I recently moved to California from Toronto and wanted to share some of my experience with the roads and driving conditions.

Driver’s license

California driver’s license has two tests: a written knowledge and a road test. Be sure to book an appointment or line up very early because the lines get packed real fast. Enterprise seems to be the only car rental company that allows their cars to be used for road tests (ask them to provide you a letter stating their car can be used). Instead of a parallel park (as with Ontario road tests), here you will be tested to pull beside the curb within a feet or so, then backup for a few car lengths. There’s no highway component and only one road test (Ontario has a two-stage graduated system).

Driving conditions

San Francisco and the South Bay have some of the worst traffic I’ve seen. The traffic lights seem to be optimized for major arteries, staying green for up to a minute or more. This helps alleviate rush hour traffic (it’s also possible to drive many blocks at night without ever stopping).

This does require some adjustments to the roads. Many roads have concrete dividers in the center so cars cannot simply turn left onto small roads (since this will block traffic). Thus U-turns are very common and major roads usually have two long stretches of left-turn lanes to deal with the buildup. These left-turn lanes have their own designated lights (whereas in Ontario the majority of intersections allow cars to turn left on a green light when it is safe). Overall it does seem like both systems work well for each cities’ own specific set of traffic patterns.

Many highways in California use meters (essentially a traffic light) to ensure sufficient gaps between cars while merging during rush hour. The on-ramps are usually very short and sometimes several merges are required before actually entering onto the freeway. One difference I’m still getting used to is when the rightmost lane merges into the one beside it. In California, the dashed lines between these two lanes just disappear, whereas in Ontario the lane markings make it obvious that the right lane is about to be merged.


There’s a lot of room for improvement for any road infrastructure because no one wants to be stuck in traffic. A zipper machine is useful when the direction of traffic alternates depending on the time of the day. There’s a lot of unused space underground and above ground for cars to travel, but this solution is likely more expensive.


1] Here’s a totally unrelated video about driving