Traffic Jammin’ with Janis Mara – Reading Maps While Driving, Construction Zones, DMV + More

February 4, 2013 14:00 pm · 26 comments

Traffic Jammin’ with Janis Mara – Every Monday at 2pm on

TRAFFIC JAMMER: Greetings, all! This column is for everyone who negotiates the highways and public transit of the Bay Area. It runs every Monday at 2pm and answers your commuting and transportation questions.

Email your questions to

COMMUTER: I visited a friend in a town near Yosemite recently and to my dismay, my GPS unit didn’t work. To make matters worse, my cell phone didn’t work either so I couldn’t call her and ask for directions. Next time I visit, I’ll print out Mapquest directions in advance, but I’m worried that I’ll get a ticket if I hold the paper in my hand when I drive.


TRAFFIC JAMMER: Don’t worry, Dis, you can legally read printed directions or a map as you drive, just as long as you keep your attention on the road. If you get lost, though, do get off the freeway to study the directions or map.

Incidentally, the Jammer was surprised that you would choose Mapquest, because she has long assumed Google Maps are best. However, Dis, your post led me to check Mapquest out and it actually does seem to give superior directions in some ways – “Take the first right,” for example, and the like.

COMMUTER: They’re repairing the highway between my house and my job right now, though the work seems to only be going on at night. The posted signs say, “Construction zone. Fines doubled for speeding,” or some such. Does this mean I have to drive 55 even during the daytime when the construction isn’t going on?


TRAFFIC JAMMER: In a word, Puzzled: Yes. The speed limit in posted construction zones is always in place, regardless of whether work is actively being done or not. As you know all too well, K-rail (those weird-looking long concrete blocks) is often in place, narrowing the roadway; lane changes can get funky; and this all means you need to slow down, even if there aren’t any workers on the job.

COMMUTER: I waited way too long to deal with a screw-up on my registration and I’m dreading calling the Department of Motor Vehicles and being kept on hold for, like, 15 hours. Any advice?

–Claycord Mom

TRAFFIC JAMMER: Be of good cheer, Claycord Mom. First of all, you deserve a pat on the back for being proactive and taking steps to remedy the problem. Sounds like you haven’t dealt with the DMV in quite a while; these days when you call, there’s a callback option. A recording comes on and gives callers the option to leave their name and number for a return call.

If you do this, usually they actually do call back pretty fast, at least in my experience. (Technically, the DMV promises between 20 and 90 minutes.)

TRAFFIC JAMMER: That’s it for this week – see you next Monday. Be sure to cruise by at 2pm for more traffic intelligence. Remember, whether you drive, walk, bike or hop Amtrak, BART or AC Transit, Traffic Jammer Janis Mara is here to answer your questions.

Send your questions to

Traffic Jammin’ is brought to you by Lehmer’s Concord Buick GMC. Step up to your next GMC. GMC Truck Month is Happening Now!

1 ClayDen February 4, 2013 at 2:14 PM

I have a GPS and sometimes use it. However, if I know in advance that I’m going somewhere unfamiliar, I check Google maps to”get the lay of the land.” Then I print the directions in 20 point font with adequate spacing, as this makes it easier to read wile I’m focusing on driving.

2 Reality says... February 4, 2013 at 2:25 PM

Sooooo..if I am using google maps or any kind of navigation on MY PHONE and have it on, in my hand, to see directions, will I be subject to a ticket? Am I any less distracted regardless of what medium I choose to use?

3 Dorothy February 4, 2013 at 2:27 PM

Printed out and if there is a passenger, have them read the directions too. I’ve found that there are a lot of “dead” areas for gps and cell phones. Especially in the mountains and long sections of flat lands in some states.

4 Concord Dad February 4, 2013 at 2:28 PM

Are you people kidding me? GPS and phones are great, but there is no shame in keeping a map or two in the glove box and understanding how to use it. Technology isn’t always going to get you home, and knowing how to use a map can sometimes get you out of the tricky situations GPS will direct you into.

5 Traffic Jammer February 4, 2013 at 2:34 PM

That’s a great idea, ClayDen! It can sometimes be tough to follow the GPS directions anyway if you’re completely unfamiliar with the area, so: Good thinking.

6 Mad Mom February 4, 2013 at 2:43 PM

Funny you should be talking about GPS. Last week on Saturday then again on Sunday, we were stopped by travelers asking where the BART station was. Both times their GPS gave them our address! We live near Baldwin Park, not the BART station. Both directions came from “Smartphones”

7 Anon777 February 4, 2013 at 2:44 PM

Claycord Mom: If you have AAA, you can utilize them for a lot of DMV issues. I NEVER go/call DMV unless that’s my last option.

8 Call to make an appointment at DMV February 4, 2013 at 2:44 PM

They will usually get you scheduled within a few days. The only drawback is putting up with sneers from the walk-in mutants who can’t figure how you got in and out before them.

9 ClayDen February 4, 2013 at 3:06 PM

Another issue:
Since the law went into effect prohibiting mounting a portable GPS in anywhere other than the lower corners of the windshield, it has been a problem getting a satisfactory mounting location. On my car with a sunroof, I’ve found that mounting it to the sunroof works very well, as it is close and in my peripheral vision, but does not obstruct my view of the road, as well as being close to my ear. It is also in a good location to maintain signal integrity with the GPS satellites. Just make sure the glass of the sunroof and the surface of the suction cup is very clean so the suction cup on the GPS mount holds well.

