A Guide to Driving in the US
Hot on the heels of our recent European driving guides, we now bring you a quick guide to driving in the US. The American love affair with roads and cars is well documented in songs, books and films – cars and the open road represent freedom and the classic American road trip is a rite of passage for many, including some of the 70 million tourists the good ole U S of A receives each year. So, if you are planning an American road trip, here are a few things to know about driving in the US:
On your marks:
There are three main types of highway systems in the US, the Interstate Highway, the U.S. Highway and the State Highway system. Within these are the following roads and speed limits:
Type of road Speed limit
- Rural Freeway 55-80mph (88km/h-128km/h)
- Urban Freeway 35-80mph (56km/h-128km/h)
- Rural Divided 45-75mph (72km/h-120km/h)
- Rural Undivided 25-75mph (40km/h-120km/h)
- Residential 10-55mph (16km/h-88km/h)
U.S. speed limits are in miles per hour and indicate the maximum speed; however, cars must travel at a reasonable and prudent speed, given road conditions. The speed limits vary greatly because individual states set them, so be sure to check road signs indicating speed limits for each area.
In addition, most states have minimum speed limits in place and prohibit speeds so low that they are dangerous or impede the normal and reasonable traffic flow.
No state bans all mobile phone use for all drivers; however, there are bans in place in 14 states and it is partially illegal in four states. Along with that there is a ban on texting whilst driving in all states bar Arizona and Montana. Know before you go and check the law for the state you intend driving through.
By law, you must:
- Obey the laws of each state, which has its own driving rules and regulations.
- Have a full driver’s licence (provisional licences not accepted).
- Meet the minimum motor insurance requirement; however, car insurance isn’t mandatory in some states.
- Buckle-up as 34 states have primary seat belt laws for front seat occupants, 15 states have secondary laws and 28 states have laws requiring seat belt use for all rear seat passengers.
- Use child seats where appropriate, as all 50 states require child safety seats for infants and children fitting specific criteria.
- Not be over the drink drive limit and in all 50 states driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) at or above 0.08 per cent is a crime.
Before travelling, obtain an International Driving Permit; whilst not a requirement, you may need it in order to rent a car.
To rent a car, you must usually be 21 and held a full licence for a minimum of a year. A few companies will rent to 18-year-olds, although others have a minimum age requirement of 25. Many rental companies levy a young driver surcharge on those under 25.
When driving a rental car in the States not only are you driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road but also you are driving in the wrong side of the car. Try to familiarise yourself with the dials, indicators, and gear stick before you hit the main road.
Get used to driving an automatic too as this is the transmission type of most rental cars.
There isn’t an overtaking lane on American freeways, as undertaking is legal; therefore cars can overtake in every lane, so prepare yourself for other cars criss-crossing you in all directions.
While traffic signals use the same red, amber and green colours as us, watch out for supplementary signs and that, most of the time, you’re allowed turn right into a T junction on red if safe to do so.
Get your kicks on Route 66; it’s clichéd but still the quintessential America road trip. This iconic 2,400-mile (3,862km) road links Chicago with Santa Monica in California and leads into a bygone America. Rent yourself a ’57 Chevy and head to the nearest neon lit diner for a slice of nostalgia pie.
Route One, Big Sur Coast Highway, is a designated All American Road that runs along most of the Pacific coastline of California, which is one of the most beautiful coastlines in the USA.
A little off the beaten track but worth it; the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park, Montana, is a spectacular 50-mile (80km), two-lane highway that bisects the park crossing the Continental Divide at the 6,646-foot (2,025m) Logan Pass. It is a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, in other words, and awesome.
Another personal favourite of ours is the relatively unknown Valley of Fire area very close to Las Vegas. It’s breathtakingly beautiful and when you’re finished you approach Vegas from the hills, revealing that it really is a city in the middle of the desert. Watch out though: speeding is severely frowned upon here.