100% of the time."

Lately I see many more bicyclists coming to a complete stop at stop signs than cars. When Fresh Market was open I had occasion to use Channing Ave. even more than normal and I was surprised at the drivers, even right at the school that blow through the stop signs on Channing, but also on Lincoln and throughout most of the rest of the City as well.

People are not paying attention to what they do and people who have bad habits they do not correct is the problem. Routinely cars will race, overtake and pass me in front of me to make a right turn that forces me to hit the brakes when they could probably have gotten there just as fast falling line behind me.

People also get frustrated by how slow this makes everything go, and it makes them go even faster and be even ruder and slow down things even more. A significant number of times when I am at a stop light the light turns and the person in front does not see it and I have to give a little tap so they do not hold up the big line of people behind them.

Another thing I see every day without fail is ... what do they call it ... hot boxing or something, the left turn Embarcadero to East Bayshore towards the Post Office and Home Depot ... people force their cars into the intersection so that when the light turns green for us crossing 101 to enter Palo Alto from the Baylands direction cannot even move. The police need to really get on some of these people, they knowingly move out into the intersection when they can see very well that they will blocking it for everyone.

One final thing is that people are parking like real jerks lately. Too close to or strattling the lines in the parking lot, especially the lots on the south side of California Ave. The city could solve this by taking out one space from these lots and make the other spots just a little bit wider ... enough so people can get into or out of their cars.

Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.


Post a comment

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Stay informed.

Get the day's top headlines from Palo Alto Online sent to your inbox in the Express newsletter.

Holiday Fun in San Francisco- Take the Walking Tour for An Evening of Sparkle!
By Laura Stec | 8 comments | 2,600 views

Pacifica’s first brewery closes its doors
By The Peninsula Foodist | 0 comments | 2,303 views

Premiere! “I Do I Don’t: How to build a better marriage” – Here, a page/weekday
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,702 views


Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund

For the last 30 years, the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund has given away almost $10 million to local nonprofits serving children and families. 100% of the funds go directly to local programs. It’s a great way to ensure your charitable donations are working at home.