After New York City and Washington DC, we continue South on the Interstate 95 Highway to cross Virginia via a detour to Williamsburg, then North and South Carolina to arrive in Charleston. As soon as we leave the Washington urban area, the vehicle landscape starts to progressively change to allow more pick-up trucks on the road. My Ram 1500 4×4 (Albert) is now starting to feel less out of his comfort zone and more and more at home…
Before I share with you in detail the vehicle landscape I encountered in this part of the trip, now that I have driven over 750 miles (1200 km) on US roads I thought it would be a good time to give you my first impressions on what driving in the United States feels like. I have just spent the past couple of months in Southern Europe where driving is a tiring chest-bumping sport aimed at showing who’s boss on the road. The French have had to be beaten into submission by hundreds of unforgiving speed radars for the most part located in unclear or lower speed limit zones to maximise revenue, but that hasn’t deterred many radar-savvy locals to flash through the highway at over 130 mph (200 km/h).
However to this day I still am yet to spot a true American lunatic driving frankly dangerously – and I will be just fine if I never do. I have found American highways one of the most relaxing and predictable driving experiences of my life. Unlike in Australia where effective advertising campaigns have convinced car owners to drive 5 km/h below the speed limit (true story), Yankees all pretty much drive at speed limit or slightly above, and there are no sluggish cars to disrupt the traffic, making us look like we are all in cruise controlled trains enjoying the landscape and waving at each other hands-free.
I have learnt that to insert myself fluidly into US highway traffic a good idea is to drive 5 mph above the speed limit, which goes as high as 70mph (113km/h). I may or may not have done that… It’s a high enough difference to satisfyingly beat all Google Maps route duration predictions by a large margin (the tradesman trim of my Ram does not have a sat nav), but small enough to avoid bothering local sheriffs… so far. While European driving is unmistakably associated with road rage and arrogant behavior, at no point have I seen anyone flashing their lights to overtake. I’m sure some of you will disagree but this is coming from someone who drove in France for almost 20 years, I am happily surprised at how civilised and patient everyone and is on the road.
There is one thing that did shock me at first though. For all their wild driving, one thing French drivers will consider sacrilege is overtaking on the right. This is considered a highly offensive, let alone illegal manoeuvre in Europe: a way to scream to the other driver that he/she really drives like a … Given in the US everyone drives roughly at the same speed, overtaking appears to be done on each side and I did get offended when that happened. Add to this that from the height of my truck, a Mazda Miata-type coupé is almost invisible on my rear mirrors when it sneaks up from the right, especially when I don’t expect anything to come by from that side. Oh well, I got used to it.
Now onto the vehicle landscape. First things first, a very striking observation: all the way since New York I have been spotting a constant flow of RVs. But not your traditional LCV transformed into an RV, German family style. No. The big ass RVs like the one you saw in Hollywood movie ‘We’re the Millers’ (pictured above) and costing well above $100,000 to purchase. Given this flow abruptly stopped as soon as I drove North-West through Georgia I will assume these RVs are rentals that are headed towards Florida and/or the sunbelt for the holidays.
If Virginia’s best-seller is the Honda Accord (hard to pick from the highway landscape), crossing the border to North Carolina means you enter Ford F-Series territory (blue on the map above), a zone I will remain in almost the whole way to Los Angeles except in Oklahoma (Nissan Altima) and California (Honda Civic). I stepped out of the highway in Colonial Williamsburg (I highly recommend this massive historical village eerily wifi-enabled – makes for a slightly asynchronistic experience) and there the Ford F-Series and, surprisingly, Toyota Tundra were the most frequent.
The Hero in ‘Town’ (although we are talking about 3 different States) is the Nissan Rogue and by far. I saw dozens of the new generation all the way through this part of the trip and this has to come to consumer preference or a huge deal with rental companies as this model isn’t manufactured in these States but in Smyrna, Tennessee. The new gen Chevrolet Impala is also extremely popular in this part of the United States, and I also spotted two Tesla Model S which would seem to indicate that the success of this electric car isn’t limited to California and big cities. Next stop is Charleston in South Carolina…