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What is it like to drive in Chicago

Not only do you have to be careful as to how you are driving but pay attention to how others are driving as well. 

Planning a trip to Chicago soon? Whether you are going to see a game, meet family, or move here, you’ll want to become familiar with some tricks and tips to get the hang of driving in the city. It will take some practice, but soon you’ll be driving like a local. 

Basic Chicago driving laws

Cell phones
In Illinois, you must be hands-free while driving. While that obviously means no texting and driving, it also applies to looking at your GPS and making calls. If a police officer catches you holding your phone, you could get a ticket. 

If you need your phone to see where you are going, make sure your directions are ready before you start driving, and look at getting hands-free devices for taking phone calls, like wireless headphones or earpieces, or use your built-in sound system. 

One-way streets
There are many one-way streets in Chicago. While the city operates in a grid-like pattern and is pretty easy to navigate, don’t assume you can take any left or right turn. Always check that you can go a certain way on the road and that it isn’t a one-way street. 

Always yield
In Chicago, pedestrians and bicyclists always have the right of way. Cars must always yield to pedestrians and bikers, no matter what, so if you are ever unsure whose turn it is, play it safe and yield. 

Turn signals
In Illinois, and especially while driving in Chicago, using your turn signals is not just a suggestion, it’s required by law. Use them anytime you are changing lanes or when you are turning. Be sure to use them about 200 feet in advance to give everyone else plenty of time to react. 

Red lights
Like in most other cities in the US, you can make a right turn on a red light, only after you have come to a full and complete stop and ensured that it’s safe to complete the turn. If there is a sign saying not to turn on a red light, be sure to follow the signage. 

If you roll through a red light, you could be fined, as you didn’t properly stop and look for oncoming traffic. 

Driving drunk
Finally, drunk driving. Illinois has a limit of 0.08% for your blood alcohol content before you are considered legally drunk. But if you are stopped while driving and have more than 0.05% blood alcohol level, you could be arrested and face DUI penalties. Play is safe, don’t drink and drive.

Driver’s license
Illinois has strict licensing rules. While it does recognize a license from a different state, it doesn’t acknowledge the official International Driver’s License. Additionally, if you are staying for more than 90 days, your out-of-state driver’s license is no longer valid unless you are working towards becoming a permanent resident of the state. 

Car insurance
Another area where Illinois will not budge regardless of where you are from is insurance. You have to have certain standards for car insurance no matter where you are from. This usually includes liability coverage. 

This includes $25,000 of bodily injury liability per person in the vehicle and $50,000 per accident, including the uninsured motorist coverage, and $20,000 of property damage per accident. 

Times when driving may be worse
While driving in Chicago always has the possibility to be a challenging adventure, there are times when traffic may be much worse than others. 

Construction
When you are planning to head to a destination, always check for construction in the area. The city is already notorious for its traffic jams and going to places where there is construction will only cause it to be worse, easily delaying your travel by an hour, if not more. Google Maps or Waze should have up to date information about traffic slowdowns, so check before you drive. 

Even if it takes you a while out of your way, it is best to avoid construction zones whenever possible. Driving a little further out of the way is oftentimes a lot faster and a lot smoother of a drive. 

Events and games
Chicago is known for its many sports teams, such as football, hockey, baseball, and basketball. Anytime that one of these games is going on, you can be sure that traffic in the surrounding areas will be packed. Additionally, places like pubs and bars are often full for out-of-state games so that everyone can watch and hang out. 

So no matter where the game is occurring, expect delays before and after a game for a couple of hours. 

Rush hours
If you can avoid it at all, it is better to travel before or after rush hour traffic. Even leaving twenty minutes earlier can save you a lot of headaches. For the most part, rush hour traffic tends to be between six and eight in the morning and four and six in the evening. 

The central business district, often called The Loop, major highways, and the Dan Ryan Expressway should all be avoided during rush hour if at all possible. 

Winter weather
Even those experienced with snow and winter driving conditions can have problems during the winter. If you are not experienced at driving in a city during winter conditions, you may need to drive a lot more slowly than you normally would, so that you don’t accidentally hit black ice. 

You also want to make sure you have a vehicle that can handle winter weather. A small car without four-wheel or all-wheel drive can easily get stuck in the snow. 

Unfortunately, while you are trying to be safe by going slowly and carefully, you will often face the ire of more experienced and often reckless drivers. So not only do you have to be careful as to how you are driving but pay attention to how others are driving as well. 

Ways to travel if you don’t want to drive
A little worried about driving in the heart of the city? Don’t worry, you're not the only one. It can be stressful trying to drive in the middle of a major city, especially if you've never been there before and it is during a busy time of the day or week. 

There are plenty of ways to get around Chicago if you don’t want to drive. You can look at a car service Chicago, get a taxi, take the Metro, use rideshare apps, ride a bike, scooter or Segway, take the bus, and remember, there’s always good, old-fashioned walking. 

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