The USA at a Glance
Driving in the United StatesFotolia
The car is still the main mode of transportation for most US Americans.
Driving in the United States and feeling the wind whip through your hair while speeding along Route 66 in a convertible is living the American dream, is it not? Americans are a car-loving people, from Henry Ford’s famous Model T in the 1920s to the imported luxury vehicles of the 2000s, cars are an integral part of American culture. Novels were even written about driving in the United States; Jack Kerouac’s famous On the Road depicted the trend of mobility in the 1950s, and the search for freedom. In fact, driving in the United States was even seen as the equivalent of freedom: If you did not have a car, you were stuck.
Nowadays, the desire to drive from the Atlantic coast clear across the country to sunny California has lost its appeal, as flying has become more popular than driving in the United States. However, driving in the United States is still essential, the use of the car is still very high and most middle-class families have at least one vehicle per adult. It is not uncommon for Americans to commute more than an hour to work each morning and back in the evening. It is also completely normal for Americans to ‘vacation’ by driving on the highway through New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine on the East Coast to see the fall foliage. It should thus come as no surprise that the USA has a very well-structured roadway system that offers 6.5 million kilometers for driving in the United States, making it the country with the most roads in the entire world.
Driving in the United States: Road Infrastructure
Due to the long history of cars and driving in the United States, the country has a very detailed and well-established system of roads. You have the famous interstate system, freeways or highways (called differently depending on region) which may require the payment of tolls, US federal highways, state routes, and rural roads. The United States is one of the few countries in the world that does not use the metric system. Therefore distances, speed limits, etc., are measured in miles per hour (mph). Try to keep this in mind while driving in the United States.
Since America is such a large country, distances are perceived differently while driving in the United States. For example, a European from Portugal may consider it an endless journey to drive from Porto to Faro (556 km), while to an American that is not even the entire length of the state of Florida (ca. 920 km). Consequently, highways cater to people driving in the United States with many rest stops along the way offering not only toilets and gas stations, but also picnic areas, restaurants, and hotels. The American Automobile Association (AAA), better known as “triple A”, is a good club to become a member of for expats driving in the United States. It provides roadside assistance, hands out free road and city maps, and usually has good offers for staying in hotels along highways.
It is a bare necessity to have a car in the US because even if you do not actually plan on driving in the United States, you will find it difficult to maneuver around your new home city/town unless you live in a large city like New York, Chicago, or San Francisco. Since America is the new suburbia, many residential communities materialize outside of urban areas, again requiring the need for driving in the United States. Similarly, shopping centers for food or clothing are rarely located within walking distance of residential or business areas.