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Driving in New Jersey: The Unwritten Rules

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For anyone who has ever ventured into the state of New Jersey, they can attest to the fact that the rules of the road are little bit different there. Here is a visitor's guide and road terminology to help survive the ordeal.

Welcome to NJ


1. Jughandles

A jughandle is a type of ramp or slip road that changes the way traffic turns left. Instead of a standard left turn being made from the left lane, left-turning traffic uses a ramp on the right side of the road.

On New Jersey State Highways and Pennsylvania State Highways, a white sign is placed before a jughandle or at the beginning of a stretch of jughandles saying ALL TURNS FROM RIGHT LANE. Each jughandle is marked with a white sign below the standard green sign, saying ALL TURNS, or U AND LEFT TURNS in the case of a reverse jughandle.

On locally maintained roads, and in other states, jughandle signage can appear to be haphazard and confusing to out of state drivers. The last sentence is an understatement.


2. Safe Driving Distance

In other states, a minimum of five car lengths is used for safe driving distance. More with faster speed and bad weather.

In New Jersey, safe driving distance is defined as any space you can fit your car into, regardless of all of the following:

a.) Speed

b.) Weather

c.) Congestion

d.) Time of Day

e.) Police Presence


3. Yield

Yield. (highway driving only)

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Meaning in other states - Prepare to stop and yield the right-of-way to vehicles in highway lane. You must come to a full stop at a YIELD sign if traffic conditions require it. When you approach a YIELD sign, check carefully for traffic, and be prepared to stop.

Meaning in New Jersey - When cars are in on-ramps and there are yield signs at the end of the ramp, the car entering said highway will not slow down but instead:

a.) Hope there is safe driving distance among traffic already on said highway where their car will fit.

b.) Pray that cars already traveling on said highway shift lanes to accommodate their new companions joining them from the right.

c.) Drive down the shoulder until safe driving distance forms. Be aware that this could take miles and is acceptable in the state of New Jersey.

d.) See how three cars fit into two lanes. Yielding is taboo, wedging someone else into the middle of the lane next to them - just fine.

e.) Force cars traveling at faster speed to do a severe brake check, followed by lengthy horn check, followed by tailgaiting, cursing, and single finger gesturing.

f.) Grind paint from one passenger side door to another driver's side door.

g.) Die.


4. Merge

In other states - When a lane is shut down due to construction, two lanes merge into one. It is often acceptable practice to take the first opportunity to get into the new single lane. Those people passing the single line of cars are often seen as selfish and deserve to be blocked out if, and as long as, possible by those in the already merged lane.

In New Jersey - When a merge occurs, it is acceptable practice to shift lanes as often as possible to ensure an evening of the lines. Alternating cars at the last possible moment before hitting construction cones is the desired effect. That is called the Zipper Merge and it actually the more efficient form of merging in my own experienced opinion. Efficient doesn't mean polite though.


5. Signage

In other states - Minimum of three signs per exit. One 30 miles away letting you know you are in the right zip code. One a mile ahead of the exit. One at the exit.

In New Jersey - Two signs. The first will be among two other signs, making it impossible to read before you pass it unless you have a navigator in the car. It is guaranteed to never tell you whether it is a left or right exit. The second sign will be just past the exit ramp or if you're lucky enough to have one before the ramp, it will be hidden by tree branches or other shrubbery. When driving in New Jersey, plan to get lost the first few times.

6. Front Bumper Principle

In other states - If you are moving into another person's lane, the courteous thing to do is give up one extra spot in line by braking for your fellow driver.

In New Jersey - Whichever driver has the lead bumper at the point of the lane change has the right of way. The back bumper car will need to brake. In New Jersey, front bumper cars are coming regardless of the same factors present in safe driving distance.

It's similar to a zipper merge, but at seventy miles per hour.

7. Inch-Worm Principle

Other states - In high congestion areas, the right lane will be slow moving or stalled due to high volume of trucks and less exit ramps. Those that can get to the left lane work together to keep a slightly higher group speed limit and hence be the better lane.

New Jersey - In high congestion areas, the left lane is full of the psychos, aggressive drivers, and people who think they will still be able to drive eighty with 2.5 million drivers packed into a half-mile area. They will match the speed of whatever car is in front of them, leaving less than half a car length between cars. When they reach a point of congestion, they will all force a rather forceful braking. Those in the right lanes know they are screwed either way and keep a more moderate pace and rarely need to use their brakes. Also, in New Jersey, there is an exit ramp every half mile, so traffic thins out of the far right lane often, causing it to be the best lane in these situations.


8. The Double Shot

In other states, when a line of cars is at a stop sign, each car will make a pronounced stop when they get to the stop sign. In New Jersey, the second and third cars in that line will blow through the stop sign right after the lead car in an attempt to get at least two from their side through the intersection before you can get one. Front bumper strategy must be employed in this instance to thwart their aggression.

Hopefully, this guide will help visitors to the Garden State survive the ordeal they face when driving around the state. It's certainly a unique place to drive, so being aware of the local customs is important. Best of luck (you're going to need it)!


CJ Kelly from the PNW on April 04, 2015:

And let's get rid of full service gas stations. They clog up the service roads. NJ is a wacky place. Nice wrap up of its problems. Voted up.

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