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How to Drive in Boston

The geographical center of Boston is in Roxbury. Due north of the center we find the South End. This is not to be confused with South Boston, which lies directly east from the South End. North of the South End is East Boston and southwest of East Boston is the North End. Backbay was filled in years ago.

Basic Rules for Driving in Boston
(Subject to change at any time)

Boston is often acclaimed as the most exciting city in America in which to drive. Who would argue? Herewith, for newcomers and visitors, are a few basic rules of the road for driving in these parts:

To obtain a general idea of how to drive in Boston, go to a Celtics game and carefully watch the fast break. Then get behind the wheel of your car and practice it.

Never take a green light at face value. Always look right and left before proceeding.

When in doubt, accelerate.

Very generally speaking, the intransigence of the Boston driver is directly proportional to the expense of his American-made car, and inversely proportional to the expense of his foreign-made car. But in applying this formula, bear in mind that they are all more or less intransigent.

When on a one way street, stay to the right to allow traffic to pass coming the other direction.

Drivers whose cars sport “I Brake For Animals” bumper stickers may brake for animals, but they may not brake for you. Watch it.

Teenage drivers believe they are immortal. Don’t yield to the temptation to teach them otherwise.

Taxicabs should always be given the right of way, unless you are bent on suicide.

Never, ever, stop for a pedestrian unless he flings himself under the wheels of your car. Most multicar pileups are caused this way.

The first parking space you see will be the last parking space you see. Grab it.

Learn to swerve abruptly. Boston is the home of slalom driving, thanks to the Registry of Motor Vehicles, which puts potholes in key locations to test drivers’ reflexes and keep them on their toes.

Never get in the way of a car that needs extensive body work.

Double-park in the North End of Boston, unless triple-parking is available.

Always look both ways when running a red light.

While it is possible to fit a 15-foot car into a 15-foot parking space, it is seldom possible to fit a 16-foot car into a 15-foot parking space. Sad but true. Don’t even think of finding a 20 ft space.

There is no such thing as a shortcut during rush-hour traffic in Boston.

Rush ‘Hour’ generally only lasts from 7am until 8pm.

It is traditional in Boston to honk your horn at cars that don’t move the instant the light changes. Color doesn’t matter.

Never put your faith in signs that purport to provide directions. They are put there to confuse people who don’t know their way around the city. And to confuse those who do but are detoured by the Big Dig.

Use extreme caution when pulling into breakdown lanes. Breakdown lanes are not for breaking down, but for speeding, especially during rush hour. Breakdown lanes may also end without warning causing traffic jams as people merge back in.

Never use directional signals, since they only confound and distract other Boston drivers, who are not used to them.

Similarly, never attempt to give hand signals. Boston drivers, unused to such courtesies, will think you are waving them on to pass you.

The yellow light is not, as commonly supposed outside the Boston area, a signal to slow down. It is a warning to speed up and get through the intersection before the light turns red. As a result, yellow lights only light for a quarter of a second.

Seeking eye contact with another driver revokes your right of way.

Never pass on the left when you can pass on the right. Sidewalks are optional.

In making a left turn from the right lane, employ the element of surprise. That is, do it as suddenly as possible, so as to stun other drivers. Crossing entire 4 lane roads in one block always gains the respect and salutes.

Speed limits are arbitrary figures posted only to make you feel guilty.

Whenever possible, stop in the middle of a crosswalk to ensure inconveniencing as many pedestrians as possible.

Remember that the goal of every Boston driver is to get there first, by whatever means necessary.

Above all, keep moving. And good luck. You’ll need it.

This page was last updated August 13, 1997.