Behind the Wheel: License to Drive

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Michelle Krebs, senior analyst at and editor in chief of, kicks off a Brian Lehrer Show series on cars and driving with a discussion on the peculiarities of driving in New York and New Jersey.


Michelle Krebs

Comments [57]

Bill from nj

Every state & country has its concept of driving. It is best to observe and adopt to the locals instead of driving properly. Yes NY drives in the left, NJ in the middle and Germans stay right unless passing at 90 plus. In India lights and proper lanes are suggestions.
China whose bumper is in front. Bankok is amazing for allowing side st entrance and exit.

Oct. 10 2011 09:54 AM

If we want to improve the driving conditions we need to remove about 50-60% of the drivers currently on the road and teach them all over again. (Perhaps with electric shock therapy?) As well as the kids they have infected with their poor and selfish driving habits.

Otherwise it will remain a everyman/woman/child for themselves situation....

Oct. 06 2011 05:21 PM
Michael Greenwald from Yonkers, NY

Speed has nothing to do with which lane you should be driving in. If you are being passed on the right, you are in the wrong lane.

Oct. 06 2011 04:04 PM

michael, ur joking, right? your rule would be true only if there were no such thing as a speed limit. scary!

Oct. 06 2011 01:19 PM
Michael Greenwald from Yonkers, NY

The most important rule of driving is very simple and unintelligible to New Jersey drivers.

"If anyone can pass you on the right, when driving on a highway, you are driving in the wrong lane."

No Jersey driver is capable of understanding that!

Oct. 06 2011 11:24 AM
Gene from NYC

I learned to drive at 15 1/2 in CA. In my first year I got 3 speeding tix and was in a fender-bender. If I got one more ticket, I'd lose my license. I was panicked. That could NOT happen!

What I did was 1) slow down a bit and 2) ALWAYS be on the lookout for cops everywhere. I scanned the road far ahead, searching out danger. I lived in the the rear-view mirror. I knew what was happening front, back and to the sides of my car. Years went on, and I found that habit turned out to be very useful in avoiding/getting ready for all sorts of bad situations.

My driving advice: know what's going on all around you.

Oct. 06 2011 11:16 AM
Laura Pliego from Montclair, NJ

I moved to New Jersey six years ago (grew up in CA), and while I have many complaints about driving in NJ (horrible signage being at the top of my list), I absolutely LOVE the New Jersey Left. I think it's brilliant. The first time I saw it done, I was so impressed with the simplicity and efficiency of it. I don't do it myself unless waved on to do so by the oncoming car, but I never mind when someone else does it in front of me, cutting me off. So what if I have to wait five seconds before I move through the intersection myself?

Oct. 06 2011 11:13 AM
Jane from Brooklyn, NY

NJ - they have ridiculously, unnecessarily over-sized vehicles that are unsafe for everyone else on the road.

Q: What is now considered the margin of safety between vehicles? I ask this because (back in the day) we were told one car length per 10 mph. I see now that it seems to have been reduced to 3-6 feet at ANY speed.

My retort to people who complain about slow drivers in the left lane: Basically, yes, I travel in right to middle. There are times when I have to pass someone in the middle lane and pull into the left. I drive mostly in NYC and surrounding area. I allow plenty of space, and do not jerk in front of any car. Very often, someone in the distance, going 80-90 runs up to my bumper and drives right there. At this point, if I have safely passed the vehicle and am not close to them, I pull over, signalling with my turn signal. Of course. But many drivers behind are not happy with this. Sometimes one gets trapped and cannot turn over. I feel unsafe with this huffing person behind me who is not paying attention except to his/her own need to be the fastest. Sometimes I blink my lights to attract their attention. It becomes, at some point, impossible to pull over when the opportunity opens, because people will beat you to it, and rapidly pass you on the right, cutting you off.

Q2 what are the laws about passing on the right? A lot that is done, is highly dangerous.

