First, let’s just say if you have the option to fly into New York City and then use public transit that would be preferable. However, there can be many reasons for wanting to drive to, or in, this busy metropolis. Maybe you’re doing a road trip from your home state and New York is on the itinerary. Possibly you’re flying into New York, and staying downtown, but want to rent a car for day trips outside the city.
Whatever your reason, it’s not an impossible feat to drive in the Big Apple but, it’s much easier if you’re well prepared. These tips for driving in New York (or any big city) will help keep you calm, aware, and most importantly help avoid a car accident.
Especially if you’re staying in Manhattan, or any city center core, plan to park your car and leave it there until you want to head out to the suburbs and beyond. Public transit in New York, as in most major cities, is far more efficient and far less stressful than driving. Using your car to go 10 blocks for dinner or to the theater will likely take more time than the subway, or even walking. Plus, it will definitely cost much more for parking.
If you have an adult (or level-headed teenager) traveling with you make them your co-pilot. Make sure they have directions to where you’re heading, they’re not distracted by playing on their phone and have gone through this list of tips before driving into the city. New York is a busy place and having two sets of eyes on the road is a big help.
This is especially important if you don’t have a co-pilot. Program your destination on your GPS well ahead of time and do a test run to make sure the volume is where you want it to be. The last thing you want to do when driving in New York is to take your eyes off the road which is why having voice navigation is vital.
Not every city has the same laws so it’s good to do a bit of research on NYC driving laws before you go. For example, you can’t turn right on a red light in NYC (unless otherwise posted.) The speed limit in the city is 30 miles per hour which may seem ridiculously slow but it’s with good reason. Besides, it’s unlikely you’ll get the chance to go much faster with all the traffic.
Signs are there for a reason so make sure to pay attention to them. If you don’t, you may find yourself trying to turn left at a time when it’s not allowed. This could result in a costly fine or at the very least having other drivers scream and honk at you in anger…not a fun experience for anyone. Ironically, it’s actually illegal to honk in NYC and comes with a fine of $350!
Cars aren’t the only thing you have to be aware of on the streets of New York. There are thousands of cyclists, often weaving in and out of traffic, as well as pedestrians ready to step out in front of you even when not at a crosswalk. Speaking of crosswalks, be aware that pedestrians will often get an advance green allowing them to cross before you can go. In other words, make sure you watch your traffic light rather than the pedestrian crossing lights.
Everyone is in a rush in New York or any city for that matter. However, in reality, nobody is getting anywhere fast. There will be constant traffic jams, construction, city vehicles blocking the road, any number of things can cause a backup. As long as you keep that in mind, stay calm, and just wait for your turn to move you will be one of the sane ones whose blood pressure isn’t rising to a dangerous level.
It’s probably obvious why you shouldn’t challenge a bus: they’re bigger than you and will always win. Plus they tend to go slowly (especially tour buses), block traffic, and also block your vision from what’s ahead. Therefore, it’s best to be patient if you’re stuck behind a bus and wait until it moves or it’s absolutely safe to pull out and pass.
Taxi drivers in NYC are just plain fearless. They weave in and out of traffic, stop suddenly, and can get pretty impatient if stuck behind a slow vehicle. It’s really best to just try and stay out of their way and always keep an eye on them if they’re in front of you.
Hopefully, you have taken the advice to park your car at your hotel and leave it there. But, if you do need to drive in the city and park your car have a parking plan at your destination. Look on Google Maps for the closest garage, call the restaurant you’re going to, or ask the concierge at your hotel. Better yet, download an app like NYC Best Parking which will help you locate the cheapest place to park near your destination. If you find a spot on the street make sure you check for signs that will tell you if it’s pay parking. If it is you will need to find the Muni-Meter, get your ticket and place it on the dash of your car.
Born in England, Sarah developed her wanderlust at a young age as she traveled around Europe with her parents. As a young adult she spent every penny she could on experiences as opposed to possessions. Eventually she found a way to earn a living doing what she loved: traveling, writing and capturing images of the wondrous world we live in. When not on the go Sarah enjoys time in her “sometimes home” of Vancouver.