How to Drive in Phoenix…

by Doug Zanes | Last Updated: October 5, 2021

If you are a driver out in Phoenix, you may have seen a hilariously true post going around social media entitled “How to Drive in Phoenix”…

And we all got a few chuckles in and quite a few nods after going through Ryan McDermott’s facetious list of “rules” of driving the Phoenix Highways…

Here’s what he cautions for:

  1. You must first learn to pronounce the city name, which is ‘FEE-NICKS’. There are other names to learn, such as Ahwatukee (Ah-wa-Too-Kee), but that will be in the advanced course.
  2. The morning rush hour is from 5:00 am to noon. The evening rush hour is from noon to 7:00 pm. Friday’s rush hour starts on Thursday morning.
  3. The minimum acceptable speed on most freeways is 85 mph. On Loop 101, your speed should at least match the highway number. Anything less is considered weak.
  4. Forget the traffic rules you learned elsewhere. Phoenix has its own version of traffic rules. For example, cars/trucks with the loudest muffler go first at a four-way stop; the trucks with the biggest tires go second. However, East Valley, SUV-driving, cell phone-talking moms ALWAYS have the right of way.
  5. If you actually stop at a yellow light, you will be rear-ended and cussed out.
  6. Never honk at anyone. Ever. Seriously. It’s another offense that can get you cussed out.
  7. Road construction is permanent and continuous in Phoenix. Detour barrels are moved around for your entertainment pleasure during the middle of the night to make the next day’s driving a bit more exciting.
  8. Watch carefully for road hazards such as drunks, skunks, dogs, barrels, cones, cows, horses, cats, mattresses, shredded tires, squirrels, rabbits, crows, vultures, javelinas, roadrunners, and the coyotes feeding on any of these items.
  9. Maricopa Freeway, Papago Freeway, and the ‘I-10’ are the same road. SR202 is the same road as The Red Mountain FWY. Dunlap and Olive are the same street, too. Jefferson becomes Washington, but they are not the same street. SR 101 is also the Pima FWY except for west of I-17, which is also The Black Canyon FWY and The Veterans Memorial HWY. Lastly, Thunderbird Rd. becomes Cactus Rd. but, Cactus Rd. doesn’t become Thunderbird Rd. because it dead-ends at a mountain.
  10. If someone actually has their turn signal on, wave them to the shoulder immediately to let them know it has been ‘accidentally activated.’
  11. If you are in the left lane and only driving 70 in a 55-65 mph zone, you are considered a road hazard and will be ‘flipped off’ accordingly. If you return the flip, you’ll be cussed out.
  12. For summer driving, it is advisable to wear potholders on your hands.

How to Really Drive in Phoenix

Of course, this is the humorous version of how to drive in Phoenix. Sometimes, with the heavy traffic and things that Phoenix drivers do that make no sense, all you can do is laugh. In the end, however, road safety is no laughing matter. You must take this seriously, since it is a matter of life or death. What you do behind the wheel can make a difference in whether you reach your destination safely. Phoenix is not the easiest city to drive in, with one study placing it as the 18th most traffic-clogged city in the country. Bottlenecks are growing worse, and drivers do not handle them well.

Below are some real tips for driving safely in Phoenix.

Always Expect the Unexpected

When you are behind the wheel, you can only control your own actions. The things over which you have no influence are the actions of other drivers and road conditions. You never know when you will be at the wrong place at the wrong time, next to a reckless or careless driver, who is either having a bad day or something far worse.

While you do not need to drive afraid, you do need to be as defensive as possible. Always maintain the proper distance between yourself and the other vehicle. In addition, you should always scan the horizon for possible hazards ahead.

Driving defensively will give you more reaction time when you do need to make a sudden maneuver to avoid danger. You cannot predict what may happen around you, but you can put yourself in as good of a position as possible to react. Someone else’s bad day does not have to become yours too.

