Driving in Sacramento
Everything You Need To Know

Sacramento, the capital of California, is nestled in between the Sacramento River and the American River. Sacramento is known as America’s “Farm-to-Fork,” with over forty local farmer’s markets filled with delicious food and local produce, especially during those summer days. Both tourists and locals are drawn to exploring the historical attractions, parks, and museums, so understanding the best ways to get around safely is essential! This guide describes all of the best places to visit, problem areas where accidents happen, and the best ways to get around.

Major Sacramento Highways and Roads

California’s state highway system has been around since 1896 when California took over the Lake Tahoe Wagon Road, now known as US 50. In 1912, California voters approved having 3000 miles of additional roadways built, leading to the dense highway system that exists in California today. In Sacramento specifically, the major highways and roads include:

Other major roads and freeways include California 65, California 113, California 104, and California 193.

With the intricacies of the California roadway system and its many state and country roads, drivers should find ease in making travel arrangements and make the most of their time in the city. There are many things both tourists and locals can do while in Sacramento.

Popular Destinations in Sacramento

Getting Around Sacramento and Public Transportation

Getting around any city, especially an unfamiliar one, can be a frustrating experience between traffic, dealing with other drivers, and not knowing where you are going. While driving in Sacramento is an easy way to get around if you know where you are going, or have the patience to learn the city’s roads, there are other ways to get around Sacramento as well.

Additionally, taxis and city buses allow you to easily navigate the city with experienced drivers. Many hotels also offer shuttles to top destinations within Sacramento, including the ones listed above. If you want to travel like a local, or are a local, you can hop on the Sacramento Regional Transit (SacRT). The SacRT is an excellent public transportation system that operates over 80 bus routes, has 43 miles of light rail services and 52 light rail stations. In total, it runs within a 400-square-mile service area throughout Sacramento County. The SacRT services Sacramento and its suburbs including Citrus Heights, Folsom, Elk Grove, and Rancho Cordova.

Another popular way to get around Sacramento is by bike. The company, Bike Sacramento Bicycle rental is a great place to rent a bike and explore Sacramento. It’s located adjacent to the American River Bike Trail on 1050 Front Street and is also close to the downtown (Old Sacramento) area. And if you want to get adventurous and travel by boat, the River Otter Water Taxi can take you down to the Sacramento River and back.

Finally, like many other cities, Sacramento has welcomed Bird, Lyft, and Lime scooters into the city. Always wear a helmet, though, as these scooters can get up to around 20 miles per hour!

The Most Dangerous Roads and Intersections in Sacramento

In California, overall traffic fatalities decreased from 3,884 fatalities in 2017 to 3,563 in 2018. However, dangerous intersections still exist, and many accidents continue to happen each year.

To see the locations of major traffic hotspots in and around Sacramento, take a look at the maps below with and without hotspot indicators:

Driving Hotspots of Sacramento
Map of Sacramento

The darker red circles in the first image represent more severe accidents, which also indicate areas with slower traffic and congestion. With the maps, we can also see that the most heavily trafficked and dangerous driving areas lie along I-5 and Highway 99 in downtown Sacramento.

Two locations are especially alarming, and that is where Highway 99 meets US highway 50 and I-80 downtown. North of the city, we can also see that there is a lot of issues happening where I-80 meets highway 244.

Areas known to be dangerous include the intersection of Arena Boulevard and Truxel Road where many accidents occur. At this intersection, you will find the Natomas Crossing Business Center as well as the Consulate General of Mexico. The intersection at I St and 12st Street, just one street over from Sacramento City Hall, and a few streets north of the historic Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament is also known to have many accidents.

Additionally, below you can see the average time it takes to drive 30 minutes to and from our office close to downtown Sacramento. The 30-minute drive to work is known as the Marchetti Constant and is something that is hardwired into humans. The average person takes 30 minutes to commute to work, no matter the means it takes to get there or the amount of traffic of the city they live in.

Map of Sacramento

But the 30-minute drive time isn’t always a reality. Below, you can see examples of a 60 minute drive time to/from our office. Both instances are great measures of urban sprawl and indicate where and how traffic moves throughout Sacramento.

Map of Sacramento with outline

The Most Dangerous Roads and Intersections in Sacramento

But the 30-minute drive time isn’t always a reality. Below, you can see examples of a 60 minute drive time to/from our office. Both instances are great measures of urban sprawl and indicate where and how traffic moves throughout Sacramento.

