Driving in Arizona? Here Are Some Things You Should Know.

  • 01 of 03

    General Tips for Driving in Arizona

    Driving During Monsoon Dust Storm
    ••• Driving During Monsoon Dust Storm. © Judy Hedding

    If you are visiting Arizona, or if you are moving to the state, there are some aspects of driving here that might be different than wherever you are from. That’s not so unusual; every state has unique laws and practices. Here are some things you should know when you get behind the wheel in Arizona.

    I have broken these 19 tips into three categories:

    This Page - Driving in Arizona: Potential Differences of a General Nature
    Next Page - Consider These When Driving on Arizona's Highways
    And More - Some Local Cities Have Unique Traffic Laws

    General Driving Tips

    1. Every state had laws about children and car seats and booster seats. Arizona’s is not based on weight, but rather age and height. Arizona’s child restraint system laws can be confusing, but I break it down for you here.
    2. In Arizona, there is no acceptable amount of alcohol that is exempt from DUI, or driving under the influence. While you are certain to be fined or incarcerated for blood-alcohol readings of .08% or higher, you can be...MORE cited for any level, even lower than that, if the officer believes you are impaired. More about Arizona’s DUI laws here.
    3. Rental car companies know this, but if you are moving here or visiting with your own vehicle, you might not know that if you have a license plate holder that covers up the name of the state on the plate, you could be cited. I doubt a police officer will stop you for that, but if you are stopped for any other reason that might be added as an additional offense. More about Arizona’s license plate law here.
    4. Roundabouts are becoming popular here, especially on less traveled streets and in smaller cities and towns. Cities are finding that they are cheaper than traffic lights, keep traffic moving, and, if there are fender benders, they tend to be much less serious than if someone runs a stop sign since people are driving slower anyway. Last time I was in Sedona, I counted eleven roundabouts on the way into town! It was fun at first but got pretty tiresome after a while. Oh, well. Sedona is worth it! 
    5. Weather plays a role in safe driving no matter where you come from. While we rarely have natural disasters like hurricanes or tornadoes, we do have a weather phenomenon called monsoon. During this season, typically in the summer, we occasionally get heavy rain, heavy winds, and dust storms that make visibility impossible. When the rains come, please do not drive into those areas that are designated by signage as being dangerous when flooded. It’s for real. Heavy and fast water comes rushing down normally dry washes. Every year some people have to be rescued because they thought they could drive through standing water only to have to be airlifted from the roof of the vehicle. Arizona’s Stupid Motorist Law says that you could be responsible for the cost of your rescue if you ignore signs and posted warnings about driving through standing water.
    6. At this time, Arizona does not have a state-wide law that prohibits drivers from using a phone while driving. Pima County, where Tucson is located, does have a no texting while driving law that became effective on June 15, 2106. Not sure where Pima County starts and where it ends? Why not just stop texting while driving everywhere? Arizona does have a distracted driving law relating to speeding, though, so anything you do – eating, shaving, make-up, putting ketchup on a burger, and yes, texting – can lead to a citation if you are driving over the speed limit. It comes up as an agenda item just about every year, though, so I expect that there will be some sort of no-texting or hands-free-phone-only state-wide laws here in the future. There just aren’t any right now. 
    7. In the City of Phoenix, it is illegal to send or receive a message using a wireless device. That means that (with certain emergency exceptions) no texting is permitted (City Code 36-76.01). This texting ban does not extend to taking on the phone, just texting. In Tucson, all non-voice communication (email, texting, IM) is prohibited while driving (City Code Sec. 20-160). In Flagstaff, City Code 9-01-001-0013 specifies that you can't use a wireless device to send or receive a non-voice message while driving, but also while riding a bicycle! Effective October 24, 2015 drivers in Tempe who are displaying erratic driving behavior of any kind because they are using a mobile device that is not hands-free (talking or texting or reading or photographing or ...) will be cited.

