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Guide to Driving in America

Guide to Driving in America

Driving in America

As the cliché goes, everything is bigger in the states. However, its not just the portions and personalities that are supersized, and if youre planning a road trip in America sometime soon youll need to brace yourself for size of the roads youll be driving on. If you thought the M62 from Hull to Liverpool was a long wild trek, think again.

Its not just the size of the place thats different, and if youre new to driving in the U.S.A, its a good idea to brush up on a few pointers and expectations before you hit the highways. As it turns out, driving in America is a little more complex than simply remembering to stick to the right (or wrong) side of the road.

Luckily, youve come to the right place. Simply read Bristol Streets guide to driving in America, and youll be driving like a true Yankee in no time.

Before you go

Remember to get all your legal documents in order. Dull, we know, but in the unlikely event youre involved in an accident or trouble, having the right documentation could mark the difference between continuing your holiday in peace and shelling out hundreds of dollars on unexpected legal fees.

Not forgetting to take the essentials is easy, and shouldnt take too long to sort out. So long as you have the below with you, youll be sorted.

Valid non-provisional driving license

Counterpart license

International Driving Permit  a legal requirement in some states, and heavily recommended countrywide.

Vehicle registration documentation (Vc5)

Up to date travel insurance and proof documents

Visa (if youll be staying for more than 90 days)

Oh, and it might sound obvious, but dont forget to rent a car, and check the regulations; most states require drivers of rental vehicles to be over 25. If youre planning a one way road trip, many US car rental providers will be able to accommodate for this, but make sure this is the case before you end up having to drive hundreds of miles back on yourself after a call from an angry agency.

U.S.A Driving Laws

Whilst from the outside the U.S may look like one huge nation, in reality its perhaps more apt to look at it like a collection of 50 different countries with their own culture, identity, and laws. Each U.S state has its own specific laws and rules, and if youre travelling from state to state its important to remember this.

The individual driving regulations are too numerous to list here, and the best way to get an insight is to ask about any specific laws when you pick your vehicle up, and check road guidebooks to make sure youre not unwittingly committing any offences.

However, there are a number of rules that are pretty much universal throughout the country:

Drive on the right  this might sound obvious, but youd be amazed at how many British drivers forget and end up careering head on into oncoming traffic.

At lights, only set off on the green light  whilst accelerating on amber might be tolerated in the UK, doing this stateside isnt.

Dont undertake  this is illegal, and will result in anger from native drivers, as well as a fine from traffic police if you get caught out.

Unless signs say otherwise, the speed limit is 65 across all states. In built up areas, this lowers to 30.

Never overtake a school bus if it has rear lights flashing  this is illegal.

Unless otherwise specified, right turns are permitted at red lights.

When coming to a crossroad or junction, right of way is given to the driver who arrived first.

Also, not technically a driving law, but its general etiquette that drivers pay for petrol before filling up. This is a common cause of confusion for UK motorists, who often get into trouble for filling up and then paying afterwards. However, the process is simple; just hand over an amount of money, fill up, then collect any change afterwards.

Driving Conditions

Generally, the condition of most major roads will be better than what youre used to in the UK. Most states are performing continual improvements to roads and highways, meaning that potholes and uneven surfaces are relatively rare.

Whilst this might improve your overall driving experience, the prevalence of roadwork brings up another perhaps not so good point  traffic. Traffic is a common problem in most U.S cities, with lengthy jams and congestion being an everyday occurrence. Getting stuck in a gridlock is bound to happen at some point if youll mainly be driving in busy cities, but with a little planning to avoid rush hours and roadwork you should be able to avoid the worst.


The U.S.A is huge, and if youre planning to travel through a lot of it youll encounter an equally huge variation in environment and weather conditions. The green and pleasant (grey and wet) U.K this aint, and depending on where you are and the distances youre covering, in a few days driving you could be passing through dusty plains, the searing heat of the desert, and even snow-capped mountains.

As such, if youre planning to travel interstate youll need to make sure the vehicle youre in is equipped for a variety of terrains and weather conditions. In snowy or wintery conditions, make sure that your tyres are the right tread depth, and make sure to carry a replacement and some additional supplies in case the worst happens. To be doubly safe, you could always fit your tyre with chains; this isnt a legal requirement, but chains will prove useful if youre expecting icy conditions.

When driving through dusty environments, the common advice is to turn your headlights up bright, and slow the speed of your vehicle. If conditions are too bad to see, follow the pull aside, stay alive rule and slowly pull aside to the side of the road until visibility levels get better.

With our guide, driving in America should be easy as pie. If youd like any more information, you can always get in touch with Bristol Street Motors, and well let you know where to find the best information on U.S.A driving.