Tips for Driving in Unfamiliar Places

January 8, 2019 | Attorney, Matthew Dolman
Tips for Driving in Unfamiliar Places Whether you have relocated to a new home or you're traveling, driving in unfamiliar places can be scary. You likely don't know the roads or recognize familiar landmarks, and as you try to navigate through this unfamiliar territory, you may become distracted with finding your way. However, with a little preparation and making sure to take a few important precautions, driving in a new place can be an opportunity to explore a new city, rather than a stress-inducing nightmare. Below we discuss some tips to help you drive in unfamiliar places.

Do Your Homework

When you are planning a trip to a new location, take time to do some research about the best routes between the places that you want to visit in the area. You can use navigation sites like Google Maps to study the main arteries that run through a city. While this won't make you an expert when you arrive, you may be able to recognize the main roads as you drive around if you've already done your research. If you flew to your destination, make sure to study the route between the airport and where you are staying. If you are driving around Florida, you should also research the toll roads that you will need to use. With over 700 miles of toll roads, Florida has more toll roads than any other state in the country. If you prefer not to deal with tolls while you are driving a rental car, try a toll tracking service that will give you a total at the end of your trip; that way, you can pay the car company or pay your tolls online. This frees up your mind in the moment to focus on your surroundings and your final destination. You can also study other things about the area that you are visiting, such as whether the roads are full of curves and hills or whether the area has abundant wildlife, both of which may prove hazardous at night. Some areas have road features that may be entirely different than what you are used to, such as roundabouts or odd entry and exit patterns for the freeway. Additionally, if you aren't staying with friends or family when you visit another city, you should research the parking options that will be most convenient for you. You should also read about local traffic laws that might be different from your home state, especially regarding car and booster seat rules for children.

Get Used to Your Rental Car

If you are flying to your destination and plan to rent a car, try to reserve a car that is close to what you normally drive. The huge SUV or cute little convertible might seem like fun to drive around, but driving an unfamiliar vehicle in an unfamiliar city can be a recipe for disaster. Cars with several amenities and numerous dashboard features might make it difficult to drive, and you may struggle to maneuver cars that are larger than what you're accustomed to driving. If your heart is set on a particular make or model of a vehicle that isn't similar to what you normally drive, don't try to learn how it works on the fly. Take time to review its features and how they work. When you are in an unfamiliar city, your focus needs to be on the road, not figuring out how to turn on the A/C or open the sunroof. If your rental car breaks down and you end up stranded somewhere, the rental car company will usually provide assistance, including retrieving the car and picking you up. If you are driving your own vehicle or want an extra layer of protection, opt for a AAA membership or another roadside assistance program.

Keep Your Gas Tank Full

When you are in familiar surroundings, you usually know the location of nearby gas stations. However, when driving in a new and unfamiliar area, you likely don't know where the closest gas station is located. Don't wait until your gas gauge is showing empty before you refuel. You never know how far away you are from the next gas station, especially in rural areas, so you should start looking for a place to fill up once you have less than a third of a tank left. With extremely fuel efficient cars, you are probably safe to wait to start looking for the next convenient stop until your gauge shows a quarter of a tank.

Take Time to Adjust

Once you arrive in an unfamiliar place, take time to get your bearings and adjust to your new surroundings. For some people, that might be as simple as figuring out which direction is north. For those who prefer to use landmarks to get their bearings, pay attention to notable landmarks in the area, such as churches, restaurants, tourist attractions, or anything else that stands out. As you spend more time in the area, this focus will help you drive more comfortably. Until that time arrives, burning a mental image in your mind of the landmarks that you drive by will help you get to and from where you're staying, points of interest, and important conference or meeting locations. If you are staying at a hotel, you will find that most of them provide an area map in each room for guests' convenience. Carefully studying that map will help you find your bearings and feel more confident while driving. Don't be afraid to chat with the front desk worker, shuttle driver, or concierge at your hotel regarding maps and directions. They might be able to provide you with some valuable tips about when to go to certain places and the best way to get there.

Use a GPS but Don't Depend on It

Global positioning systems (GPS) are incredible tools that help us navigate from one place to another, but they also can be a distraction while driving. Make sure not to make adjustments or focus on your GPS too much while you are driving; driver distraction causes many accidents on Florida roads. You will also find that you cannot depend on your GPS when driving in a rural area, so let your passenger navigate for you if you're traveling with another person. Also make sure to take the time to study your route before you leave for a specific location, so you have an idea of where you are going in case you lose signal for your GPS. It's also important to remember that sometimes a GPS can be wrong or its maps haven't been updated. It may not inform you of real-time traffic, road construction, or other hazards that you may encounter on your route. Blindly following your GPS can result in dangerous, or even fatal, accidents.

