Alright, travellers, listen up. If a USA road trip is not on your bucket list, you might want to make some adjustments to your plans. Driving in the USA is one of the best ways to see the country (either driving independently or travelling on a group tour) and this huge country was actually designed with cars and roads in mind which makes road-tripping one of the best ways to see everything in the USA.
From Route 66 to the Pacific Coast Highway, there are plenty of American road trips you can make time for either before, or after your tour across the States. Whether you want to see the USA’s famous national parks or the whole country from A to B, we can guarantee there is a road trip calling your name. But, before you start planning, there are a couple things that you must know before you drive in the USA. The laws and regulations may be different compared to your home country, and other rules along the way might be different from your expectations. Read on to find out everything you need to know.
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1. Drive on the right side of the road
Sure, this one might go without saying, but here in the USA, we drive on the right side of the road. And no, I am not trying to start a debate here on who drives on the right and wrong side of the road, that can be a topic for another day. While many countries drive on the left side of the road, we drive on the right.
It seems easy enough, but trust me, switching sides of the road can get confusing when you have driven one way all your life. Maybe even make sure you have a friend in the car to make extra sure you’re not on the wrong side of the road (just incase you get really confused).
This one is also confusing for anyone switching from a left side-driving country, and you will oftentimes accidentally try to get in the passenger seat or have passengers who think they are driving. For me – as someone who switches countries quite often – it is still confusing!
2. Be aware that state and federal laws may differ
America can be a confusing place when it comes to laws. See, we technically have two different governments. The Federal Government is higher the State Government, but some laws are up to the states to decide when it comes to traffic. For example, some states have different driving ages (driving age is 16 in most states) and alcohol limits (the limit is .08 in most states, but .05 in some).
You can check more on specific state laws here. Just make sure you know your specific state laws before you go.
3. You can turn right turns on a red light
You can make a right turn on a red light when driving in the USA unless signs specify otherwise. Now, this obviously means you can make a right turn when you have deemed it safe and when no other cars are coming. Rather than waiting for a small right turn when no one is coming, here you can just make that turn. But, if it’s a red arrow, you must wait.
4. Pedestrians have right of way
This one sort of goes without saying, but pedestrians, always have the right of way. It’s not like Amsterdam when bikes have the right of way or any other alternative places where cars and motorcycles do. Just be careful, okay?
5. Pay attention to alcohol laws
As mentioned earlier, the blood alcohol limit is usually .08, but is lower in some states. Also, most importantly, no open containers are allowed inside vehicles, so passengers should not be drinking beers as you drive. Also, remember that the drinking age is 21.
6. Take note of speed limits and miles per hour
The first thing you have to remember is that the signs indicating speed are in miles per hour, not kilometres per hour. You can generally expect 65mph on freeways, something along the likes of 40-50mph on normal roads, and down to 20-30mph when driving on smaller streets.
7. There are rules about campervans and sleeping in your car
Many of you may be road tripping across the USA in a camper van or a converted car (or just throwing a mattress in the back) between meeting with group tours or other travel plans you might have, and there are also some regulations regarding sleeping in your car in the USA as well. Generally speaking, you will need to check up on the rules of the area you are in.
If you travelling in and around the many national parks hidden across the USA, there will be lots of campsites where you can pull in, use electricity, and make use of the facilities for a low cost. If you have a tent, you can, of course, pitch it!
If no obvious sleeping spots are available to you, it’s important to use discretion as to where you decide to pull over. Always aim for an official camping site, as some neighbourhoods may find people sleeping in a car a bit alarming, and it’s also important not to be overtly obvious in washing up and changing in public.
8. You have to pump your own gas
This might not be true in other parts of the world, but when driving in the USA, you have to pump your own gas. So, if you roll up to a gas pump and sit there waiting for someone to come up to help you, you might be waiting a long time.
9. Beware of aggressive city drivers
Now, this might just be experience driving in Los Angeles and San Francisco, but to be honest, driving in larger cities invites a bolder, sometimes more aggressive style of driver. Often, driver’s don’t have a spare millisecond to wait on their commutes home and they will not let you in. Also, they’re likely to cut you off or beep at you if you haven’t already put your foot on the gas before the light was even green. Don’t get discouraged if you start driving in a big city like this. Not everyone is an aggressive driver, but it does pay to be aware of your surroundings.
10. There are LOTS of deserts
If you are driving Route 66 or anywhere else in the middle of the US (or on the way to Vegas), prepare yourself for a whole lot of nothing. In the middle of the USA you will find endless flat plains, deserts, and roads that go straight for what seems like forever, so just know that it might be a bit barren in between destinations.
See Also: The 11 Most Haunted Places in America
11. Renting a car
Renting a car in America is quite simple and any airport should be able to help you find your car rental or direct you to the best one but make sure you do your research beforehand!
Have we confused you with too many complicated road rules? Consider one of these tours travelling through the USA so you can sit back, and leave the driving for the pros.