4 Tips for Driving in LA

Picture courtesy of Panoramio

Picture courtesy of Panoramio

When you ask people what they love about LA, there are plenty of answers. When you ask what they don’t like about LA…it’s always the driving experience. Traffic, parking and regulations are a few elements that make getting around a pain.

I was lucky enough to move here with a pal who’s from the area and had experience on the roads. He gave me some great pointers. With a few simple tips about navigating the city, driving isn’t as awful as it sounds.


1. The Right Car


The first thing you should know is that choosing the right car is a must. I drove a standard Beetle back in Texas. I knew it wasn’t the right car for LA. If you have to make it from Hollywood to Studio City, you’ll be driving over the hills.

There can be bumper-to-bumper traffic and with a stick shift, your car falls backward before you can drive it forward. The last thing you want is to hit the car behind you on Mulholland drive. Driving a standard in traffic is also taxing. You always have to keep your hand on the stick, constantly changing gears.

Bottom line: drive an automatic or a hybrid. With the amount of gas needed to get around, vehicles like the Prius, Smart Car and Tesla are on the rise. Size is also important and the smaller the car, the better. Many people drive Mini Coopers because they’re zippy and can squeeze in the tiniest parking spot.


2. Parking: Read the Signs


Which brings us to the most obnoxious part of driving in LA: parking. Many neighborhoods have regulated parking hours and street cleaning. It can be a hassle. First thing’s first, read the signs. Make sure you see how long you’re allowed to park in each space.

It may be anywhere from 2 hours, to all day, with no overnight parking. Also, make sure you park on the correct side of the street. There are two hours allotted for street cleaning on various days, especially in the West Hollywood area. Permit parking is also an issue. Many streets don’t allow you to park after 6pm or 8pm without a permit for that specific neighborhood. Read the signs, and you’ll be fine.

You should also take metered parking seriously. Twice, I’ve been running to my car just as the Parking Patrol officer is writing me a ticket. They don’t care if you arrived 30 seconds after your meter expired, they will still write you a ticket. If you have an audition or a meeting, always allow yourself plenty of time to make it back to your car. Also, keep quarters handy. Many meters take credit cards, but a few in Santa Monica and the downtown area only accept coins. Have some with you in your glove compartment or cup holder just in case.


3. Make a Left on Red


The other important tip on driving in LA is understanding the left turn. I had no idea why three cars were running red lights when turning from the right lane, left. I thought they would surely be hit by traffic or ticketed. But no, given the lack of left turn arrows, you almost always have to turn on yellow or red. Most of the time, three cars will make the turn before on-coming traffic commences. Be confident, and make that left turn fast! Otherwise, you’ll be hanging in that right hand lane forever.


4. Don’t Use Your Cellphone While Driving


Cell phones in the car can be dangerous. LA cops are strict about detecting cell phone usage. If you have your phone to your ear or texting, you could easily be pulled over and given a $159 ticket for your first offense.

Don’t text and drive, and if you have to make a call, use headphones or stream your phone through your car stereo system. Given the traffic in LA, many people text while bored sitting on the highway. I’ve had plenty of friends who end up rear-ending cars because they’re looking down at their phone. It’s just not a good idea.

The best way to learn how to drive in LA is to just do it. You’ll find ways to stay sane in 2-hour traffic, and side streets that make your trip smoother. Using a GPS may help you as well. As long as you’re alert, read the signs, stay on time and respect your other road neighbors, you can conquer driving in LA.

Meredith Alloway

Meredith Alloway is a LA local and Texas native. She is currently Senior Editor at TheScriptLab.com where she focuses on screenwriting education and entertainment resources. She also launched her own interview show “All the Way with Alloway” where she scoops the latest up and coming industry insiders.


  • Reply February 10, 2014


    To clarify on the left turn on red. You mean make left turn on red in the absence of the red arrow (assuming traffic is clear)? Is that even legal?

    • Justin
      Reply February 10, 2014


      Edward that is correct and legal. You can read more information about it here: http://apps.dmv.ca.gov/pubs/hdbk/turns.htm

      • Cassie Paton
        Reply February 11, 2014


        I’m not seeing the text that says it’s legal to make a left turn on red. I see that it’s legal for one-way streets, but not at a regular intersection. Enlighten me?

