What Is It Like Driving in San Diego?

“Always be prepared.” Such a mantra, while cliché, reigns especially true for those planning to drive through California’s second-largest city, San Diego, The City in Motion. San Diego County itself is larger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined, and it’s home to nearly 3 million residents. 

With that many people on the road every day, you should probably take a look at a San Diego car insurance guide before hitting the road to acquaint yourself with California’s driver laws.

Popular San Diego attractions include the world-famous San Diego Zoo, nearly 70 miles of beaches, SeaWorld, and even LEGOLAND California. For those with more luxurious tastes, the county features 92 golf courses and a wide range of luxury spas and beachfront resorts. 

What else can you expect while cruising through San Diego? Read on to find out.

California Driving Laws & Regulations

While all the basic U.S. driving regulations apply to those in California, there are a few specifics you should keep in mind while on the road. California Highway Patrol, or CHP, is especially observant of distracted driving, correct use of carpool lanes, teen drivers, littering, and driving under the influence. 

Distracted Driving

It is against the law in California to drive while texting, talking on the phone, or even so much as looking at your phone while driving unless you’re using a hands-free setup. If you’re using your phone as a GPS, you need to mount it on your dashboard or driver’s side windshield interior. The only exception to these rules is emergency calls.

If you’re under the age of 18, you cannot drive and use a digital device even with a hands-free setup. Get a ticket for distracted driving and, when all is said and done, expect to pay upwards of $150 for your first infraction, then $250 for subsequent violations (and a nice insurance penalty).

Luckily, compared to the rest of the state, car insurance rates in San Diego are more affordable. But despite this, you should never drive distracted. Always remember that it can wait.

Correct Use of Carpool Lanes

Something else unique to the State of California is its carpool lanes. On the far left side of some freeways are high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, or carpool lanes. These lanes are designed for cars carrying two or more passengers, and you’re only allowed to enter and exit these lanes at designated sections.

If you cross into an HOV lane over a solid white or yellow line and CHP sees you, they will pull you over. You should also expect a pricey violation for doing so. 

You also cannot bring a towed trailer into these lanes under any circumstances. Take advantage of that San Diego car insurance guide to familiarize yourself more with these restrictions.

Teen Drivers

Always ever vigilant in looking after its young drivers, the State of California places heavy emphasis on helping its youth drive safely. Licensed drivers at the age of 16 cannot transport anyone under the age of 20 without someone 25 or older in the vehicle. These drivers are prohibited from driving between the hours of 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. unless for academic or professional purposes.

Once you turn 18, these driving restrictions no longer apply to you as long as you maintain a safe driving record. A good driving record will also help determine whether you qualify for cheap insurance for teens.

Should you receive two points in the same year for driving violations, you’ll receive a 30-day license restriction; receive three points and you’ll face a six-month license suspension and a year’s probation.

Littering while Driving

Californians are some of the most concerned citizens in the country when it comes to drought, wildfires, and climate change. As such, law enforcement is equally as observant of littering. Throw so much as a cigarette butt out your window and you face a $250 fine alongside eight hours’ worth of community service (you’ll be picking up roadside litter). Subsequent infractions can incur fines up to $3,000 and 24 hours’ worth of community service. 

This littering restriction applies to individuals on both public and private property. 

Driving Under the Influence

The U.S. is continuously refining its efforts to crack down on driving under the influence, and California is no exception. Catch a sobriety checkpoint with a blood-alcohol content of 0.08% or higher and prepare yourself for that “trip downtown.” 

That may not be news to you, but something you may not be aware of when driving in San Diego is that driving while high can catch you the same penalty as it’s treated the same as driving while intoxicated. You can even earn a DUI while riding a bike or operating a rentable electric scooter in town while impaired.

Traffic & Parking in San Diego

They call San Diego The City in Motion for very good reason. The city is a world-class destination and is home to many drivers of world-class cars. Locals in the area are known for driving aggressively, especially on and around freeways, so stay sharp and drive safely while on the road.

“Rush hour” in San Diego should be called “rushed hours.” The busiest hours on the road in San Diego are between 7 and 9 a.m. as well as 4 and 7 p.m. If you’re new to the area, download an effective GPS app like Waze that’ll help you locate alternate routes and any roadway obstructions that’ll slow you down.

What’s parking like in San Diego?

Think of the parking enforcement in San Diego as you would its highway patrol: equally as observant and not afraid to issue citations. Free parking in San Diego can be difficult to find and complicated to understand; if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Be sure to read all signage surrounding free parking spots carefully.

You’ll have the most difficulty finding parking, even the paid variety, in hotspots like Little Italy and University Heights. Fail to pay your dues and your car will be towed. 

You should keep an eye out for the following when parking in San Diego:

 

  • Parking meter regulations
  • Restricted parking hours and days
  • Colored curbs
  • Street cleaning hours
  • And private residential parking

Keep your wits about you when looking for that golden spot and, even if you have to walk a bit to your destination, you’ll thank yourself later when your car is still where you parked it.

Should you bother with driving in San Diego at all?

While busy and bustling, San Diego offers many once-in-a-lifetime experiences and attractions for motorists that are usually best accessed by car. Just be sure to consult a good San Diego car insurance guide if you still plan to hit the road. Otherwise, San Diego itself is a very walkable place.

About the author: Luke Williams writes and researches for the auto insurance comparison site, CarInsuranceCompanies.com. His passions include writing about best practices for personal finance, insurance, investing, and other ways everyday people can save money and drive with peace of mind.