How to Drive in Birmingham

Stockton Street San Francisco Street Photography

Let me start off by saying, I'm not the best driver. I've had my driver's license for almost two years and been actually only driving for a year, so I'm definitely not a seasoned driver. I am, however, fairly knowledgeable of the California DMV driver's handbook. I read that book front-to-back several times in preparation for my written test and to familiarize myself with the rules of the road. I know the driving laws for California. 

I've only driven in California once, but I can tell you Alabama drivers and driving is nothing like California. You'd image that since the Bay Area is a much larger area with a larger population that the traffic would be crazier than Birmingham, but it's not. I can say, hands down, that Alabama drivers are the complete worse drivers I have ever witnessed, and I've been to places like China, India, Boston, New York, LA...etc--places with notoriously aggressive and chaotic traffic. Well, they've got nothing on Birmingham and here's why:

If you want to drive in Alabama you just need to do the following to fit in:

Ignore all emergency vehicles when their lights are flashing.  Do not stop or pull over. This is probably the worse thing drivers do around here. I live in about a 10 minute driving radius to at least four major hospitals, so there are constantly ambulances with their emergency lights on on the road. You'll often see ambulances with their sirens on getting stuck behind cars who just won't pull over.  Because it happens more often than not, I honestly wonder if they know they're supposed to let the ambulances through. Lance once pulled over to the side of the road for an ambulance and the car behind him honked him!

Drive at least 10-15 miles over the speed limit in the slow lane and about 20-30 miles over the speed limit if you're not in the slow lane. I'm not sure why but everyone here seems like they're in a rush to get somewhere. Why? I don't know. It takes about 5-15 minutes to get everywhere in Birmingham, but yet a lot of drivers speed. In my neighborhood, I'll sometimes find that people drive 35-40 mph where it's a 25 mph speed limit. And that leads me to my next "tip".

Tail the car in front of you like you're glued to their bumper. If you're driving in bumper-to-bumper traffic, I completely understand driving that close to the car in front of you, but drivers in Alabama will tail cars regardless of whether traffic is going 20 mph or 90 mph. I have no idea why people do this. It's so unsafe. I prefer to drive with at least a car's length distance in front of me. When we're in California, everyone maybe be speeding or driving fast or whatever, but everyone has a reasonable distance between them and the car in front of them (i.e. the faster the speed, the larger the distance between cars.) 

Tail and pass everyone in front of you. Make sure to also weave through traffic, too. If you don't don't drive at least 10-15 mph faster than the speed limit, you'll most likely anger the car behind you. They'll come up really close behind you, pass you, then purposely cut you off. And this is in 40 mph roads and 70 mph roads; it doesn't matter to them. Seriously, the drivers are pretty reckless. They need to slow their roll.

Speed up when there's a yellow light, no matter how far you are from the intersection. Bonus points for running the red light. I know this is pretty common everywhere, but it seems especially commonplace here. I feel like at most intersections this happens. This is particularly crazy to me because it's pretty obvious that yellow means slow and red means stop. Didn't we all play "red light green light" as a child? 

At a four-way stop go when it's not your turn. I've been at countless four-way stops and people often disregard the laws where the first one who arrives at the stop gets to go first or if you arrive at the same time, the car to the right has priority. Here drivers go after the car the in front of them. It boggles my mind. 

Park wherever you want. I don't really see this anywhere else in the country, but drivers will park literally anywhere. It doesn't matter if it's a grass island in a parking lot or the fire lane or loading zone, people just park wherever they want. One time I was parked in a parking spot and another car parked behind me boxing me and the car next to me in. 

Do not let drivers in. I see this happen both on the freeway and the streets. If there's a stoplight or stopped traffic, drivers will block intersections or entrances to parking lots, preventing other drivers from pulling onto the street. On the freeways we have spots where the freeways converge with other freeways and you need to quickly change lanes to get where you need to go. There are also some, what I think, wacky on-ramps that end quickly. In both these scenarios I see cars speed up so those merging cars can't come into their lanes.  It's crazy. 

Finally, do not use your blinker, ever. This is one of the scarier things for me. I never really quite know where someone is going or if they'll stop suddenly to make a turn. People will not turn on their blinker to exit, change lanes, turn, indicate a turn at intersection...etc. So I never really know where people are going. It puts me on edge.

I should note while these things are pretty common here, obviously not everyone drives crazy. Birmingham is a great place, and I absolutely love it here. I am just always shocked at how unsafe and not-so-nice some of the driving is here, more so than any other place I've visited. While talking about this with friends, someone once mentioned it could be because people are coming into Birmingham from the country where there's less enforcement of rules. So maybe that's it. Either way, Birmingham has really great, amazing people, but just, you know, generally awful drivers. :D 


Stockton Street, San Francisco, CA. April 15, 2015 | Canon Rebel XSN. Kodak Gold 400 film processed by Richard Photo Lab