Navigating the Pacific Coast Highway
Pacific Coast Highway or “PCH” is a portion of State Route Highway 1. A drive down the PCH is accompanied by beautiful scenic views and great attractions. Out-of-state visitors and Californians alike drive through this highway as it serves as an access route to the greater Los Angeles Area and San Francisco Bay Area.
For many out-of-state drivers, making a road trip into California is an exciting adventure. However, driving regulations are different from state to state. Without knowing the laws of the land, a fun trip can easily become a disaster. To help you out, we’ve compiled a few helpful tips.
Safety Tips and Driving Regulations
Cruising down the PCH you will certainly encounter your typical driving regulations such as speed limits and lane regulations. However, when driving on busy scenic routes such as this one you are more likely to come across the unexpected. Our friend Victoriah Arsenian references some safety measures concerning wildlife on the road, road etiquette and fuel which we will also cover here. (https://moon.com/2016/04/driving-tips-pch-road-trip/)
Highway Safety is important on the PCH because the highway “includes many sharp curves, steep ledges, and high cliffs” that do not have guardrails. When navigating unfamiliar roadways, especially those that may be difficult to traverse, consider the following safety tips:
- Taking your time, as weather conditions change without notice.
- Keep and eye on your speed limits during weather conditions and adjust it as needed to remain safe
- The PCH is not illuminated by streetlights, so visibility can be difficult at night. Planning ahead of time is essential if you are not comfortable driving at night.
Wildlife Close Encounters
Citydwellers rarely worry about wildlife while driving, aside from your occasional squirrel. When traveling along the PCH you are much more likely to see wildlife make an appearance on the road. You may see “deer, elk, foxes and raccoons” using the roadway as it was made for them. For the safety of drivers that use the PCH, warning signs are provided when the higher possibility areas are approaching.
If you encounter wildlife on the roadway, take the following steps:
- Stop and honk
- Wait till the animal has moved completely off the road
- Do not get out your car. It is dangerous to approach wildlife.
Rules of the Road
Road etiquette is important to keep in mind regardless of where you are driving. Despite established rules and regulations on the road, you have probably encountered a driver that is not on the same page.
On multi-lane interstates, it can be easy to navigate around slow drivers, or move over for faster drivers to pass. In contrast, the Pacific Coast Highway is a two-lane highway, which can bring up some issues for “speed racer” drivers. When “speed racer” drivers are present it is important to be hyper aware so you can move over and allow them to pass. It is always better to be cautious than be driving at an uncomfortable driving speed because of a “speed racer.”
As we discussed earlier, some sections of the PCH are more narrow than others and often lack guardrails. With roadways that can be more difficult to navigate, share the road and be courteous to other drivers.
Speed racers are not the only culprits of breach of etiquette on the roadways. As tempting as it may be to slow way down on scenic routes, driving too slowly can cause traffic congestion or even accidents. For this reason the law “requires drivers to use a turnout or to pull over wherever you safely can do, if you have five or more vehicles following you.” If you are a visitor from out of state, do not get mad or offended if other drivers are honking to request you move to the side; they don’t know who is a visitor or not. To avoid confrontational situations like those, ensure you pull to the side when you are a slow moving vehicle on the road.
How’s Your Fuel Level?
Road trips can often involve unanticipated delays or detours. As a result, keeping an eye on fuel levels is of elevated importance when traveling.
The PCH does not have many fuel stations as many of the areas it covers are rural. Fuel up more often than usual and consider stopping when you see that fuel stations are available. There are a number of apps and websites to help drives plan ahead. Waze, the popular navigation app, has a great tool to help seek out nearby gas stations and provides user-updated prices. GasBuddy.com is another app that looks for fueling areas around you with inexpensive prices.
Keep in mind that any cell phone use by the driver is illegal in California. Ensure to plan your stops ahead of time or have your passengers navigate you to the nearest gas station to avoid receiving a citation.
Driving in California
Our final tip may seem a bit obvious - be knowledgeable of how to drive in California. Most people are experienced drivers by the time they take their first road trip to another state. As a result, they are generally pretty confident in their aptitude as a driver. However, driving in any state is a different experience, as “personal safety measures, speed limits, speed limit enforcement, eyes-on-the-road laws, and carpool lanes,” vary by state. (https://www.visitcalifornia.com/attraction/driving-california)
On long trips, seat belts can become burdensome as they restrict what limited mobility you have in the car. However, as long as you are within the California state line, seatbelts are mandatory for the driver and all passengers in the vehicle.
Seat belt laws are even more strictly enforced if small children are in the vehicle. After a few hours in the car, kids can become fidgetly and beg to get out of their safety seat or remove their seatbelts. It is the responsibility of the parent and/or guardian of the child to ensure they are properly restrained at all times. If a parent or guardian is not present, the responsibility falls on the driver. Driving through unfamiliar areas can put you at risk for an accident, so taking the proper safety measures inside of the vehicle is of the utmost necessity.
For those who dream to take the PCH by motorcycle, safety measures apply to you as well. As provided by Driving in California, California law makes it mandatory for motorcyclists to wear a helmet at all times.
These measures may seem like a drag, but high tourism rates means high accident rates as well. Do not underestimate the need to take the needed safety precautions, lest a dream vacation turns into a nightmare.
Other Laws to Look Out For
Now that we’re all buckled up, it’s time to talk about other roadway regulations you will likely encounter on your trip.
When we are familiar with the areas we drive in, the speed limits become almost second nature. In California, the speed limit will change depending on the type of road. The speed limits for each road will be posted on signs, so keep an eye on the signs to avoid any speeding violations.
A drive down the PCH can be considered Instagram Paradise. Though it can be tempting to share details of your trip while you’re on the road, the eyes-on-the road law in California prohibits drivers to “write, send, or read text-based messages while driving.” Any interaction a driver has with their mobile device must be facilitated through Bluetooth or hands-free settings. Save the selfies for when you’re safely stopped.
Traveling with friends or family? Carpool lanes are a great option. Carpool lanes are lanes that are “reserved for the use of vehicles with a driver and one or more passengers.” Carpool lanes vary by states, each state has stated time restrictions and the required passengers in the car. California carpool lanes “require the driver and at least two more people; in San Francisco some carpool lanes have a minimum for three people in the vehicle”.
Keeping an eye on carpool lane signs is essential as each city has different regulations. The Los Angeles carpool lanes differ as well, as it has different entering and exiting zones. As an out-of-state visitor, keeping an eye out will help avoid any traffic violations.
The PCH is a beautiful highway to take when traveling in California, so exploring it is well worth your time. Getting familiarized with driving guidelines can sound boring, but it will definitely come in handy to avoid any driving violations. Road trips are meant to be fun and safe for all those involved. Review these tips while planning your route and you will be well-prepared for an exciting adventure.