        That said, I see people turning left on red ALL the time, and I’ve adopted the practice since moving to L.A. since it just seems to be accepted. I didn’t know you were supposed to get a CA license after moving here. I thought you had to be here a year…

        Aaaand I drive a stick shift in L.A. It’s truly no fun in traffic, but I’ve gotten used to it. But yes, you have to be extra careful on hills.

        And a tip: Waze is a great app for avoiding traffic. Sometimes I’ll be surprised by the small residential streets it wants me to turn on, but because they’re almost always clear of traffic, it works! It’s been a lifesaver a couple of times since I downloaded it two weeks ago.

        • Justin
          Reply February 12, 2014


          Hi Cassie,

          That is correct. The above link is referring to a one-way street. However, you are allowed to enter an intersection and, if you must, stop in the center and wait until you can complete your left turn. Regardless if the light is green, yellow, or red you have the right to make your left turn once you have cleared oncoming traffic. All other traffic is legally required to wait for you to complete your left turn even if they have a green light.

          To reference the legality of this you will need to refer to CA Vehicle Code
          Section 21450-21468 and Section 21800-21809

          Section 21450-21468 allows you to “float” in the intersection while attempting to make your left turn— It states:

          (a) A driver facing a steady circular red signal alone shall
          stop at a marked limit line, but if none, before entering the
          crosswalk on the near side of the intersection or, if none, then
          before entering the intersection, and shall remain stopped until an
          indication to proceed is shown, except as provided in subdivision

          Section 21800-21809 gives the driver the ability to wait in the intersection and make the left turn (when clear) regardless of light color. It states:

          (a) The driver of a vehicle intending to turn to the left or
          to complete a U-turn upon a highway, or to turn left into public or
          private property, or an alley, shall yield the right-of-way to all
          vehicles approaching from the opposite direction which are close
          enough to constitute a hazard…
          (b) A driver having yielded as prescribed in subdivision (a), and
          having given a signal when and as required by this code, may turn
          left or complete a U-turn, and the drivers of vehicles approaching
          the intersection or the entrance to the property or alley from the
          opposite direction shall yield the right-of-way to the turning

          • Cassie Paton
            February 12, 2014


            Thanks for the info! I had no idea this was legal. I just thought everybody was bold and getting away with it. I’ll stop checking for cops every time I go on a red light. 😉

          • October 21, 2014

            David Thomas Newman

            I believe this is true only if your vehicle has already entered the intersection. If you have pulled out into the intersection AFTER the traffic light has already been red, that is illegal. However, if the light is green or yellow (then you get stopped in your process of turning), and half of your vehicle has already entered the intersection, then the light turns red while you are sitting in the middle of the intersection, it is okay. Is that correct?

          • Justin
            October 27, 2014


            That is correct!

  • Reply February 10, 2014


    Nice post! I would’ve liked you to cover the fact that you must take a written test to obtain a California Driver’s License within 10 days of moving to LA. I’ve lived here for 2 years now and because I’ve never gotten pulled over I never knew that! I will take it soon, just kinda pushing my luck until it is detrimental that I fully convert over. Funny thing is I’ve renewed tags and everything since living here with my Indiana ID.lol Everyone BUT a cop and DMV have told me that I would need to obtain a new CA license but hey…I never asked either. 🙂

    P.S. You might want to add the whole ticketing doubling after 15 or so calendar days too. If you got a parking ticket for $65 it would double to $140 after the 15th day of non-payment. It goes on your credit as well. Just FYI.

    • Justin
      Reply February 10, 2014


      Thanks for sharing the additional tips! The 15-day doubling of tickets can be a pain.

  • Reply February 10, 2014


    If you’re car goes backwards on the hill, it’s not the car’s problem — you just don’t know how to drive a stick. I drive a manual and not once did my car went even a inch backwards when I stop uphill.

  • Reply February 11, 2014


    I will buy a motorcycle.
    I am aware of the risk but with the right amount of experience (i have been driving scooter and motorcyle for more than 15 years) you can totally handle it. Or not?

    LAne splitting FOR THE WIN

  • Reply February 11, 2014


    Thanks for the tips… here’s another one; DON’T drive in L.A. any time between 3-8pm… this city would be perfect if it weren’t for the insane rush hour traffic!

  • Reply January 14, 2015


    Thank you for this article! My only apprehension about moving to LA has been the traffic. Not because I’m afraid, but because I’m coming from another huge city (Houston) with horrible traffic (lol).
    But this kinda let me know that LA wouldn’t be so different.
    I love this website.
    I’m moving to La La Land in March and I’m excited. :0)

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