Be Patient

Driving in Phoenix will test the patience of even the most laid-back people. The traffic and poor drivers on the road are enough to frustrate anyone. However, driving emotionally will cause you to take risks and make poor decisions. While it is easier said than done, you must do everything you can to keep your emotions in check. If traffic is bad, you must recognize that it will take you more time to reach your destination, and there is nothing else that you can do to get there faster.

When you get impatient, it translates to driving more aggressively. This increases the danger to you, your passengers, and other drivers on the road. Remaining calm helps you react better to what is happening around you and helps you remain in a defensive posture.

Patience also means driving defensively. Given the Phoenix traffic, it is a very bad idea to tailgate another vehicle. Allow three to four seconds of distance between you and the car in front of you. In bad weather, increase this distance.

Use Your Turn Signals

One of the most frequent causes of accidents is easily avoidable by taking a single second of a driver’s time. Drivers who do not use signals when they turn or put on their blinkers too late cause millions of accidents each year. Drivers around you depend on you to signal your intentions, so they can react accordingly. Failure to signal could lead to a rear-end or blind spot accident.

Surveys consistently show that the reason why drivers do not use their turn signals is that they are simply lazy. However, this only takes a split second. It should be a habit for every driver and part of their routine when they turn, change lanes, or enter traffic. This fraction of a second can make the difference between a safe turn and an accident.

Know Where the Danger Spots Are

Phoenix is a car city, and it seems like everybody gets around with their car. This makes for some traffic-clogged roads and dangerous intersections. It helps to know the potentially dangerous areas in the city so you can exercise extra caution. In Phoenix, when asked to name the most dangerous road in the area, the near-unanimous answer is I-10. This road seems like a free-for-all in Downtown Phoenix.

Plans could expand this highway to as many as eight lanes in each direction to accommodate the massive rush of traffic. Meanwhile, one study showed that I-10 in Arizona had the fifth-most traffic fatalities of any highway in the United States.

In addition, I-17 heading north from Phoenix is also known as one of the most dangerous roads in the state. Here, the road rises almost a mile in elevation with twists in the road. The highway is heavily used by trucks, making it even more unsafe.

Here are the most dangerous intersections in the Phoenix area in terms of the most crashes:

  • 75th Avenue and Indian School in Phoenix
  • 67th Avenue and Indian School in Phoenix
  • 67th Avenue and McDowell Road in Phoenix
  • 99th Avenue and Lower Buckeye Road in Phoenix
  • 51st Avenue and Camelback Road in Glendale

Exert extra caution and avoid all distractions in these intersections.

Learn How to Drive in Rain

As a desert city, Phoenix gets very little rainfall. However, the weather that it does receive can make life difficult for drivers. This is especially true when it first starts to rain on a very dry road. This is when roadways are at their most slippery. The rain may collect grease and other contaminants on the roadway, making driving even more slippery. In fact, sudden rainstorms are one of the most dangerous road conditions in Phoenix.

Rain in Phoenix is almost like snow in other cities. People who have been driving in the city all their lives may not have experience driving in slippery conditions. You should always slow down when it is raining, even traveling below the speed limit if necessary. Go no faster than circumstances allow. Rain also means wind, and that can kick up dust from the desert that makes it impossible to see.

Learn How to Care for Your Car in the Summer

Driving in Phoenix in the summer is unlike any other place due to the extreme heat. It is not just a harsh winter that can take a toll on your car. Very hot conditions can also break down your vehicle. One of the harshest effects that weather can have is on your tires. Extremely hot surfaces can cause tire wear, and you could end up with a flat tire or a blowout. It is important to check tire pressure often during the summer.

In addition, extreme weather can cause your car to overheat quickly. Your car’s fluids protect it from the heat that can harm the engine. This is why it is vital to check fluid levels regularly. Further, you should regularly check your battery, as it can also be affected by the intense Phoenix summer heat. Finally, another key fluid is your coolant, and you should perform periodic flushes, as this is your first line of defense against overheating. Summer is the time when you need to do preventative maintenance in Phoenix.

