(Photo courtesy of "Daffodil")
Behind the Wheel in the Free Republic of Northern California
I appreciated the recent article about driving in New Jersey. Here is a similar article on the driving experience on the Left Coast. Since I am from NJ originally, I can identify five differences, as follows.
-Roads. I live in Sonoma County, about 70 miles north of San Francisco. The roads are like something in the Third World. Our county has 1384 miles of roadways in the unincorporated areas outside of the nine cities. There is only enough money in the budget to maintain 150 miles of these roads; the rest will apparently eventually revert to gravel. Keeping them in shape would cost $55 million a year, ten times the county pavement repair budget. The problem is the distribution of revenues from the state gas tax, which at 18 cents a gallon, is low relative to other states. The state keeps half, and the other half is split between the cities and counties. Each of the 58 counties gets a share based 75% on the number of vehicles registered and 25% on the number of road miles. This is bad news for a rural county. What about property tax, you ask? Out of each dollar, 72 cents goes to the state; 28 cents goes to the county general fund, and a half cent goes to transportation and public works. Driving around our county, which gets 7 million tourists a year, reminds me of the old saying about driving a Morgan: to keep comfortable, you should keep an old piece of inner tube between your teeth. When we visit NJ, we are always astonished at the high quality of the roads there.
-Traffic Enforcement. One of the most amazing things about driving here is the danger of getting a very expensive ticket. The Sonoma County DMV shows 331,556 licensed drivers. In 2010, there were 80,485 traffic citations, almost a 1:4 ratio! Even more shocking is the cost – state and county assessments can increase the cost of a $35 ticket for running a stop sign to $234, and boost the cost of a $100 ticket for failing to yield for an emergency vehicle to $480. Speeders are the biggest violators, with cellphone users close behind. I got a ticket for making an illegal left turn, and the fine was $400. I told the judge he could send me to jail, but he sentenced me to work for 25 hours in the Goodwill store, where I spent $400 on the goodies which were unloaded every day. Did I mention that our gas prices are the highest in the US? When we visit NJ, we are surprised at how much cheaper the gas is there.
-Wrecking Yards. Here is one area where we have an advantage. Since my daily cars are all at least 20 years old, I need to get parts at our local Pick and Pull yard. Unlike NJ, where the wrecking yards are pretty messy, ours is as neat as a pin. When you walk in, the tires and batteries are all displayed indoors, carefully sorted. The yard is segregated by GM, Ford, Chrysler, import, Japanese, and truck. Each vehicle is up on wheel rims, with plenty of room around it, and many cars are completely unmolested. The yard is neat and clean, and even loans you hoists and carts, and has clean PortaPotties as well! I have some pretty obscure cars, and I can always find parts cars in the yard with what I need. They even have a for-sale lot, and they post the collector cars on Craigslist! It is a pretty sophisticated operation, and ecologically it is head and shoulders above anything else going on in the automotive world. Of course, the fact that it doesn’t rain between April and November means that the yard is clean and dry. Advantage: CA.
-Old Cars. You don’t see old cars on the road in NJ, but you do here. We don’t have an annual inspection like NJ, but we do have a smog test. However, if you live in the rural areas, where there is no smog problem, there is no requirement for a smog test, except when you first buy the car. This means that you can buy a car and drive it for decades without ever having it inspected. Actually, with all of the cars I have bought, I have only had one fail the test, and it was permanently labeled a “Gross Polluter.” It was an Alfetta GT, and it was my fault for failing to adjust the carburetion. While you don’t see as many old cars as you did when I moved here 30 years ago, you do see a lot of old trucks, which never seem to die. Advantage: CA.
-Rust. There is no rust in CA. ‘Nuff said.
Conclusion. I’m not sure you can draw any definitive conclusions, but if you drive old cars every day, I think that CA has an advantage.
Brandes is a long time JaCG reader and a great writer. I'm flattered that he took some time to write and contribute this piece. Thanks, Brandes!