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Tips for Driving in the United States

By: Tracy Whitelaw - Updated: 23 May 2017 | comments*Discuss
Driving United States Law Speed

Driving through the USA can be a great experience for many UK visitors. The wide open spaces that wind for miles between cities means that you can get the best of both worlds when it comes to experience and scenery. Most UK visitors who arrive in the USA are already aware of the fact they need to drive on the right hand side, but there are also a number of other state specific and country specific rules to learn before you set off. Trying to familiarise yourself with some of the countries driving laws will mean that your trip should be far less stressful, give you time to enjoy one of the best countries in the world for road trips.

Essential Tips for Driving in the USA

To drive legally in the USA you must have a full UK licence. It’s advisable to obtain an International Driving Licence before flying also as this can be more beneficial if you need it at any point in the US. If you have a regular UK photocard licence, also take that with you, along with the green paper part of the licence. If you’re on a ‘fly-drive’ holiday, you should ensure that you have your UK licence and the licence for all other users who are planning to drive your hire car. As well as this, you’ll need your insurance documents from the car hire company and check that it covers all the occupants of your car as well as any third party claims.

The US has a fairly high number of road related deaths each year, much higher than the UK, so remember to take your time and obey the road rules. Both the speed and drink driving limits in the US are lower than in the UK so get used to them before travelling long distances and if possible avoid all alcohol when driving. Always remember to buckle up in the US. It’s illegal not to wear seatbelts in both the front and rear of vehicles and it’s also illegal to have any child under the age of 4 in the front seat.

Road Conditions When Travelling Interstate

The road conditions in the USA are usually of a good standard. There are continual improvements being made to major roads and throughout most states, the highways are free of large potholes or other hazards. One of the most common issues people have when travelling through the USA however is that there are often lengthy traffic jams and areas of congestion around major cities. You should always try and plan your route beforehand, avoiding major cities at peak traffic hours and only heading into the city centre if you need to. There are numerous public transport options, so consider parking outside the city and getting the train or bus in. If you’re travelling interstate, you’re likely to experience a number of different time zones and weather conditions.

  • Time Zones – plan your trip well. Getting caught out due to time zones can be a problem. Always make sure you know where the time zone changes so you can arrange accommodation, fuel and more
  • Weather Conditions. Travelling interstate means you’ll drive through a number of different conditions. Look out for long desert roads making way to mountainous regions. Always be prepared for the shift in the weather, especially in the winter.

Parking is generally very accessible in most states in America, however you’ll be expected to pay high fees for parking in a CBD (Central Business District). Painted kerbs usually give you an indication that there are parking restrictions in force, so make sure you check any signs before parking and look for payment machines. If you’re at all concerned, it’s better to use a multi-story car park, but check for closing times also.

Speeding Laws in the USA

There are numerous different state laws when it comes to speeding in the USA. It is almost impossible to learn each individual state difference, so the best option is to always make sure you’re obeying the national law and sticking to the speed limit. Speed limit signs are well posted throughout most states and there will be state troopers and police officers checking your speed with mobile speed cameras. The general speed limits are:

  • Motorways – 70 mph
  • Outside Built-up Areas – 65 mph
  • Built-up Areas – 30 mph

Road Rules in the USA

There are a variety of specific road rules for driving in the USA. Knowing these can make your trip less stressful and make you blend in more with local drivers. Some of the most important points to remember are:

  • Right turns are allowed at red traffic lights, unless there is sign telling you otherwise. Make sure that you come to a complete halt first and then only proceed when you’re sure it’s clear
  • If you arrive at a crossroad (multiple junction), the driver who arrived first has right of way. If two arrive at the same time, give way to the right at all times
  • Only use a carpool or HOV lane in accordance with the laws for it. It’s usually in place to avoid congestion and should be used when you meet the minimum passenger requirements for it
  • Stop for school buses when they have their lights flashing and are stationary at the side of the road
  • Remember that you must pay for your gas BEFORE you attempt to refuel
  • Cars in the USA don’t have a dedicated orange indicator light, they have a red flashing indicator that blends in well with their brake lights

Hiring a Car in the USA

There are numerous car hire places available in the USA and most people tend to use places at the airport for ease. You will find that hiring outside of the airport can be cheaper, however you’ll need to wait on a courtesy bus and most people prefer to just drive off from the airport. If you do decide to hire a car, it’s advisable to book in advance rather than waiting until arrival. When you get to the hire company, you’ll often be asked for a credit card imprint as well as your licence and passport. You will then be offered an upgrade as well as a variety of different types of insurance.

Always read the small print. Most fly-drive holidays and online car rental only cover you for the basic insurance so take out extra such as Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) when you get there. Check the entire car for scratches or dents and make a note of these before taking it off the lot.

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You also need, in case you travel from Mexico to the US, a car insurance, because not all companies provide this service, you can check first in case you want to do it, as easy as that, BestMex offers this service, for anyone who is interested.
Mike 34 - 8-Sep-14 @ 5:21 PM
I've driven a lot in the US so you just have to keep reminding yourself when over there, Keep to the right, keep to the right (except of course unless road signs indicate otherwise!) especially if a bit tired and at the end of the day, and especially when turning say into a car park and being in a car park as you don't have other cars moving around to cue you along. (oops called parking lot, over there). Driving automatics is NOT a problem and is a lot less stressful I have found too, to concentrate on the road and what other cars are doing, as there are a lot of Big cars and big vehicles on major roads. Also some suburban areas have much slower speed limits in residential zones, often at a gas-guzzling 25MPH, so watch out for that as the local police love to catch people and get their fine money right away.
Pratty10 - 23-Jun-12 @ 1:46 PM
We are planning a trip to the States in the summer and have hired a car, I have been looking for information on the internet to show my husband as he will be doing most of the driving and have found this site to be very informative especially regarding the speed limits.
TC - 24-May-12 @ 2:45 PM
Great basic advice, hopefully will help when driving in the states.
dazz - 16-Mar-11 @ 8:21 AM
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