You can click on the various geographic areas listed on the website, including:

  • Downtown Sacramento
  • East Sacramento, Tahoe Park, Elmhurst, River Park,
  • College Greens, College Glen
  • Land Park
  • River District
  • South Sacramento
  • North Sacramento
  • Natomas

Sacramento Driving Laws

Most cities have similar laws pertaining to drivers, such as all drivers and passengers must wear seatbelts and abide by the speed limits. However, both state and local laws apply to other driving requirements, which you can learn about in Sacramento’s Drive Safe Sacramento. This program is an exclusive driver’s training program for people in Sacramento to learn how to become a safe, defensive driver.

The relevant Sacramento and California driving laws include:

Phone Laws

In California, drivers cannot use a cell phone or similar electronic communication device if the device is in the driver’s hand while driving. You can only use the device in a hands-free manner, such as on speaker voice, Bluetooth, or voice commands. The crucial element of the law is that you can never use the device while holding it. One caveat to the law is that if a driver is under 18 years old, then that driver cannot use a cell phone for any reason – even in a hands-free manner.

Motorcycle Laws

  • Helmets – California Vehicle Code (CVC) 27803 pertains to motorcycle drivers and requires drivers and riders to always wear helmets.
  • Mirrors – CVC 26709 states that motorcycles must have both right and left mirrors.
  • Headlights – Further, drivers must use headlights at all times, even during the day, if the motorcycle was built in 1978 or later.
  • Age – Regarding age, if the driver is younger than 21 years old, then the driver must first have a learner’s permit for six months before applying for the motorcycle license.
  • Lane-Splitting – In August 2016, lane splitting became legal in California. Also known as lane sharing, lane splitting is when a motorcyclist rides between lanes of traffic when traffic is moving slowly or is stopped. Though lane-splitting is legal, all motorcyclists should take extreme caution when doing so.

International Drivers’ Laws

In California, in general, foreign visitors with a valid driver’s license from a foreign country can legally drive in the state of California without having to get a California driver’s license or international driving permit (“IDP”). However, the driver must meet the following requirements:

  • They are 18 years old or older;
  • The country where they reside lawfully issued the license to them; and
  • The license they have covers the type of vehicle they will drive or are driving in California (i.e., truck, car, motorcycle, etc.).

Further, it is essential to note that while the state might not require the driver to have an IDP, some car rental agencies may require the IDP as well as the foreign license.

If you do not abide by these rules, you can cause an accident, receive a traffic ticket, or even have your driver’s license revoked.

Renting a Car in Sacramento

Renting a car while in Sacramento can be a great way to get around. Many companies offer car rentals at the airport, with the price depending on the type of car desired (i.e., Standard, Full-Size, Full-Size SUV, Premium). If you plan to drive anywhere outside of the main parts of Sacramento, such as downtown or midtown, you will likely need a car.

However, if you plan just to stay local, you can use some of the public transportation options we described in this article. To summarize, these options include:

• SacRT
• Bird, Lyft, or Lime Scooters
• Bike rentals
• Taxis
• Walking

No matter how you get around, you will surely appreciate the various options you have in Sacramento.

How to Get a Driver’s License in Sacramento

Renting a car while in Sacramento can be a great way to get around. Many companies offer car rentals at the airport, with the price depending on the type of car desired (i.e., Standard, Full-Size, Full-Size SUV, Premium). If you plan to drive anywhere outside of the main parts of Sacramento, such as downtown or midtown, you will likely need a car.

However, if you plan just to stay local, you can use some of the public transportation options we described in this article. To summarize, these options include:

• SacRT
• Bird, Lyft, or Lime Scooters
• Bike rentals
• Taxis
• Walking

No matter how you get around, you will surely appreciate the various options you have in Sacramento.

Parking in Sacramento

Parking in any city can be challenging. Sacramento offers parking services including free metered parking after 4:30 pm and free all-day metered parking on weekends, which can make finding parking easier. In residential areas, you may need a residential permit to park on some streets. Sacramento also offers an online reservation system called, SacPark Reservation to allow drivers to reserve a parking spot ahead of time at any City-owned garage or certified parking partner of the city.

