Driving in the USA
This is not an exhaustive list of driving rules in the US but highlights some of the most common differences between driving there and in Britain.
Drive on the right!
Speed limits on different roads vary by State. If you know you are going to cross State lines check the speed limit. As a general rule, limits are 30mph in built up areas, 55mph on the open road and 65 or 70mph on dual carriageways / motorways but there are significant variances so keep your eyes open. There is often a 20mph limit near schools that will operate during certain times of the day. These will be well signed.
Under no circumstances should you ever pass a yellow school bus from either direction when it is stopped to allow children to get on or off. It will be displaying a stop sign and flashing lights and this must be obeyed.
Those junctions not governed by traffic lights tend to use a four way stop, there are few roundabouts. This is very confusing for those of us from England but as a general rule you must come to a complete stop and traffic has priority in the order in which it arrives. If there is a lot of traffic about the vehicle on your right generally has priority. I find once I have made eye contact with the other drivers at the stop it all starts to make sense.
You are allowed to turn right on a red traffic light at most junctions. It will be signed if for any reason you can’t. This greatly improves the flow of traffic but watch out for pedestrians if there are any.
If there is any type of emergency vehicle stopped at the side of the road you should either pull over to give it a clear lane if it is safe to do so or slow down if not.
Most petrol stations require you to pay before filling up which can feel quite counter-intuitive at first. Pay at the pump machines are common and it will take your credit card details and debit the correct amount when you have finished filling up. If you want to pay by cash you will have to go inside and hand over whatever you think your fill up will cost. Staff are normally very good at helping you guess. If you happen to be visiting Oregon or New Jersey then it is illegal to pump your own gas in these states and an attendant will do it for you.
Don’t flash your lights at other drivers to signal they can pull out or whatever. This is not commonly used in the US and is likely to cause misunderstandings.
Seatbelt requirements vary from State to State. As a general rule all front seat occupants must wear a seatbelt and children under eight or certain heights must be in an age / weight appropriate seat or booster cushion. Children under 12 should not be in a front seat.
Keep your driving license, rental agreement and passport on you when you drive. If you are stopped by the Police it is an offence not to be able to show these documents (you don’t get 7 days to produce as in the UK).
If you get stopped by the police for any reason stay in your car, put the window down and await instructions. If it is dark it can be useful to put on the courtesy light so the officer can see what you are doing.
If you have a fantasy of driving the open road in a convertible think this through carefully. We hired one for a Florida trip and found we hardly ever had the hood down as even with the breeze from moving the sun was uncomfortably hot. We also got caught in a very heavy rain storm and the noise of the rain on the hood was incredible. It was like being in a tent! If you do go for it make sure your luggage will fit in the boot. Convertibles often have small boots to allow space for the roof. The Chrysler 200 is one of the few convertibles that has a big enough boot to take a reasonable amount of luggage and enough rear legroom to fit ordinary sized people in the back.