The United States is a country of automobiles, and cars are a part of American culture. One can see drive-thru restaurants and coffee shops all over the U.S. Even banking is possible in your car. As soon as I arrived in Phoenix, I could see why Americans love cars so much. If you walk five minutes through Downtown Phoenix in the middle of summer, you’ll also see why.
When I decided to buy a car, I wasn’t worried about having to drive in a new city because I have driven in Seoul, Korea, one of the most complex cities in the world, for more than 20 years. But while driving in America I felt a culture shock, and American drivers gave me various surprises.
Drivers in Downtown
Whenever I walk Downtown Phoenix, I am always impressed by the patience that drivers in the United States have. When I am at crosswalk without traffic lights while walking on the sidewalk, I stop and wait for all the cars to pass as I did in Korea. But most American drivers stop in front of me and wave their hands for me to cross the street first.
It may be nothing new to Americans, but this attitude from drivers is amazing to me. Most Korean drivers follow traffic lights on crosswalks, but if there are no traffic lights, they try to pass before pedestrians.
I thought that downtown Phoenix was comfortable to drive in and that the drivers were patient. But that was a complete misunderstanding. Downtown Phoenix is not at all driver-friendly, with road construction going on everywhere. The fact that American drivers are overcoming the annoyance of driving downtown for the safety of pedestrians taught me a valuable lesson.
Drivers in my Town
I’m staying in Gilbert about 20 miles from Downtown Phoenix. Because my children have only lived in noisy Seoul, Korea, I hoped they would gain new experiences in the quiet and calm residential areas of the United States. Gilbert’s roads have less traffic than downtown and few pedestrians cross the street. The road is always peaceful and calm. On the peaceful road, a yellow school bus gave me an amazing experience.
On the first day that my children came home by school bus, I followed them to see if they were coming home safely because traffic accidents are the number one cause of death for children in Korea. The school bus departed from my children’s school and arrived at a stop near my house in 3 minutes. And when the school bus opened its stop sign, all the cars on the road stopped for students to get off.
Korea also has many yellow buses for students, but I’ve never seen other cars stop and wait for students. Of course, before coming to the United States, I was told that I had to strictly observe the stop sign of the school bus and that a large fine would be imposed for violating it.
But it was a completely different story, and quite touching, for me to see with my own eyes that all the cars on the road stop and wait for the children to pass safely. I’d like to show Korean drivers the attitude of American drivers to protect their children’s safety.
Drivers on the Freeway
Drivers on the freeway in the United States gave me another shock. I have to drive on the freeway for more than 40 minutes to get to Cronkite School from home. On the freeway, I again felt the fear I felt when I first drove 20 years ago. I was going at the speed limit of 65 miles per hour but all the cars around me overtook me at a very high speed. And they were running right behind the previous car, so it was very difficult for me to change lanes. I was very scared every time I entered the freeway for a while.
Google told me that is tailgating. And speeding and tailgating were the main causes of freeway car accidents in the United States. In particular, I-10 and I-17 to downtown were considered the most dangerous freeways in Arizona.
The Americans on the freeway looked totally different from the drivers in downtown and Gilbert. I’ve asked several Americans why such kind and gentle Americans drive so roughly on freeways, but I haven’t heard sufficient answers yet.
I hear traffic information on the radio that there had been car accidents on the freeway today like on other days. But now I’m also getting used to driving on the freeway.