Driving in America as a European – All You Need to Know

You may be planning to visit America for your family summer holiday this year. Why not? You deserve it after all! When you arrive, there is a good chance you will hire a car to get about and fully explore the area you are staying in. Whatever your plans, we have you covered and as well as explaining the laws you need to be aware of, we have also put together a handy guide showing how you can enjoy a USA road trip on a budget.

It is well known that there are a few different road rules in the USA to what you may be accustomed to in Britain. If you don’t follow them, you could be breaking the law, or have an accident.

Read on to discover everything from driving ages to holiday car excess insurance suggestions, from speed limits to signposts. It’s all below!

What is the legal driving age in America?

Before you go planning to hire a car for your trip to the USA, you should check you are of age to drive there. In many states, you can hold a learner’s permit from the age of 14, in some it’s 15 and a couple at 16. A restricted licence can be granted to those aged 16 in many states with a full licence being available from 16-18 depending on which state you are in. When it comes to hiring a car though, things are a little different.  In all, bar seven, states, you must be 20 years old to hire a car. In those 7 other states, you will need to be 21.

Can I use my UK licence in America?

Yes, you can! Although with certain states having specific rules, we would advise you find out what the requirements are per state before visiting.

What side of the road do you drive on in America?

This is one of the most common questions and it is one worth knowing the answer to! In America, you drive on the right. Not the left. For some this is easy. For others, it can be totally mind-blowing! For a quick reminder, if you are feeling concerned, maybe write something on your right hand, or put a note on your dashboard!

Do you need to stop at a red light in America?

The simple answer is yes. As in any country, the red light means you need to stop. Unlike other countries though, in America, you can turn right at a red light. So, if you are at a red light and need to turn right, you can! Simply check nobody is coming on your left and you can complete your turn without fear of being penalised for going through a red light. If though, there is a driver on your left, they must be given priority. You will have to stop and allow their green light to be prioritised.

Do different states have different laws?

The basic driving rules in America are the same, however, there are a few changes state to state. We would advise you check before you go so you are aware of what applies to the place you are visiting. For example, speeding past school bus stop signs, even when the school is closed will get you a ticket in West Virginia. Using a mobile device is banned for the first 6 months of owning a driver’s licence! Luckily many of the common laws are on display on signposts, However, you can find out the specific laws per state visiting the state official website. We have included the rules for Florida to give you an example.

What are the speed limits in America?

It may come as no surprise that with America being so big, the speed limits vary per state. Typically, the speed limit on a freeway is 70mph however some urban freeways have maximums as low as 55mph. When you move onto divided and undivided roads, the maximum speed again varies per state and ranges around 45-65mph. Once you get onto residential roads, they vary from as low as 15mph to as high as 55mph. Check with where you are visiting to get the best idea. Just be aware, the signs are not the same as in the UK and do not have a red circle around them. It is just a black and white or yellow sign.

Always stop where it says stop!

Earlier we mentioned that you can turn right at a red, which is true, but…if you see a stop, you must stop, even when there is an intersection you can cross easily. If you fail to stop there is a very good chance you will be fined.

What are the rules for driving near school buses?

No matter your position on the road, you must stop when a school bus stops to pick up or drop off. This applies no matter what lane you are in. A simple way to view it is, when a school bus stops, everyone stops.

Are road signs the same in America?

We touched upon the speed limit signs and the differences they have compared to those in the UK, but there is one other that may be confusing. Exit signs on motorways in the UK tend to be listed in numerical order. In America, it works on mileage. An exit 56 for example means this exit is 56 miles away from the start of the road, the next exit could be 64 and the one after could be 72. Keep an eye out for this and be aware that the numbers go back to 0 at state borders.

Do I need to have car insurance to drive in America?

In 49 of the 50 states, you must have an active car insurance policy. The requirements of the insurance policy can vary by state so when looking for car insurance, find out what they require you to be covered against before committing to a policy. Using Florida as an example again, due to the requirements there, it is advised to obtain insurance above the state mandate limit. If you don’t have insurance, you could be facing a fine of $500 and have your licence suspended for 3 years. To be safe, ensure you have your holiday car hire excess insurance too. This way you have the security of additional cover those regular policies may not cover.


If you are visiting America for a holiday, speak to us today to get a free quote for your car hire excess insurance. With our experienced team on hand to offer impartial and expert advice, allow us to keep your hire car holiday stress free.


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