Prepare

With the extreme Arizona weather, you should always be ready if your car breaks down. This means that you should have provisions in your car to help you in the event of an emergency. For example, you must have a safety kit in your vehicle. This will help you if you are stranded. Keep snacks and water handy in case you need them. In addition, you should also have reflective triangles and flares, so other motorists can see you on the side of the road. Always make sure that your phone has a full charge and that you have a car charger for your cell phone.

Being prepared also means regularly checking the air conditioning system. This is one of the most critical parts of your vehicle in Arizona. You do not want to be caught out in the heat without AC in your car. This also means routinely checking the coolant levels.

Avoid Distractions

Distractions for drivers these days are numerous. Things were dangerous, even before the smartphone came around. Now that people have texting and social media to occupy them, the state of affairs for drivers is even worse. As we said above, you should expect the unexpected. If you are sending a text or reading your phone, you will lose valuable seconds to react to something happening around you. Even seconds on your phone can cost you a football field of space in which you could react to something happening in front of you.

The same goes for other things like eating and doing makeup behind the wheel. Even if it does not take your eyes off the road, it will take one or both hands. This could cause you to drift out of your own lane and into another lane or oncoming traffic. It will also keep you from reacting when you need to to avoid danger.

Take Care Around Large Trucks

There are more large trucks on the road these days than ever. Both Walmart and Amazon have massive fulfillment centers in the Phoenix area. This means massive trucks on Phoenix-area roads. Stay out of these trucks’ blind spots when driving. You must assume that the truck driver cannot see you if you are in the immediate vicinity. This is why you should never tailgate a truck. Allow a little extra distance between you and the truck. If you are going to pass the truck, take extra care to allow for safe passing.

Pay Attention on Rural Roads

Outside the immediate Phoenix area, you may encounter isolated rural roads. There is a temptation to drive faster on these roads, thinking that nobody else is around. Rural roads are every bit as dangerous as city roads in terms of fatalities. Many people take curves fast and speed on these roads, but they are unfamiliar with the terrain.

Even if you drive perfectly safe on these roads, you can never guarantee that other drivers will. In addition, you may have less of a chance of surviving a serious accident on an isolated road because you are so far away from medical care. Resist the temptation to take extra chances on these roads.

Be Careful Touching Your Car

This is another specific caution that you must take living in Phoenix. Your metal car will get extremely hot to the touch. It can burn you if you touch certain car parts. Also, exercise great care getting into your car. Things such as the steering wheel and seat belts can crow dangerously hot. Try to find shade for parking and use a window shade when parking to keep the interior of your car from growing dangerously hot.

Pull Over During Dust Storms

Living in and near Phoenix, harsh weather conditions can cause dust storms. These can reduce a driver’s visibility to near zero. It is almost impossible to drive through a dust storm, nor should you even try to do so. You can’t see the other cars around you. The first thing that you should do in a dust storm is gradually slow down. Do not jam the brakes or a car behind you that can’t see you might rear-end your vehicle. Then, look to pull over to the side of the road as soon as it is safe to do so.

Do not stop in a travel lane because you could get into a rear-end collision. The Arizona Department of Transportation actually advises motorists to turn off their lights when parked in a dust storm. Otherwise, drivers may use your car as a guide to the road’s lane and hit you.

Call a Car Accident Lawyer if Someone Hits You

Should you find yourself in an accident while driving responsibly in Phoenix, give a car accident lawyer a call to see if you can recover compensation for your injuries, car repairs, pain and suffering, and more.

Doug Zanes: Founding Attorney Raised in Douglas, Arizona, and went to college at Arizona State University and graduated from law school at St. Mary’s University School of Law in Texas. Doug began practicing law in Phoenix Arizona in 1997.
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