10 Floyd R. Turbo February 4, 2013 at 3:13 PM

I hate it when the wind catches my fold-out map and blows it into my face while I’m driving; but I’m sure y’all can relate. Whatta bummer!

11 Jojo Potato February 4, 2013 at 3:16 PM

@ COMMUTER – I’ve done the same thing and just went down to the office. Didn’t take too long and just got it done. Maybe Concord office is easier, but their website has the waiting times. in the area. Good luck.

12 Fuel Prices Sky High February 4, 2013 at 3:23 PM

Can anyone tell me why the gas prices are soaring in February? Drove by World Gas today, “Regular” gas is now $3.79 !!! prices have increased $0.40/gal in less than two weeks.

13 cf February 4, 2013 at 3:36 PM

GPS is not always correct. I live right in the middle of Concord, yet GPS erroneously sends everyone on a one-lane road to my house when there is a better two-lane road. Google maps even thinks my neighbor’s driveway is a road, I’ve tried to correct it several times with no luck.

Even ConFire came the wrong way, had to get that corrected for next time (hopefully there is NO next time).

14 Paul (formerly) in South Concord February 4, 2013 at 4:05 PM

Use your online mapper of choice… and take a few minutes to study the directions & route map, before leaving. Maybe highlight key transitions. Keep it handy, sure, but remember that the police can always cite you for “Distracted Driving” which has a myriad of parameters.

I don’t remember learning how to read a map, the day or night sky & a compass… I was so young. My old man taught me. That man is amazing. Can find his way to/from/into/out of anywhere. It’s kinda spooky, sometimes.

Yes, I own a GPS but still have maps in the car. The wife is actually quite accomplished at map reading and often serves in the role of navigator for me.

I have recently learned how to use a sextant. The same gentleman is also going to teach me how to use an astrolabe. Along with my compass, sun & stars… No recharging or satellites required ;-)

15 Teacher Wannabe February 4, 2013 at 10:16 PM

I’ll use anything but Mapquest. Once sent me 12 mikes the wrong direction. Googlemaps is better. Although I like the idea of keeping a paper map handy. Those Boy Scout skills sure come in handy.

16 Starfish February 4, 2013 at 10:38 PM

I agree that the DMV is more efficient these days. There are still the lines but when you make an on-line appointment; it is much more quicker.

17 Janis Mara February 5, 2013 at 12:26 AM

@Starfish #16, good point about the online appointments. Should’ve mentioned that!

@Teacher Wannabe #15, uh oh, sounds like you had a bad experience with Mapquest. I’ve always preferred Google Maps myself.

@Fuel Prices Sky High, that is an excellent question. I’ll look into that and will probably be able to answer in the next column.

18 The Mamba February 5, 2013 at 6:57 AM

LOL @ getting a ticket for looking at a paper for directions.

19 Connie Dobbs February 5, 2013 at 7:05 AM

I really hate it when I get sent the wrong Mike.

20 Connie Dobbs February 5, 2013 at 7:06 AM

Also, some people pull over to read the map.

21 Connie Dobbs February 5, 2013 at 7:20 AM

#12 Because the President won’t allow oil drilling on ‘public’ land.

22 anonares February 5, 2013 at 9:11 AM

I don’t use a smart phone or get maps from a website. I bought a cd called Microsoft Streets and Maps. I have used it to get to hundreds of addresses. I print out a general area map and a close up one on the other side of the paper. It allows you to size the map to your own comfort level. It has never failed me like Google or Mapquest has in the past.

23 anonares February 5, 2013 at 9:13 AM

The title is Microsoft Streets and Trips.

24 Kirkwood February 5, 2013 at 11:08 AM

Microsoft Streets & Trips is excellent, I sometimes use it to get the “lay of the land” and sometimes print backup maps in case the GPS hiccups (which has happened). You have to understand what your GPS can and cannot do, and when. I’m the “be prepared type”. Also, I can’t understand how someone can drive while trying to look at lines or text on a tiny phone screen.

25 Dorothy February 5, 2013 at 11:54 AM

How does one get a No Turn On Red sign put up on a bad traffic corner? Even a temp sign during Hwy 4 construction would help. Darn near got killed again with a truck that thinks right turns on red is their right to barrel on through.

I have to go past 2 dedicated left turn lanes that go onto Hwy 4 in order to get to the one stright lane. On coming traffic has the red light but those idiots want to get onto the Hwy lanes by doing the right turn. That section really needs a no turn on red sign.

26 Janis Mara February 6, 2013 at 12:09 AM

Hey there, Dorothy! Could you tell me – what intersection is this? I realize you’re talking about the intersection of a highway with Highway 4 – I know it can’t be northbound Interstate 680 and Highway 4 because I’m familiar with that intersection, but I’m not familiar with the one you mention.

I’ll get in touch with Caltrans to ask about this as soon as I have a better idea as to where you’d like to see the sign. Thanks for alerting us all, Dorothy!

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