Need expat info for USA?
Driving in the USA
Taking into account the sheer size of the United States and the often long distances not only from one city to the next, but also for example from a suburb to the city center, it is hardly surprising that owning a car and driving in the USA is often considered a necessity. While flights might nowadays be the more popular choice for interstate travel, getting to the nearest shopping center in your city can be quite a journey if you cannot simply drive there with your own four wheels.
We have collected a number of important road rules you will need to keep in mind when driving in the USA. Furthermore, you can find information on types of roads, including toll roads, and a brief introduction of the American Automobile Association, also known as the “Triple A”.
Road Rules in the US
As is the case with registering and insuring a car, road rules in the USA vary from state to state. So make sure to inform yourself about the specific regulations for the state(s) you’re planning to drive in! In most cases, you can easily find the relevant information on a state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) website. You can find links to the various state agencies online on Government Made Easy.
The basic dos and don’ts for driving in the USA, however, are about the same nationwide and include, but are not limited to the following:
- Drivers must be at least 16 years old and in possession of a valid driver’s license.
- Distances are measured in miles; speed (limits) in miles per hour (mph).
- Traffic is on the right side of the road.
- In roundabouts, traffic on the left has the right of way.
- Seatbelts must be worn by drivers and front seat passengers at all times in the majority of states; exact regulations, e.g. for rear seat passengers, vary. It is recommended, however, that all occupants of a vehicle wear their seatbelts at all times for their own safety.
- Child safety seats are required for infants and children up to a certain age which varies from state to state. The driver is responsible for all passengers under the age of 18.
- You may not operate a vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration of .08 grams/dL or higher. In some states, even lower limits apply for certain drivers, e.g. those under the age of 21.
- Do not use your cell without a hands-free device while driving in the USA, even if state laws again vary: In 2013, 2 states had banned the use of hand-held mobile phones and 41 states had prohibited text messaging while driving.
The different states are also responsible for setting speed limits, so make sure to check the relevant local law and keep an eye out for speed limit signs. As a rough guideline, you can usually expect speed limits in the following ranges:
- Motorways / Interstates: 55 – 80 mph
- Urban Areas: 20 – 35 mph
- School Zones: 10 – 20 mph
If you, for whatever reason, should be pulled over by the police while driving in the USA, do not exit your car without being prompted to do so. Instead, turn off your car’s ignition and, keeping your hands free and visible, wait for the policemen to approach.
We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete.