Driving in the USA

If you’ve got time up your sleeve, hitting the open road is a wonderful way to take in some of the USA’s most spectacular and diverse landscapes. Drivers here tend to respect the road rules and their fellow drivers, which should make your trip even more enjoyable.

Key rules, regulations and things to know:

  • Drive on the right. And make sure you park to the right, so that you’re not facing traffic.
  • Stick to the speed limit. Not only is it safer to do so, but it’s not unusual for Highway Patrol to hide in bushes to catch speeding motorists unawares.
  • Plan your route using road numbers and compass directions. In many cases, this is all you’ll see on signs, rather than street or town names.
  • Watch out for High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes. They’re restricted to vehicles carrying a minimum number of passengers. Penalties for using them illegally can be high.
  • You can turn right at red traffic lights in most (not all!) states, unless signs tell you otherwise. But you’ll need to come to a complete stop and ensure the road is clear before you do so.
  • The driver who gets to a junction first has right of way, unless traffic lights or signs indicate otherwise. If two or more drivers arrive a junction at the same time, give way to the right.
  • Pedestrians at marked crossings have right of way. Driving over a pedestrian crossing if people are already on it or waiting to cross is illegal.
  • Speeds and distances on road signs appear in miles. Not kilometres.
  • Don’t park in the following places: disabled spaces (unless you’re authorised to do so), in front of red or yellow kerbs, on a white line at a bus stop or within 10 feet either side of a fire hydrant.
  • Seat belts must be worn by the driver and all passengers at all times. And if you’re travelling with a baby or young child, make sure they’re travelling in an approved car or booster seat.
  • Don’t drink and drive. Penalties for driving over the limit are harsh, so it’s best to avoid alcohol completely if you’re driving.
  • You can overtake to the left or right on most multi-lane routes. This means your car can be overtaken from the left or right, too.
  • Look out for stationery school buses with flashing lights. It’s illegal to overtake them.
  • Give way to traffic joining expressways. It’s common practice in many states for drivers to join expressways without stopping.
  • Know when your exits are coming up on expressways. Unlike many other countries, there are often no signs to warn you when you’re approaching an exit.
  • Exit lanes on freeways and expressways can be on the left or right. If you want to travel straight through, you’ll need to stay in the middle lane(s).
  • Road rules can change by state. So make sure you check the laws in your destination(s) before you start your journey.

More information

USA.gov: Tour the US

Official government website. Features tips for foreign drivers, links to individual state transport websites and general information about travelling in the USA.

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