With 38 million residents, California has the largest population in the third largest land mass (Alaska and Texas are bigger) — there are 217 people per square mile with 93% of the people living in urban environments. Remarkably, 43% of the land is covered by forest. In one sense, it’s the most dangerous state because the Pacific Ring of Fire lies just off the coast line. This means there are a significant number of earthquakes every year. Fortunately, most of them are too small and pass unnoticed. There are, however, a number of faults, the most famous being the San Andreas Fault. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake remains in the public consciousness as many wonder when the next Big One will strike. Because of the geological instability, the state has the highest and lowest points in the America with Mount Whitney in the north and Death Valley in the south. Indeed, with snow-topped mounts, forests of sequoia trees and deserts, the state has one of the most diverse landscapes in North America.
With so many people living in this area, there has been a long-term road building program to produce 168,000 miles of public roads and 2,453 miles of interstate. With a controversial fast track proposed, California already boasts 5,861 miles of railroad track. Even if the new high-speed link is never built, the state will remain strongly committed to public transport with four commuter rail tracks, five light rail systems, and two subways. There are 47,000 buses in operation. For private use, there are 17.3 million automobiles and 8.9 million light trucks, giving 0.7 vehicles per person regardless of age.
Looking across an essentially urban environment, the most popular car registered for private use is the Toyota Camry. Taking the national view, the Camry has been the most popular buy across all states and the top-selling car in ten. The manufacturer has spent considerable time and effort to give both power and gas efficiency — in both conventional engines and the hybrid models.
Given the comprehensive road network, some 72% of the population commutes alone with a further 14% pooling. Almost 5.5% use public transport, 4.6% walk or cycle to work, with the remaining 4% working from home. As befits a state which grows half the produce consumed in America, there are 119,000 heavy trucks registered.
New driving laws
Laws never stay the same. They must be reviewed to ensure they keep pace with events in the real world. Those no longer needed must be thrown away. Others may need modification. New laws may be required. As of 2014, the California Department of Motor Vehicles has begun the information campaign to signal changes all should know about and act on. The two most important create an offense for a teen to use any device, including a hands-free device, to send a text message while driving, and what’s called the Three Feet For Safety Act. It’s become necessary to define the relationship between vehicles and bicycles. Now all drivers must allow at least three clear feet between the vehicle and the cyclist. If this is not possible, the vehicle must slow down to ensure it’s safe to overtake. Failure to obey this simple rule will result in a fine even though there’s no collision and no harm to the cyclist.
When it comes to transferring title between family members, all fines and penalties must be paid before the transfer will be completed. There’s to be no escaping the punishments just by transferring ownership to someone else. There are also changes to the scope of the commercial driver’s license and a right for the DMV to experiment with alternatives to the current metal license plates.
Tourism in California
No matter what you look for as a tourist, California supplies it. If you want spectacular mountains, there’s the Sierra Nevada range to the east with Yosemite National Park offering amazing views (and bears). Should you prefer the dividing line between land and sea, there’s the third longest coastline in America with the Big Sur and the Pacific Coat Highway from Orange County into LA offering magnificent cliffs and beach views. Should you want slightly more excitement, there’s live volcanic action in the Lassen Volcanic Park. Or if you prefer musical and cultural associations there’s always Route 66 or Highway 49 which follows the route of the gold rush. Then there are the trees with the Avenue of the Giants taking you past and through some of the tallest trees on Earth. If you are tempted by Death Valley, this is the largest national park outside Alaska and worth spending time to see. The best time to visit is spring when, despite the desert conditions, you will see wildflowers. If you propose to take off along one of the unpaved backcountry roads, prepare for driving in desert conditions. Be sure to carry plenty of water and it’s wise to inform the rangers where you are going.
If you tire of the spectacular, there are cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles to explore with smaller towns like Monterey offering both beauty, convenience and bottled water if you get dry.
Do You Know that…
1. Because the Pacific Ring of Fire passes close to the coast, California has more earthquakes than any other state.
2. A high-speed rail link is proposed to extend one of the longest pubic rail transport tracks in America.
3. A new law requires drivers to leave a clearance of at least three feet when they overtake cyclists.
4. The owner cannot transfer title to the vehicle to a family member to avoid paying penalties and fines.
5. There are more driving experiences in this state from passing through giant trees to visiting Death Valley.
6. Car insurance companies must always quite the lowest possible annual premium rate.
7. California is the only state which has shown a fall in insurance rates over the last twenty years.
8. Teens can begin to drive at the age of 15 and-a-half if they go through the education course and practical behind-the-wheel course.
9. California is almost a zero tolerance state with the BAC set at 0.01 for a driver under the age of 21 years.
10. All drivers convicted of a DWI offense have to fit an ignition interlock device.