The Guide to Driving in Los Angeles

Pacific Coast Highway | Photo courtesy of Eric Demarcq, Flickr
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Los Angeles is world-famous for its car culture. Angelenos spend a good portion of their time driving around L.A., whether it’s for work or pleasure. Many visitors enjoy exploring the 500-square-mile city in a car. Whether it’s your first time in the City of Angels or you’re a frequent visitor, here are some basic driving rules and tips to help you discover Los Angeles.

BASIC RULES FOR DRIVING IN LOS ANGELES

Pedestrians crossing Orange Drive in Hollywood
Pedestrians crossing Orange Drive in Hollywood | Photo courtesy of Mark Luethi, Discover Los Angeles Flickr pool

In the United States, traffic keeps to the right. Although each state sets its own traffic laws, most California traffic laws are the same or similar throughout the country.

The minimum California driving age is 16 years old. Drivers must possess a valid U.S. or international driver’s license.

Speed limits and traffic rules are strictly enforced. If there are no posted signs, the maximum speed is 25 miles per hour on city streets and 65 miles per hour on freeways.

California state law requires the use of seat belts in all private vehicles.

A right turn on a red light after stopping is permitted unless otherwise indicated.

Pedestrians have the right of way at any intersection. Crosswalks are considered to be present with or without painted lines. Pedestrians may legally cross at these unmarked intersections, unless a sign prohibits the crossing.

The legal drinking age in California is 21 years old. Strict drunk driving laws are enforced in California and across the country. Anyone found driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs will be arrested.

Cell Phones

When driving in California, drivers are required by law to use a hands-free device to talk on a cell phone while driving. 

Sending or reading a text while driving is against the law. This includes text-based communications like e-mails and instant messages. 

Using your smartphone’s GPS or mapping service while driving is permitted, with or without the use of a hands-free device.

CHILD SAFETY

Since Jan. 1, 2012, California law requires:

  • Children under the age of 8 must be secured in a car seat or booster seat in the back seat.
  • Children under the age of 8 who are 4' 9" or taller may be secured by a safety belt in the back seat.
  • Children who are 8 years and over shall be properly secured in an appropriate child passenger restraint system or safety belt.

It is illegal to leave a child who is 6 years old or younger unattended in a motor vehicle. Someone who is at least 12 years old must supervise the child/children who are age 6 or under. Significant concerns include health risks (e.g. a locked car on a very hot day) and safety issues (the engine is running or the keys are in the ignition).

PARKING

Vehicles parked in violation of posted regulations are ticketed and towed very quickly. Before you park, be sure to carefully read all signs that state the hours and days when parking restrictions are in effect.

  • A red curb means no parking
  • A green curb indicates parking for a limited time only
  • A white or yellow curb indicates passenger loading and unloading, no parking

Parking is often available in garages or parking lots for a fee. Many restaurants and shopping centers offer valet parking for a fee as well.

TRAFFIC LA RUSH HOUR

Los Angeles freeway traffic
Photo courtesy of Mark Luethi, Flickr

Traffic is usually heavy on the freeways during morning and evening commutes when you’re driving in Los Angeles. Weekday morning LA rush hour is roughly from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. The evening LA rush hours are around 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. and later. On weekend nights, traffic heading into or out of Downtown L.A. and Hollywood can be heavy. When freeways are jammed it’s advisable to use surface streets as alternate routes (see the freeway guide below). In L.A. a "surface street" is any street that is not a freeway or limited-access highway (aka expressway).

Freeways

Los Angeles freeway lights
photo courtesy of Shawn Park, Flickr

Scenic Drives

Corvette Stingray on PCH
Corvette Stingray on PCH | Photo courtesy of 45SURF, Flickr