Driving in Las Vegas (What To Expect – Plus Tips!)
Let’s face it, driving in Las Vegas can be a challenge and that’s true whether you live here or are just visiting. Tons of cars on the road, mixed with Vegas’s 24-hour lifestyle makes driving here somewhat different than in other cities. So what is it like to drive in Las Vegas?
Driving in Las Vegas can be a hectic experience with many distractions. You will need to be vigilant for other drivers and pedestrians doing the unexpected while navigating the basic rules of the road. Successfully driving in Las Vegas requires a driver who drives defensively and is alert to changing conditions.
Whether you live in Las Vegas, are new to the area, or are just in town for a visit, there are some things you’ll need to know to make driving in Vegas easier and safer. Read on to discover more about my advice for driving in Las Vegas.
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What It’s Like to Drive in Las Vegas
Depending on the area of town you’re in and the time of day or night, driving in Las Vegas can either be a relatively calm experience or a downright hectic one.
In the tourist areas you’ll be surrounded by hordes of pedestrians (some of which will be quite inebriated), a lot of traffic, and plenty of visual distractions (casinos and attractions galore!)
In other parts of town, you’ll find local pedestrians, as well as many drivers of dubious skill and judgment. Yet as you get out further away from the center of the city you’ll begin to find a calmer atmosphere on the roads.
Regardless of where you’re driving in Las Vegas, there are some things that are specific to this city that you’ll want to be aware of. Some good, some bad but all are things you’ll want to know.
Las Vegas Street Layout (Grid System, Mostly)
First, it will be good to know that Las Vegas streets are laid out in a way that makes sense. For the most part, the roads don’t have a lot of confusing twists and turns. As a directionally challenged person myself, I really appreciate that!
You can get on a road like Sahara or Tropicana on one side of the valley and it will go straight across to the other side of the valley. There are certainly exceptions, but for the most part, this is how it works.
Also, in some cities, the same road can change names three or four times in just a few miles. Generally, that isn’t the case here, which is really nice.
Long Traffic Signals
Las Vegas is home to the never-ending traffic signal. The traffic signals in Vegas are some of the longest traffic lights I’ve ever experienced in my years driving. There are a ton of traffic signals and if you get stopped at a red light (and you will), it may last five minutes or longer.
For instance, we only live 6 miles from the Strip but with stoplights, it will often take us upwards of 20-30 minutes to get there. So if you’re planning to head across town on surface streets be sure to add in some extra time to account for slow traffic lights.
Another note about the traffic lights in Vegas is that they don’t seem to be timed for the speed of the traffic in any way. So maintaining a constant speed from one light to the next doesn’t help to line things up so that you can hit mostly green lights. Why not? I have no idea. I guess it would make too much sense 🙂
U-Turns in Vegas
U-turns in Las Vegas are as common as slot machines. Not only are u-turns legal, but they also seem to actually be encouraged by the city as a means of traffic flow.
Driving through Las Vegas you’ll probably see more people making u-turns in a single outing than you’ll see in any other city in a month! The only thing you’ll need to watch out for beside being hit or hitting someone while making a u-turn is the occasional sign saying that u-turns are not allowed.
These no u-turn signs are rare. What you’ll see much more of are signs saying that a u-turn is okay. Basically, you can make a u-turn just about anywhere as long as there isn’t a sign saying otherwise.
Las Vegas Freeways
The Las Vegas freeway system is made up of three main freeways that transport drivers around the heart of the metropolitan area. These three interstate freeways (I-15, I-215, and I-515) basically create a rough circle around and through the cities of Las Vegas, Henderson, Green Valley, and Paradise (where the Las Vegas Strip is located).
There are no freeway connections cutting across the middle of town. What this means is that if you’re going to take the freeway to your destination you may actually have to jump on a freeway headed in completely the wrong direction in order to loop around the northern or southern end of the city to get you pointing back in the direction you originally wanted to go.
For instance, below is an image of a route from Treasure Island TI (on the Strip) to Sam’s Town on the east side of town. So while Sam’s Town is located southeast of Treasure Island, you’ll have to head north on the Interstate 15 (I-15) for several miles before connecting with the 515 freeway that eventually curves around and heads back south towards your destination.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not fond of getting to my destination by driving miles in the wrong direction! The alternative, of course, is to take surface streets across town.
Driving Surface Streets in Las Vegas
According to the google map route above, another option would be to avoid the freeway by taking a surface street and cutting directly across town. While this is a more direct route with less total miles driven, it will still take roughly the same amount of time because of all the traffic lights.
So in cases like these, whether you choose to take the freeway or not is up to your personal driving preferences. I find that no matter which route you choose if you’re trying to get somewhere on the other side of town it will take about 30 minutes or more on average to get there. So keep that in mind when planning an outing.
Is it Difficult to Drive in Las Vegas?
Driving in Las Vegas can be a bit difficult and as I mentioned, it pays to be a defensive driver. Las Vegas drivers in my experience are some of the worst drivers I’ve ever seen, and I learned to drive in Southern California! So it’s best to remain alert for other drivers doing some pretty questionable things while on the road.