Oct. 06 2011 11:11 AM
Abby from Bronx NY

Perhaps a question for a psychologist rather than a driving expert, is what happens to people when they get behind the wheel? I feel like there is a resultant drop in IQ. Maybe not everyone, but certainly a very large percentage of drivers simply do stupid, selfish, dangerous things. A car (or truck) can be a deadly weapon & some simple, common sense behavior is called for. What happens to us? I've been driving for about 40 years, I don't drive timidly, but I take the situation / environment into account & take simple precautions. Maybe a question for next week.

Oct. 06 2011 11:07 AM
Peg from Manhattan/Rhode Is.

I find that drivers in New York and other northeastern states
DO NOT SIGNAL. To me that is really an important safety item that no one talks about. Driving lessons should stress this.

Oct. 06 2011 11:02 AM
Jeff from Westchester County

I was a body/vehicle development engineer in the auto industry for 25 years working all over the world and a recently moved resident to the NYC area. If you look at the bell curve of driving abilities, I have been amazed by how many "very poor " drivers there are in the NY/NJ area.
In the detroit area you have a large population of people who have (for work) get a great deal of extra training, and use it daily for evaluating prototype vehicles and this info gets dispersed throughout the population.
Here you have a large number of people who are poorly trained, and have little experience driving who are doing crazy-dangerous things with a 4000lb weapon in their hands.

Oct. 06 2011 11:00 AM
em from nj

I recently moved from Manhattan to northern New Jersey. I attribute the crazy driving I see in both places to 1) scofflaw driving and 2) the fact that many drivers took instruction in different parts of the world. Everybody has his own rules.

Oct. 06 2011 10:59 AM
Dean from East Brunswick, NJ

When I learned to drive, we were taught that the law of the land was "drive right, pass left". When was that law repealed? I have driven throughout this country and in Europe. Europeans seem able to "drive right, pass left", whereas in the US, on multi-lane highways drivers choose their lane based simply on personal preference.

LLDs (left-lane drivers) are the single most prevalent danger on our highways, and NY drivers are worse in this respect than NJ. PA drivers are worse than both.

Oct. 06 2011 10:59 AM
Dorothy from Manhattan

I kid you not: I rec'd a phone call yesterday from high school classmate. (We're loooong out of hs).

She and husband a bil/sil are coming to NY this weekend. They live in a suburb of Dallas. Husband plans to drive around NY in his car -- will not take public transportation. Classmate says it's because he's so tied to his car. But I know the REAL reason is that he doesn't think "diversity" is such a hot idea. I think this is very funny that this bigoted guy is going to try to find a parking spot near the Empire State Building, etc. It's going to be a disaster and he deserves it. ;-)

And now you know why I never kept in touch with my HS classmates. They happened to find me a couple of reunions ago. I went to a BIG reunion 3 years ago and was depressed for a month!

Oct. 06 2011 10:59 AM
Vera from New York

This discussion is silly - no one thinks someone else drives better then themselves. There are great and bad drivers everywhere. To state one state is better or worse then another state does not make sense, it is just generalization and a bunch of complaining. Can we go back and talk about more important things such as the nobel prize or the wall street occupation?

Oct. 06 2011 10:59 AM
Bea Foley from New Jersey

I learned in NY state (years ago) and have been driving in NJ for the last 9 years - these are the rules in NJ:

1. I have the right of way to do what I want whenever I want and wherever I happen to be.
2. I lose all I ever learned about driving if there is any form of precipitation in the air.
3. I will go slow in the left lane.
4. I expect you to drive defensively when I decide to cut you off or move suddenly!!

New Yorkers drive much more defensively - but, truly, I got cut off all the time when I drove in 3 midwestern states!

Oct. 06 2011 10:58 AM
Aaron from Jersey City

From a former New Yorker (40 years) and one now living in NJ. This is a massive case of "confirmation bias." When we're annoyed by another driver, we look for a reason. The first place we look is at the plate. These anecdotes if applied to race or any other category would be completely un-PC.