      Clearly, since there is no state-wide ban on driving while texting or using the phone, the cities that have decided to take matters into their own hands are the ones with larger universities, and, therefore, a larger percentage of their populations that use the devices. Because it is tough to tell sometimes when you have crossed over city limits when driving around the Valley of the Sun, you might want to adhere to the no-texting, no using the phone or tablet rule everywhere! I expect more cities or even the State of Arizona to adopt such a law.
    8. If you are moving to Arizona, you should know that there is actually no "grace period" for obtaining an Arizona driver license and registering your vehicle(s) in the state. If you pay tuition, have a job, have kids in an Arizona school, have a business here, or spend seven months or more in the state, you are considered a resident and you are expected to get register your car and obtain an Arizona driver license. (Note: The definition of "resident" may vary from this depending on what you trying to do. This definition applies only to motor vehicle services.)
    9. Arizona does not have a law requiring motorcycle riders to wear helmets (2017).
    Continue to 2 of 3 below.
  • 02 of 03

    Driving Tips For Arizona Highways

    HOV Lane in Phoenix
    ••• Two Tips in One! Double Lines on the HOV Lane, and Sign showing East to Tucson. © Judy Hedding

     Driving Tips For Arizona Highways

    1. We don’t have tolls. No monthly passes to drive on our highways, no tickets to punch, no figuring out which lane to be in, no extra charges from rental car companies for using toll roads, since we don’t have any. That’s not to say that the issue doesn’t come up nearly every year. After all, maintaining our roads and highways is expensive and budgets are always tight. All I can say is that right now, there are no highway tolls.
    2. We have a Move Over Law in Arizona. That means that if you see emergency vehicles on the side of the road you must move over one lane if it is not dangerous to do so, to give them ample space. More about Arizona’s Move Over Law here.
    3. Let’s talk speed limits. The standard speed limit on main Interstates in Arizona is usually either 55mph or 65mph as they pass through major cities, 75mph between major cities. Of course, there are exceptions. On a highway that does not have work zones or other special lower speed limits posted, an...MORE unwritten rule is that if you go no more than nine miles over the speed limit (and are not driving erratically) you probably won’t be stopped. No guarantees (and see update below). Certainly, if you are stopped for some other reason, the officer might tack on a speeding violation, and is within rights to do so, even less than ten miles over the speed limit. Here’s the problem. People driving on highways here drive fast. You might be doing 65 in a 55mph zone and drivers will be angrily whizzing by, passing too close (to let you know what they think of you) and tailgating. Why? I attribute this to two things, both of which have no scientific data to back them up: (a) our roads are in excellent condition. The lanes are wide and the surfaces are in good repair. Going 80mph feels safe, and (b) we have lots of drivers from California here. Not that all Arizona drivers are angels, mind you, but I guess those folks from Southern California don’t often get to drive on a highway at more than 20mph! Two final comments about fast driving. Before you engage in road-rage provoking activity, like tailgating, honking (not a common practice here unless you are avoiding a collision) or giving someone the finger, remember that anyone can carry a gun here!