(Note: Poor drivers, along with the 24-hour lifestyle have made auto insurance rates much higher in Clark County than anywhere else I’ve ever lived).
Having said that, driving in Las Vegas is not a whole lot different than any other large city but there are a few important tips I can share for driving in Las Vegas.
Tips for Driving in Las Vegas
#1 – Watch Out for Pedestrians
When driving in Las Vegas you’ll want to take special care to watch out for pedestrians. Much like the drivers, they don’t always follow the rules and you may find a person crossing the road in the least likely spot. This is especially a problem at night when it’s difficult to see.
A person wearing all dark clothing, won’t think twice about running across a busy street at night if it saves them from walking a few extra feet to the crosswalk.
This isn’t as much of a problem down on the Strip (Las Vegas Blvd) as it is throughout the rest of the city because many of the walking areas along the Strip are blocked off with barriers so that pedestrians can’t just cross wherever they want to.
#2 – Don’t Hit The Gas as Soon as The Light Turns Green
Las Vegas drivers are notorious for running red lights. The reason for this is the long stoplights I talked about earlier. When people have been sitting at a light for five minutes and they finally make it up to the intersection they don’t want to miss the light and sit there again for another five minutes. So they run the red light.
As Jeff Spicoli says in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, “It was yellow a minute ago… I’m sure of it.”
It’s not uncommon to have a light turn red and still see several more cars making their way through the intersection.
So if you’re at the front of a line of cars at a red light don’t just take off as soon as the light turns green. Hesitate for just half a second and look carefully before heading into the intersection to see what might be coming at you. It’s a great habit to get into to avoid getting t-boned in the intersection.
#3 – Turning Right on a Red Light
Making a right turn on a red light is perfectly legal in Las Vegas, unless marked otherwise. That being said, there are several things to watch out for when turning right on a red light. Besides watching for traffic moving through the intersection from other directions, you’ll also need to watch for people making U-Turns.
While looking left to avoid traffic coming from that direction, most drivers will start to pull out cautiously to make the right turn but if you’re not careful you will run right into a person making a u-turn. A lot of accidents in Las Vegas happen this way.
Also, pedestrians on the corner to your right, have a habit of stepping out into the street whether they have the light to cross or not. There’s a lot going on when making a right turn on a red light in Vegas.
#4 – Use Desert Inn Road
Desert Inn Road is the only road in town that goes under the Las Vegas Strip instead of across it. If you’re anywhere near Desert Inn, and you need to get across to the other side of the Strip, it’s a great choice.
Because the road goes under the Strip it avoids a lot of traffic congestion (as well as several stoplights) that happens on and near Las Vegas Boulevard. This can save you quite a bit of time.
#5 – Run Errands Early to Avoid Traffic
You may not want to hear this but running errands around town is a lot faster and easier during the morning hours. Happily, I’m not talking about running errands at the crack of dawn!
Running errands between the hours of 8:30 am and 11 am will save you a lot of time on the road and in the stores. After about 8:30 am all the kids are in school and the school buses are off the road. Also, people who had to be to work by 8 am are off the road as well. There’s a nice window there of a few hours where driving in Vegas is a much more calm and mellow experience.
#6 – Don’t Drive Behind a City Bus
It took me a while to learn this one, I guess I’m kinda slow. When driving anywhere in Las Vegas don’t drive behind one of the city buses or you’ll find yourself stuck behind it when they stop in the street to pick up and drop off passengers.
Public buses (known as The Duece) in Las Vegas only travel in the right-hand lane. On some streets, buses will have a place to pull off the road to exchange passengers but many streets don’t have a pull out for the bus stop.
In this case, the bus will have to stop in the street and you’ll be stuck as all the traffic behind you zooms by without a chance for you to change lanes and get around. Note: This is not a problem on the Strip as all the bus stops are pull-outs.
#7 – In Fact, Don’t Drive in the Right Hand Lane at All
When you’re cruising around town, it’s actually best to avoid the right-hand lane all the time unless you’re needing to make a right-hand turn. With all the pedestrians crossing the street at busy intersections it just takes one car that needs to make a right-hand turn to cause all the traffic in the right-hand lane to come to a dead stop while waiting for the pedestrians to clear the crosswalk.
Staying out of the right-hand lane can really speed up your journey!
How is the Traffic in Las Vegas?
Now, let’s discuss the overall traffic situation in Las Vegas. When we moved to Las Vegas in 2016, we moved from a small community in Washington State so needless to say the traffic was much more intense comparatively here in Vegas.
Having said that, I grew up and learned to drive in and around Los Angeles, California, and Las Vegas traffic is nowhere near that intense!
Even though Las Vegas is an all-hours city, there is still such a thing as rush hour traffic and even outside of rush hour times there can a good bit of traffic congestion in Las Vegas.
You can find out everything you need to know about traffic and rush hour in Las Vegas in our article: How Bad is the Traffic in Las Vegas? (What You Need to Know).
Las Vegas sure is an interesting city to drive in! Like any other city, Vegas has its own peculiarities when it comes to driving. If you use the information I provided in this article and incorporate some or all of the tips, I think you’ll find out that driving in Las Vegas quickly becomes second nature.
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