Oct. 06 2011 10:58 AM
Elaine Petrowski from Bloomingdale, NJ

Born and raised in NYC... parallel park like a champ.
Now live in NJ ... I have always said you need to grow "fangs" in the middle of the GWB when driving into NYC.

Ridgewood NJ has seen a HUGE rise in the number of pedestrian/car accidents, much attributed to inattentive driving.

Oct. 06 2011 10:58 AM
Kate Swan from Teaneck

I live in Bergen County and have lived and driven in NYC as well. NJ signage stinks. And NJ drivers honk excessively and unnecessarily, especially in left turn lanes and as lights turn green.

Oct. 06 2011 10:58 AM
Ron from Washington Heights

New Jersey drivers in Manhattan are, along with their Connecticut kin, the worst. Why? Because they have this insane idea that there are no laws lanes, no speed limits, park anywhere you one's watching and anything goes, THIS IS YOUR PLAYGROUND!

Maybe too many car-chase movies, I'm not sure. But it boils down to a lack of respect for someone else's hometown.

Oct. 06 2011 10:57 AM
K Shaw

AARP offers a online driver safety course at a cost of $19.95. go to Just saved 10% on annual insurance premium cost in NJ.

Oct. 06 2011 10:57 AM
gene from NYC

I remember driving up Amsterdam one day, when the car on the far right turned left; at virtually the same time, the car on the far left turned right, both without signals. Both from NJ.

But in their own state, they seem fine.

They say that Boston drivers are the worst, but having driven in Boston, I'd say, yes--but it's because the PEDESTRIANS drive them to it. I once say a guy in a wheelchair racing through a red light(!) holding up the traffic with the green.

Oct. 06 2011 10:57 AM
Bob from Westchester

To Hugh Sansom: You're not following the news - the NYPD ticket scandal in the Bronx is all about moving violation tickets being fixed (allegedly), not parking tickets.

Oct. 06 2011 10:57 AM


I think drivers should be 're-certified' twice per decade and at least one of those should be an actual behind the wheel test. A simulator would do.

Got my license in '73 and was driving for pay as a delivery person THAT NIGHT. The big differences are road density - there are way more cars on the road today than 30 years ago and cars have too much horsepower. 300 and 400+ hp cars are not uncommon and that amount of power under the control of a teenager is just scary.

Oct. 06 2011 10:56 AM
Mark from Westchester

NYC driving is unique, inasmuch as you need to defend that 20 feet in front of your fender or someone else will take it, especially cabs. Jersey will tend to take away your right lane on a highway with little to no warning, and the roundabouts are a problem when those entering don't yield to cars already within.

Oct. 06 2011 10:56 AM
S.W. Alexander

New Jersey has recently passed very strict graduated license laws for younger drivers, wouldn't better preparing young drivers make the roads safer than limiting them with new rules to break?

Finland has some of the safest drivers in the world and some of the best racing drivers largely due to their extensive driving schools, the US should consider adapting similar systems.

Oct. 06 2011 10:56 AM
Amy from Manhattan

Is there anyplace that lists the kinds of legal peculiarities Ms. Krebs gave examples of for driving in each state? Are they gathered on a single website somewhere?

Oct. 06 2011 10:56 AM
sheldon from brooklyn

Parallel Parking - I failed my driving test five times because of it.

Oct. 06 2011 10:56 AM
Tom Palasits from Fanwood, NJ

There is nothing as dangerous as a NY driver in NJ. As a lifelong NJ resident I must admit. We have the worst signage in the country.

Oct. 06 2011 10:56 AM

DMV employees are regularly arrested for selling licenses to people who are not trained drivers.

Usually they are targeting individuals who do not have papers. It presumably takes a few years for an untrained driver to become familiar with the rules. Intersections, for example, become games of chicken in these conditions.