      Update: In December 2016 the Arizona Department of Transportation began designating Safety Corridors. These are segments of both urban and rural highways where serious traffic accidents seem to be more likely to occur. In a safety Corridor enforcement will be aggressive, and drivers may be ticketed for speeding and any other violations with zero tolerance. That means even if they are going only one mile over the speed limit. You will find these Safety Corridors on I-10, I-40 and US60. More may be added. Signage will indicate when the zero tolerance areas begin and end.
    4. There is one aspect to driving in Arizona that can be confusing relative to I-10. That is an Interstate highway that runs east/west, across the country. In Central Arizona, however, I-10 between Phoenix and Tucson is a north-south road. That means that you will see highway signs directing you to I-10 East or West, even though you are driving north or south. Huh? If you are driving south from Phoenix to Tucson, you will take I-10 East. If you are driving north from Chandler to Phoenix, you will take I-10 West. The Interstate eventually does travel west again outside downtown Phoenix and moves on to Western AZ communities and California.
    5. Our major highways have HOV lanes. The HOV acronym stands for high occupancy vehicle. High occupancy here means two or more living human beings. There are certain hours when anyone can drive in those lanes, and hours when they are restricted. The fine is steep if you are stopped for driving in an HOV lane when you shouldn’t. Read the specifics about HOV lanes here. I had a visitor from another state who was very confused about the lines on the highways as they relate to the HOV lanes. How does one get in or out if they have solid white lines? Well, everywhere else, it is a rule of thumb that you are not supposed to change lanes over a solid white lane. The HOV lane is an exception here. You may enter or leave the HOV lane at any time; ignore the solid line. What do the double solid white lines mean? According to ADOT, nothing. They are just spacers. They have no additional regulations associated with them. (I don’t paint the lines, I just report on them!) Also, HOV lanes have exits. Just because there is an exit there, doesn’t mean that you can use that HOV exit unless you are legally entitled to use the HOV lanes. Finally, if your car is a hybrid or other special vehicle, you still can’t use the HOV lane without another person riding with you unless you have a special environmental plate or placard from Arizona MVD.
    6. Let's talk about SR202 or Loop 202. The 202 Loop is called the Red Mountain Freeway in Phoenix and the Santan Freeway in the East Valley. It is actually not a complete loop, just three sides of an oval. Here’s the trick. When you are driving on a north/south highway like I-10 or SR101, you will cross over the Loop 202 twice, once over the northern part of the oval (Red Mountain) and once over the southern part of the oval (Santan). If someone tells you to “exit at the 202” make sure you know which 202 to take!
    Continue to 3 of 3 below.
  • 03 of 03

    Driving Tips For City Driving in Arizona

    ••• Obey school speed limits, please!. © Judy Hedding

    Tips for Phoenix Area City Driving

    1. There is at least one occasion where there is no leeway on the speed limit. If you go even one mile per hour over the speed limit in a school zone, you can be cited. More about school zones. My pet peeve: school zone signs that read, “35 MPH When School is in Session.” How the heck am I supposed to know when school is in session and when it’s not? Thankfully, many of those are being replaced with signs that have flashing yellow lights when school is in session. But not all….
    2. There are two major cautions about driving in Downtown Phoenix. One relates to METRO Light Rail. Someone who is not familiar with the streets of downtown Phoenix can be easily confused, not only by the one way streets and street restrictions, but by turns where you have to make sure that you don’t turn into the tracks for light rail. Even people who know downtown Phoenix can spend an extra few seconds trying to interpret the traffic signs with multiple arrows. If you don’t have to...MORE drive into downtown Phoenix, METRO Light rail might work for you.
    3. Rush hour in Phoenix is no treat, and we don’t expect it to be. But there is an added feature of which you should be aware if you are driving north or south on 7th Avenue (McDowell Road to Northern Avenue) and on 7th Street (McDowell Road to Dunlap Avenue). They are reversible lanes. Not-so-fondly referred to as “suicide lanes,” the intention is to use the center turning lane for southbound traffic during the morning commute, and northbound traffic for the evening commute. Since you can’t make left turns at major intersection during the designated times, those lanes often slow for people turning left into residential streets, or for people who just forgot, didn’t check what time it is, or don’t know that they can’t make turns there coming from the non-rush hour side. It’s a mess. My advice: not only stay out of the suicide lane, but stay out of the left lane, too, to avoid cars swerving into it from the suicide lane. 
    4. You might think you know what the speed limit is in an area that you drive often. Think again. Some communities are considering implementing variable speed limits to better control traffic flows. Scottsdale has indicated they will try it. Beware! They like to give out tickets in Scottsdale!
    5. In May 2015, the City of Tempe passed a law that prohibits anyone from smoking in a vehicle if there is anyone under 18 years of age in the vehicle. While they say they won’t stop you just for that, if you get stopped for some other reason they may cite you under the ‘no smoking around kids’ rule. Be aware that most of our cities and towns in the metro Phoenix area are adjacent, with little notice when you are leaving one and entering another. Maybe it’s just safer to not smoke with the kids in the car than worrying about whether or not you’ve crossed from Phoenix, Scottsdale or Chandler into Tempe….