After finally getting my driver’s license at the age of sweet sixteen, I remember taking our first family road trip out of the state. It was a long drive from Indiana to Maine and back, but between my dad, my older brother, and me, we planned to rotate our turns at driving. I couldn’t wait for my turn, until I realized for the first time that not all states or metropolises run by the same road rules.

My first shift of driving went straight through Cincinnati, and it turned out to be nothing like driving in Indianapolis. In Indianapolis, I could drive in the middle lane (of three lanes) and conveniently stay there until I needed to move back to the right to exit. But in Cincinnati, many lanes exited on the left. And many lanes also exited to the right. And somehow even though I had picked a middle lane on the five-lane interstate, I soon found our van in a far-left exiting lane that I did not want. Terrified of hitting the fancy sports car on my right, I signaled my blinker and slowly switched back into the non-exit lane, but my danger was not over. This happened again and again – to the left and to the right. I couldn’t believe that the Cincinnati city planners would choose an interstate system so much more complicated and different than Indianapolis. Needless to say upon our return, I was not the driver through Cincinnati.

Eventually I became more comfortable with lane changes, and years later when I moved to Chicago, I was un-phased by its traffic and the need to frequently switch lanes in tight traffic. I’m sure even Cincinnati would no longer scare me. But even still, now I’ve found myself surprised once again by the different roads and driving habits of Oklahoma.

First of all, I was surprised to encounter the dangers of Oklahoma’s various unpredictable lengths of merge lanes on the interstate. Sometimes there is a long merge lane. Other times, even though there is a long entrance ramp for increasing speed, the distance in which you’re expected to merge is only a few car lengths. And sometimes, there is no merge lane at all, just a long ramp with a yield sign at the end of it. (See the picture below as an example). The worst part: not knowing what you’re going to get on a unfamiliar ramp until you’ve nearly run out of road.

Lastly, the stop lights are quite different here compared to those of Indiana. Yellow lights in Oklahoma are extremely short, and once a light turns red the opposing light immediately turns green. This means if you want to turn left when you have neither a green turn light nor a red turn light, you must still wait behind the white line. Only when there is a break in traffic or a green light specifically for you, then you can move past that white line for your left turn. For Oklahomans this may sound obvious, but in Indiana as well as many other places, it’s normal to ease a full car’s length into the intersection with the assumption that there will be time to turn left after the straight lane’s light turns yellow and before the opposing light turns green. I’ve already seen one accident in OKC because of this. I’ve also seen several close calls, but fortunately then the drivers with a green light stopped and waited for the left-turner to get out of the intersection. Based on the number of times that I’ve watched these incidents with my hand over my mouth in worry, I can truthfully say that OKC left turn lanes are dangerous for assuming drivers, many of whom I imagine are ignorant out-of-towners.

When I came to Oklahoma, I for once was not one of these silly out-of-towners. Instead, I observed my husband drive for several weeks before I ever sat behind the wheel. But watching all of these unaware drivers nearly get hurt, I got to thinking that there should be some sort of warning out there to tell people of the various unusual driving practices across the country. I even browsed the Internet this morning for articles available, and couldn’t find many answers. I guess it’s just expected that people are always going to be smart defensive drivers.

Consider for a moment: Did it occur to you when you last went to a new state/ big city, that you might be facing different city planning and new driver expectations? It’s so easy to assume that driving anywhere is going to be just like driving in your homestate – but please be defensive and never assume. I hate seeing so many wrecks all the time from careless mistakes!

But hopefully you’re already a cautious driver and can find the diversity of the road fascinating rather than dangerous.

P.S. If you’re lucky enough to be a brainy programmer, please consider making a “defensive driver” app to accompany GPS systems. I mean, it would be great if my GPS told me, “you will have 30 yards to merge” when speeding up my entrance ramp – or when entering state lines, “Welcome to Oklahoma. Please be cautious of short yellow lights.”

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