Allow Extra Time

If you are headed out for dinner reservations, a concert, a conference, or any event that has a specific start time, allow yourself extra time to get there. Rushing to get to your destination may cause you to violate traffic laws, such as speeding or following another vehicle too closely. Slowing down, even if only by a few miles per hour, gives you a better chance to take note of landmarks, read road signs, identify intersections, and avoid accidents. Furthermore, speeding down unfamiliar roads might actually cost you more time if you get into an accident, get pulled over by the police, or miss a critical turn or exit and have to backtrack. You want to travel with the flow of traffic, but other drivers will be okay with you slowing down a bit, as long as you try to stay in the right-hand lane and let them pass you when an opportunity arises.

Avoid Rapid Corrections

It's not uncommon to miss a turn or exit when you are driving in an unfamiliar area. In some cases, you may see where you want to go and try to change lanes quickly, make a rapid turn, slam on your brakes, or engage in some other unsafe maneuvers. Most importantly, don't make an illegal U-turn or back up on the shoulder of the road. Keep yourself, your passengers, and others safe by going around the block or to the next exit and turning around. If you are using a GPS, it will adjust your route as needed.

Don't Drink and Drive

Oftentimes, people are visiting an unfamiliar area because they are on vacation or traveling for business. When in this environment, it's easy to have a couple of beers, cocktails, or glasses of wine while enjoying a romantic dinner or discussing a business deal. However, when you combine alcohol with unfamiliar surroundings, you increase your likelihood of getting pulled over by the local police, because you are more apt to make erratic movements when you don't know where you are going and after you have been drinking. If you choose to consume alcohol while visiting a new location, you should use public transportation, rideshare, or taxi services.

Stop for Directions

Long before cell phones and Google Maps, drivers who lost their way stopped to ask locals for directions. Even with today's technology, it's still okay to stop and ask. In fact, you might have to in rural areas of coastal or central Florida, where you often can't get a signal for your cell phone or GPS. It's important to find the first travel center, gas station, or local restaurant to stop and ask for directions before you get too lost. Most convenience store employees, fellow travelers, and rest area workers will be happy to assist you.

Use Your Turn Signals

When driving a rental car in an unfamiliar city, drivers may forget to use their turn signal because they are so focused on figuring out exactly where they are going. Always make sure to let other drivers know when you are turning or changing lanes by using your turn signals. You can also signal that you are ready to stop by tapping your brakes. Additionally, some road signs may be difficult to read until you are close to them, so you might need to slow down to find your turn the first time. Give other drivers extra notice of this to avoid a potential accident.

Avoid Peak Travel Times

Traveling during rush hour or high traffic times will only increase the frustration associated with driving in a new area. In some cases, heavy traffic makes it hard to find your turn or exit safely. When you are focusing on trying to find a certain place of business or attraction, you need to pay close attention to traffic too, which isn't always easy during peak travel times. To avoid the added stress of heavy traffic, try to avoid traveling during peak travel times. In some cases, you won't be able to avoid the traffic, but do the best you can to avoid exploring a new area during heavy traffic times.

Take Breaks

If you are driving for a long period of time, take a break to refresh yourself, particularly if you are feeling stressed about driving in an unfamiliar area. It's also wise to stop after heavy rain. Additionally, you may not need or want to drive everywhere that you go on your trip. You may consider taking public transportation, catching a ride with a rideshare company, or walking. Mixing up your transportation options gives you a break from the traffic and the lack of familiarity associated with driving around a new place.

Hire a Local Attorney if You Are Involved in a Car Accident in Sarasota

Driving in a new city or town on unfamiliar roads might be scary, but it doesn't have to be. If you are prepared, focus on driving safely, and avoid distractions, an unfamiliar place can become familiar rather quickly. Unfortunately, you cannot control the actions of other drivers on the road, so even if you drive carefully, you may still be involved in a car accident. If you have been injured in a car accident while traveling in the Sarasota area, you should contact a local car accident attorney immediately to assist you with your personal injury claim. Florida's no-fault insurance laws and required personal injury protection (PIP) policies add a layer of complexity to car accident cases. Once you file an insurance claim, a local attorney can handle the details of your case, whether you are from Sarasota, out-of-state, or another part of Florida. In addition to investigating your accident, your attorney will gather witness statements, file necessary paperwork, negotiate with insurance companies, and litigate your case in court, if necessary. Call the Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA today at (727) 477-9660, or contact us online, to schedule your free consultation with one of our experienced personal injury attorneys. Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA 8039 Cooper Creek Blvd University Park, FL, 34201 (727) 477-9660


Matthew Dolman

Personal Injury Lawyer

This article was written and reviewed by Matthew Dolman. Matt has been a practicing civil trial, personal injury, products liability, and mass tort lawyer since 2004. He has successfully fought for more than 11,000 injured clients and acted as lead counsel in more than 1,000 lawsuits. Always on the cutting edge of personal injury law, Matt is actively engaged in complex legal matters, including Suboxone, AFFF, and Ozempic lawsuits.  Matt is a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum for resolving individual cases in excess of $1 million and $2 million, respectively. He has also been selected by his colleagues as a Florida Superlawyer and as a member of Florida’s Legal Elite on multiple occasions. Further, Matt has been quoted in the media numerous times and is a sought-after speaker on a variety of legal issues and topics.

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