How to drive in the United States?

The United States is an especially large country with an area of 9.83 million km2 and a growing population that exceeds 325 million inhabitants, placing it as the fourth largest territory and third most populous country in the world. Since it’s inception it the United States has been a recipient country of immigrants, it is a multicultural and multilingual nation, with English and Spanish as dominant languages. 

The United States has a thriving economy that has become the main attraction for immigration, which continues to grow steadily in the last half century. It also boasts a variety or different interstate highways that span plains, mountains, valleys, deserts, islands and many other natural locales. The search for the American dream and the appeal of its amazing cities: New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago, Las Vegas and the like. These cities are not only important world-class business centers but also fun for all visitors.

In order to experience the United States by car it is important to understand the basic traffic laws in order to avoid unwanted infractions. We touch upon the most important things you should know when driving in the United States.

Legal requirements to drive

 

The first thing to know is that each of the 50 states that make up the country has its own traffic laws and regulations. In most cases, their driving rules are similar to those of other countries, but there are some exceptions for example to speed limits are enforced differently depending on the state. Therefore, when renting a vehicle it is necessary to first know the traffic laws of the state you are planning to drive in. Driver’s license

You must have either an United States license or a International Drivers License at all times while driving. Most states will accept that you drive with an International Driver’s License (IDL) as an accompaniment to your national license. You would have to also carry a secondary photo ID (passport, national ID), especially if your national license does not include your picture. 

Insurance policy

Your car must have an up-to-date registration and valid insurance policy, to protect you in case of accidents. 

General Management Information

As with over 60% the world, cars in the United States drive on the right side of the road, while the steering wheel is on the left side of the car. This together with the rules mentioned below, will help you have a pleasant travel experience: 

▪ Every time you board a vehicle as a driver or passenger you must wear a seat belt, as established by the driving laws. Likewise, minors must go in the back seat (including their own seat) with their respective seat belt on. 

▪ Drivers must stop at stop signs / yield. When you see such a signal you must stop completely until you can continue safely. If the stop is four-way, the cars will proceed according to the order of arrival at the intersection. 

▪ It is very important that the driver gives way when an ambulance or a police vehicle has an emergency siren and flashing lights activated. Driving at peak times in the main cities of the country can be complicated, so it is sometimes better to take public transport. 

▪ Remember that the white lines on the road separate the traffic lanes from vehicles traveling in the same direction. While dashed lines allow lane change when safe. Continuous white lines mean that the driver must remain in his lane. 

▪ The yellow lines serve to separate traffic going in opposite directions. If you see dashed yellow lines it means that you can pass carefully without losing sight of the road. You should never cross a continuous yellow line (or the double yellow line). 

▪ Use the left lane to pass to other vehicles moving in the same direction. Do not try to go through the right lane, unless necessary. Drivers who drive down the left lane, must give way by moving to the right with caution. 

▪ Also, you must always give way to pedestrians at an intersection. If you see pedestrians trying to cross the street, stop completely. 

▪ Never pass a school bus if the flashing red lights are on. 

▪ Always try to keep your eyes straight ahead, and look regularly through the rear-view mirrors to observe the movement of other vehicles, motorized and cyclists. Especially when going to cross. 

▪ You should also be alert when driving in cities that have lanes for cyclists. 

▪ Only use the horn when absolutely necessary. 

▪ Due to the natural size of our states some stretches of road can be especially long. It is always advised to take a break every 3-4 hours of driving to avoid fatigue. 

▪ If you drive during the day in the middle of the rain or a storm, in some states, the use of the headlights along with the cation lights is required as a precaution. 

▪ Under no circumstance should you drive while intoxicated with either alcohol or drugs. Traffic laws are especially severe in this regard and can lead to serious legal repercussion including prison sentences and fines. 

Roads and highways

The country’s roads are usually always in good condition and some roads cover long straight paths between states. These roads are interstate highways where tolls are common. The highways are called Turnpikes. 

Interstate highways that go north-south are identified with odd numbers. Those of the Pacific Coast are numbered from 1 to 5 while those of the Atlantic Coast run from 1 to 95. Interstate highways that go east-west are listed uniformly. Those that reach the southern border with Mexico, start from 1-8 or 1- 10; already on the northern border with Canada are 1-94. 

Speed limits

One of the most important points when driving in the US is to respect the speed limits, which also vary from state to state. These limits are set in miles per hour (MPH), not in kilometers as in other countries. One mile equals 1.6093 km. 

Usually in the center of cities the speed limits are around 25 mph (40 km / h). In the main streets consisting of two or more lanes this limit can be 35 mph (56 kph). On highways the speed limit is 55 mph (88 kph). However, there are some interstate highways where this limit reaches up to 65 mph (105 kph). 

In all occasions streets, roads and highways, have sufficient signage on speed limits, and other road hazards. What you should not forget is that the limits are expressed in miles and not in kilometers. 

If you are stopped for speeding, you will receive notification of the fine by mail and you can also pay it by this means. In no way attempt to bribe a police officer as it is considered a felony. Being fined for speeding can be very detrimental for the tourist and even the residents themselves since insurance premiums increase and the penalty can even lead to the suspension of the license, depending on the state and the infraction committed. 

Tips for foreigners before traveling

In addition to the driver’s license and valid insurance policy that comes with the vehicle you rent. Surely at the site where you plan to rent your vehicle they will give you information about traffic regulations. If you cannot call the Department of motor vehicles in the state where you are.  

For visitors, for a short time, it is best to obtain an IDL before embarking on the trip since these permits are not issued to foreign visitors in the United States. The document can be obtained by the interested party before the trip in the vehicle department of the country where he obtained the driver’s license. 

Regarding residents who are not US citizens, there are some states that require the residency requirement to obtain a state issued driver’s license. The interested party must check the requirements and inquire about the process of submitting an application to the department of motor vehicles of the respective state.

Emergency telephone numbers

In case of emergency call 911 first to report an accident or request help from the police, firefighters or an ambulance. 

Sources: transportation.gov / howtodrivein.com