Driving Rules & Regulations in the United States

 

Choosing car hire in the USA is the only way to get around this massive country. The sheer distances involved, an excellent road system, and a culture that elevates the car to cult status mean that driving is a far superior option to public transport. But before you get behind the wheel and hit the freeway, there are a few things you should know:

driving in the US

 

  • Driving laws are set by individual states, so rules and speed limits may vary slightly.

  • Stop in BOTH directions for any school bus with flashing lights.

  • At an intersection where all directions have a stop sign (called a 4-way stop), drivers move off in the order in which they enter the intersection after they have come to a total stop.

  • If there is an emergency vehicle (police, fire brigade, even tow trucks in some states) at the side of the road, you must change lanes away from it or slow down sharply.

  • A lower speed limit is strictly enforced near schools at specific times of day.

  • The left-most lanes are deemed “fast” lanes and the right-most lanes are deemed “slow” lanes.

  • Cars are not allowed to drive in a bicycle lane, although parking within a bike lane is allowed in some areas. Be vigilant for bicycles everywhere.

  • Lanes on the freeway that have a diamond-shape painted on the pavement are designated carpool lanes, or “HOV” (high occupancy vehicle) lanes, and fines for driving in them without the designated number of passengers can be stiff.

  • In most areas, cars already in a rotary, traffic circle, or roundabout have the right of way.

  • You must stop for pedestrians in a crosswalk, which are implied at four-way intersections.

  • Making right turns on red signals after stopping (and ensuring the path is clear of pedestrians and oncoming traffic) is generally permitted, although there is no “Right on Red” in New York City.

  • In urban areas, do not block intersections, as this causes gridlock and attracts traffic tickets.

  • You have to pay before filling up at most gasoline stations.

  • Watch out for road signs that require you to keep your headlights on during daylight, such as when travelling through a tunnel.

  • In the event of a breakdown, move into the shoulder and put on your hazard lights (emergency blinkers). Then call 911.

  • If you see a sign that says “four wheel drive only,” take it seriously. Ordinary cars will not be able to negotiate a mountain pass or other rough terrain, so hire an SUV if you plan to go off-roading.

  • If another driver flashes their lights, that person is unlikely to be signalling you to pass – it is more probably a case of road rage.

  • Parking along a road must be on the right side, in line with the traffic.

  • Seatbelts are mandatory, as are car or booster seats for children.

  • If you are signalled to stop by a police officer, park ranger, state trooper, or highway patrolman, pull over once it is safe to do so.

  • Do not put babies or small children in the front seat.

  • Do not drink and drive. (Blood-alcohol limits tend to average around .08)

 

We hope you find this guide to driving in the USA useful. If you have any tips or insights related to your experiences of car hire in the USA   or indeed any driving recommendations, we’d love to hear them! In the meantime, check out our guide to the U.S. road classification system and ensure you’re fully prepared before embarking on your U.S. road trip.



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