In addition, it is rare to see a police use a turn signal or practice other safe behaviors. If they set an example it would help.

Oct. 06 2011 10:56 AM
Suzie from MANHATTAN

ACCESS-A-RIDE drivers seem to be trying to create more customers.

Oct. 06 2011 10:56 AM
Jim from NYC

Why is it that NJ drivers can't figure out Pass left Drive right? Leads to massive tailgating, right lane speeding etc. I even see the signs posted on the turnpike (every 1.8) miles. The Palisades is a two lane death trap.
The contrast vs. polite Canadians is remarkable.

Oct. 06 2011 10:55 AM
Andre from Long Island City

I learned to drive while stationed in then-West Germany where you have to learn how to drive through a traffic circle.

I live on Prospect Park and the small traffic circle that takes you to Coney Island Avenue that no one seems to be able to navigate. I call it Suicide Circle because people on the inside of the circle will make a right turn to exit the circle...and the license plates are from everywhere!

About the signes in N.J.: I think that they buy their signs with the absolute minimum allowable text!

Oct. 06 2011 10:55 AM
Tara Pontani from Brooklyn, NY

Having toured this country by car many times over and being a frequent driver of our north east region - Pennsylvania drivers are by far the worst! And New Jersey signage is horrendous!

Oct. 06 2011 10:55 AM
Jeanne Kirchner from Hawthorne, NJ

Why, why, why do New Yorkers INSIST in driving in the left lane, and do it painfully slowly?????

Oct. 06 2011 10:55 AM
James from Huntington NY

we all know Massachusetts drivers are the worst....

Oct. 06 2011 10:55 AM
Richard from NYC

PS I wnt to school in Oswego!

Oct. 06 2011 10:54 AM
Marc from Brooklyn

New Jersey is a pretty bad place to drive, but the worst demographic might be seniors. On balance, they're as clueless as any I know. Can we not tighten qualifications as one passes sixty years of age?

Oct. 06 2011 10:54 AM
antonio from bayside

I got my license 2 years ago; I am 40 now and I think both states are horrible in their demonstration of skills.
I feel i am really good because I got my license when my brain was fully formed unlike my fellow tri-staters....I was raised in hell's kitchen where we didn't need a car.
In general US drivers are not put through the rigors of international drivers...

Oct. 06 2011 10:53 AM

Everywhere, the law dictates stopping at a red light, at a stop sign, indicating a turn. So what explains New York, NJ, and CT drivers not doing any of these things?

What explains young men thinking it's cool to drive at night with headlights off?

What explains the universal driver _speed-up_ when it's clear a pedestrian is about to cross the street?

What explains NYPD _never_ ticketing moving violations -- only parking?

Oct. 06 2011 10:53 AM

Given the amount of accidents with cars, I don't understand why road tests are not more strict and why people are not required to refresh their skills every so often.

Oct. 06 2011 10:53 AM
peter from brooklyn

as a cyclist, i feel much more comfortable riding close to NY cars than Jersey cars. I feel that the people who drive in NYC the most are the ones who are most aware to cyclist traffic. Especially when it comes to opening the doors to a parked car.

Oct. 06 2011 10:53 AM
Richard from NYC

I ride a bicycle in NY, and NJ drivers definitly do not treat bikes with the same respect, it think the suburbs dont have the bicycle sensitivity. CT isnt much better

Oct. 06 2011 10:52 AM

I've lived here for 24 years, but learned how to drive in CA which is where I am from and lived for 23 years.

One thing I learned from my Driver's Ed teacher in high school is that driving is a cooperative, not competitive.

90% of drivers in New York and NJ are competitive. If people learned how to cooperate when they would drive, there would be less stress and rage.

Oct. 06 2011 10:52 AM

NYC drivers are the worst when driving in Jersey; Jersey drivers are the worst when driving in NYC.

Oct. 06 2011 10:52 AM

I grew up in upstate NY (way up near Oswego), lived in NYC for many years, and now live in New Jersey.