Besides metered parking, the city also offers parking permits for non-residential areas. You can receive the following types of parking permits:

Temporary Construction Parking Permit
Emergency Permit
Delivery Permit
Valet Permit
Educational Institution Permit
Car Share Parking Permits

The city uses the application called Parkmobile to allow drivers to pay for parking sessions at specific meters and off-street parking lots by using the mobile app, web browser, or by calling (916) SAC-PARK. Parkmobile also enables the ‘pay-by-plate’ technology that allows certain parking facilities to use a system that recognizes your vehicle’s license plate and automatically charges for the payment. The Pay-By-Plate feature is available at the following locations:

With the Parkmobile app, you can also add time without having to return to your vehicle!

Common Things That Affect Driving in Sacramento

Sacramento drivers are notorious for not being good drivers. The City of Sacramento cites the following five traffic violations as the leading causes of accidents in Sacramento:

Following Too Close To Other Drivers. Also known as “tailgating,” following too closely behind the vehicle in front of you can cause severe accidents. The city quotes the ‘three-second rule’ as a guideline to help drivers avoid accidents. This rule state that you should not pass an object in front of you in less than three seconds.

Failing to abide by Sacramento Traffic Laws and Signals. As you can see on the maps above, there are many areas in Sacramento where accidents occur often. Drivers cause these accidents by failing to abide by traffic signals, such as red signal lights, failing to stop at a stop sign, pedestrian laws at crosswalks, speeding laws, or lane-changing laws.

Drinking and Driving. While the country as a whole has tried to take various measures to decrease drinking and driving, many drivers still continue to do so and cause catastrophic accidents as a result.

Speeding. Drivers speed for many reasons. Whether it is because they are running late, are impatient, do it for the adrenaline rush, or fail to recognize the speed limit, speeding often causes accidents in Sacramento, the rest of California, and the country.

Left Turns. Drivers often fail to accurately predict the amount of time and space they have when making a left turn while another vehicle is approaching head-on.

Other reasons can include:

Distracted Driving

When drivers are distracted by looking at their phone screen, looking at other people, eating while driving, or any other action that can distract them from paying attention at the wheel, they often are more susceptible to causing car accidents.

Weather

Sacramento can experience heavy rainfall and wet winters. While Sacramento rarely sees snow, the heavy rain can cause more accidents in the city as the roads are slippery and drivers often have more difficulty seeing.

What do I do if I get into a car accident in Sacramento?

Any accident can be an overwhelming and frightening experience. If you are involved in an accident while in Sacramento, you should follow these steps:

Stay at the scene

In Sacramento, it is illegal to leave the scene of an accident after a crash. Therefore, always remain at the scene, especially if there are any injuries to you, passengers, or the other driver.

1

Ensure everyone’s safety

Check to make sure you and the other passengers are okay. If anyone is injured, call 9-1-1 immediately to have an ambulance take the injured person or people to the hospital.

2

Move the vehicle to a safe place

Move the vehicle to the side of the road to ensure that it does not create any hazards for other drivers passing by.

3

Call the Police

If you haven’t done so already, you should always call 9-1-1 so that a police officer can evaluate the accident scene and write up an accident report. It is vital to seek medical attention, even if you do not feel injured, as some injuries may not be apparent.

4

Exchange Information

Always make sure to write down all of the information you can from the other driver. This can include name, insurance information, car information, and any other details that may be relevant.

5

Take Notes on the Accident Scene

Make sure to note everything from the accident scene so that you can provide a complete picture to the insurance companies and/or lawyers.

6

Take Pictures

Take pictures of both cars and any other relevant images at the scene (such as poles that you may have hit, etc.).

7

Gather witnesses

Be sure to write to the contact information of anyone who can serve as a potential witness.

8

Contact an experienced Sacramento car accident lawyer

Before speaking to any insurance company about settlements or claims, you should consult with a knowledgeable lawyer about what your rights may be. You may be entitled to compensation

9

Accidents do happen, though you can be better prepared by staying calm and following the steps above.

Sacramento is an incredible city. This affordable and family-friendly destination is great for both tourists and locals alike. Indulge in the rich history and evolving contemporary culture, but be sure you plan the best ways to get around quickly and efficiently!

Photo of Sacramento injury lawyer Brooks Cutter

Personal injury and civil justice attorney Brooks Cutter is a leading advocate for consumer justice and protecting the rights of the severely injured. Brooks founded Cutter Law, P.C., with offices in Sacramento and Oakland, with…

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