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Driving in NYC requires some serious skills and patience to conquer. Between the impatient and angry drivers, impossible street parking, inability to turn right on red, and the nightmare of getting stuck in the middle of an intersection, it’s definitely not the place you want to leisurely cruise between destinations. But if you should build the bravery to dive into the sea of yellow taxis in the Big Apple, you’ll want to be prepared with these safety survival tips.
New York City is perfect for a family vacation. There are iconic sights, museums, zoos and botanic gardens throughout the five boroughs. There are even lots of fun free things to do in NYC with kids. Although public transportation can take you around, you might prefer to drive. If you’re planning on driving in NYC, there are special considerations.
One of the most important things to now about is a special law. Never make a right turn on red. It’s illegal in New York City. It may be legal in your hometown, but don’t try it here.
Also, if you have a green light, but you can’t clear the intersection because of traffic, don’t “block the box.” You can get a ticket for impeding the flow of traffic. And drivers of cars that you’ve blocked will be honking and cursing at you. This can be very intimidating for you and your family.
Before piling into the car, read these tips for driving in NYC. They just might save your sanity – and your car. And read this to find out the one time you never, ever want to drive in NYC!
Related: 21 Great NYC Hotels for Families
1. Driving in NYC: Don’t do it
We get it. You want to drive the family to the city. It’s expensive to fly, and you can drive there in less time than it takes to get to the airport, fly, etc. Plus, you can bring your dog more easily if you are driving. So go ahead. Pack the kids, grandma, and Fido in the car and drive to New York City. But once you get here, park the car and walk. For longer trips around the city, use the subways, bike share, buses or Uber. Not only is it more convenient, you would pay more for parking than for other modes of transportation. Plus,there are tolls on many bridges, and congestion pricing (surcharges during peak in-demand hours) will soon add tolls to drivers throughout much of Manhattan.
2. Watch for Green Lights
You didn’t listen, did you? OK, so now you’re driving around the city. Make sure you’re firing on all cylinders. Watch the lights so the second you get a green light, you hit the gas. Otherwise, the guy behind you is plowing into your bumper.
3. Watch for Pedestrian Crossings
Be very, very sure about that green light. Don’t look at the walk signal as your cue to proceed. Many intersections (particularly where there have been fatal accidents) have delayed green lights, with timed walk signals so pedestrians can safely cross.
4. Notice People on Bicycles
Always keep your eyes open for people on scooters, people crossing mid street with dogs, people texting while walking, bikers texting while riding, bikers walking dogs AND texting while riding. Really, you need to be on high alert at all times.
5. Driving in NYC Means Parking in NYC
Parking here is a whole different animal. The last time you parallel parked may have been when you took your driving test. You might want to refresh your skills at home before trying it on the busy streets. For an added challenge, some street parking is next to a bike lane, and you have to cross the bike traffic to park.
Even at places with parking, like Citifield, where the Mets play baseball, the Bronx Zoo or the New York Aquarium in Brooklyn, you will be competing with aggressive New Yorkers as you inch in and out of parking lots. The price you pay to park here might not be worth the aggravation.
6. Parking and Driving in NYC
Even as a seasoned NYC driver, I occasionally make a rookie mistake. For example, parking too close to a traffic signal. Here’s the scenario: I saw a spot two cars from the corner. I was driving a Chevy Traverse, and needed room to swing out when I backed up. No one would give me an inch. At a red light, the guy behind me wouldn’t budge so I could park. At a green light, drivers came right up on my tail and honked and screamed. Have I mentioned that I was signaling to park and had my reverse lights on? It took four light cycles before I could safely park.
Pulling out of the spot? Equally challenging. If you can, park mid-block. Parking is a blood sport in New York, much like spectacles in the Roman Colosseum. Even exiting a parking garage can be terrifying (see pedestrians, cyclists, etc, above).
7. Evaluate Your Car’s Safety Features
When driving in NYC, you might think you need eyes in the back of your head. But a suite of safety features can make life easier. That blind spot detector? Vital when a car comes out of nowhere and rides your tail. Cross traffic alert? Equally important.
However, those cars that beep when you are trying to park and are too close to another car? Friend, EVERY time you park you will be too close to another car. It’s the nature of the beast. If you can, disable the audio.
8. Protect Those Side View Mirrors
Always, always, always fold in your side view mirrors when driving in NYC (after you turn off the car!).
If you are parked on the street, you may think the curbside mirror is safe from damage. You may also be paying for a new side view mirror during your trip. Bikers, skateboarders and pedestrians claim that little space between your car and curb. Why not protect your mirror? Just remember to fold the mirrors back out before you drive away.
9. Leave Nothing in the Car
In the 1980’s, we used to take our car radio with us when we got out of the car. Now, people leave phone chargers and expensive sunglasses in cars, all ripe for the taking. I once parked my brother’s car in a garage and his cup holder of change was taken. So, when you’re driving in NYC, be sure to hide or remove your valuables.
The Chevy Traverse has a cool feature, a hidden storage area behind the infotainment screen. The hidden area even has a USB port. So you can keep your charger out of sight and not worry about it being stolen.
Note: Chevrolet loaned me the Traverse. Opinions and challenges expressed are my own.
Bruna Venturinelli says
Great tips! And I appreciate all advice, but I’ll stick to the first one – don’t do it. I live in Amsterdam, which is probably 10x smaller than NYC and it’s chaos! I refuse to drive in the city center so it will not be different in NY next month.
Judy Antell, SheBuysTravel with Pets says
I’m amazed how all the bikes & cars co-exist in Amsterdam. Since you’re flying here, no need for you to drive in the city. Enjoy your trip!