I think New jersey drivers are the worst I've had to drive around. They're erratic and overly aggressive. Add to this the fact that roads are designed badly, and the signs are terrible in NJ, and it's pretty unpleasant sometimes.

NYC drivers are aggressive, but predictable, in my experience.

Oct. 06 2011 10:51 AM

I live close to the border of northern NJ and southern NY. I find an overwhelmingly high percentage of New Yorkers drive in the left lane of highways and when you come up behind them, refuse to move to the center or right lanes.

Oct. 06 2011 10:51 AM
Smokey from LES

I think New Jersey drivers encounter fewer pedestrians at home and I find them less willing to yield to us in crosswalks here.

Oct. 06 2011 10:51 AM
Leo in NYC from NYC

It's not NY vs NJ, it's drivers of luxury cars vs. everyone else — the 99% of drivers!

I always know to watch out for the luxury cars. Their drivers ring their sense of entitlement to the road. They drive aggressively and with no regard for other drivers. When everyone is waiting to get on the bridge, it's always people in Lexus SUVs driving up to the front and cutting in.

Occupy the BQE!

Oct. 06 2011 10:50 AM
Jennifer from Jersey City, NJ

I live in Jersey City and I've noticed something about NJ drivers I call the "Jersey left." If you're waiting at a red light, and the car in the oncoming lane is waiting to turn left, they go first. In NJ people wait for this to occur. When a Jersey driver is in NYC they do it anyway.

Oct. 06 2011 10:50 AM
Ed living in NJ from Oak Ridge, NJ

I noticed after moving to NJ ten years ago that NJ drivers have no concept of how to "merge" onto a divided highway. They do fine when going from two lanes to one in heavy urban traffic (e.g. holland tunnel) but when entering a highway, they completely ignore the traffic and just plow straight ahead, expecting the free way drivers to slow down or speed up for them, exactly opposite of what is taught in driver school.

Oct. 06 2011 10:50 AM
Richard Johnston from Manhattan upper west side

When I see a vehicle in Manhattan waiting at a stop light that has advanced to block the pedestrian crossing, it is most often from New Jersey or Pennsylvania, presumably because they are not accustomed to dense urban environments. I can't decide whether to give them some slack or ask them to behave.

Oct. 06 2011 10:49 AM
dan m from manhattan

I've driven in NJ and NY and the drivers do much scarier things in NJ. However, I believe this is due to the fact that NJ has the WORST SIGNAGE in the United States.

Oct. 06 2011 10:49 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

Good for you, Carolita!

I quit driving and smoking over a decade ago, and don't miss either one. Over third of a century of driving and smoking was more than enough, and I figured it was time to quit both while I was still ahead.That is, still alive and relatively accident-free.

Oct. 06 2011 10:47 AM
Jon from Mahwah

I have noticed a difference when getting off the highway between NY and NJ drivers. NJ drivers tend to move to the shoulder, slow down, then exit. NY drivers tend to slow down while still on the highway, then cut across the shoulder on their way off. While this is not a complaint it makes me wonder if there are differences in the education of drivers. Of course both states have different traffic laws, but exiting a highway seems universal.

Oct. 06 2011 10:47 AM
carolita from nyc

I know how to drive a car, technically, but knowing what a bad driver I am -- people would get killed, maimed -- I responsibly have not acquired a license or a car, and rely solely on mass transit. No regrets, either, when I look at my friends who commute in a car and the money and the hours they waste. I wish other people would be as civic-minded, and less selfish. There are many people who oughtn't be on the streets.

Oct. 06 2011 10:32 AM
gary from queens

Anyone who doesn't drive with one foot on the accelerator and the other on the brakes when driving on 2nd Avenue or the Jackie Robinson Pkway (formerly the "interborough parkway) is taking his or her life in his or her hands

Oct. 06 2011 10:12 AM

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