Driving in the USA

By: Lisa Harper

Driving in America is a ‘must-do’ for many people. America’s open roads offer an undeniably free experience, giving you a sense of pioneering spirit. Driving is the perfect way to fully absorb everything this country has to offer.

With multiple rental options you get the versatility to travel the way that best suits your journey; be it a family friendly minivan, a convertible, muscle car, butch pick-up or a whopping RV. Driving in America allows you to live out your fantasies.

In America the big difference in driving is that you drive on the right, not the left. However, the road set-up is very similar to the UK and both speed and speed limits are displayed in miles per hour.

America’s road network is mainly made up of motorways and interstates so it’s a good idea to hire a car that has plenty of oomph, so you won’t have any issues cruising along.

What Documents Are Required to Drive in the USA?

You can drive in the USA on a full UK licence. Most rental companies require you to be 21 to hire a vehicle, although some firms will only hire to those over 25, so it’s advisable to double check before you book.

The hire car should come with everything you need to safely traverse American roads. You must carry proof of insurance and ownership of the vehicle at all times. Usually, the car hire company will provide all the relevant necessary documentation and advise you to keep it somewhere safe.

Hire companies will often offer breakdown cover and enhanced insurance. It is completely down to you whether you decide to take them but they are usually reasonably priced and can be useful in the event something does go wrong.

Driving in America

Rules of the Road in America

Driving rules can vary from state to state in America however, there are a few things that are worth bearing in mind:

- Like in the UK mobile phone use is banned in most states so it is advisable to only use your mobile using a hands-free device.

- Each state has its own blood alcohol limit so it is worth double checking the limit in the state/s you are visiting before you travel. If ever in doubt the advice is always not to drink and drive.

- In most US states it is also prohibited to carry open alcoholic drinks within the car, meaning even passengers cannot consume alcohol. The advice when buying alcohol is to keep the drinks sealed and in a secure location, such as the boot. 

- You will find a multitude of toll roads across America. If your car hire includes a satnav it is easy enough to set the route to avoid toll roads. In fact, you may find this way of travelling lets you see America off the beaten track. In addition given that fuel costs around 40% less in America than it does in the UK, lengthy detours are unlikely to hit your wallet.

Different Types of Roads in the USA

Interstate Roads - are equivalent to the UK’s motorways having a minimum of two lanes in either direction, although many have multiple lanes travelling in the same direction.

State Roads – Are State maintained and can vary from dual-carriageways to single lane highways.

County Roads – Are controlled at County level so can vary from well-established roads to unpaved roads.

Interstate road in America

Our Top Tips for Driving in America

- Undertaking isn’t illegal in America, so be prepared for people coming past you on both sides when travelling on large interstate roads.

- Americans are less disciplined in indicator use than we are in the UK, so don’t be surprised to find people just pulling over without indicating first. Our top advice would be to keep an eye on your mirrors to see what is going on.

- You can turn right at traffic lights if the light is on red, as long as there is no oncoming traffic.

- In America there are multiple four-way intersections with no lights. They work on the basis that the first car that arrives gets priority and so on. Sounds like a recipe for disaster but in practice, these junctions work incredibly well and you soon get used to them. Our advice is to approach these junctions with caution.

- Rules around school buses are particularly strict in America with traffic being required to stop when picking or dropping off passengers.

- When parking up on the side of the road you must park facing the direction of traffic.

- Traffic can be highly congested in built-up areas, therefore, it is best to give yourself plenty of time when heading out at peak times in cities or towns.

- Many towns/cities have dedicated carpool lanes which you can only use if there is more than one person travelling in the car. You risk a fine if you are found to be using these lanes inappropriately.

- At most fuel stations you must pay for your fuel before you can start re-fuelling.

Do you have any top tips for driving in America? Or maybe you are planning your very own road trip in the States? We’d love to hear from you- get in touch via Facebook or Twitter.

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