Driving In USA: Your Complete Guide
A cruise along Route 66, a trip along the Golden Gate Bridge, a venture through New York or a holiday to Florida, The USA provides drivers with plenty of opportunities to enjoy a huge variety of sights and experiences.
The thing is, the USA is huge, in fact it covers 9,834 square kilometers! So, the chances for you to cover it all may be slim, but you can certainly enjoy a great deal of what it has to offer.
Perhaps the best way is by road. That way you get to really indulge in local communities and spot those hidden gems that typical tourist itineraries frequently miss out on.
Before you buckle in and hit the highways though, let’s give you the lowdown on all you need to know about driving in the USA so that you are not caught short by any of the driving laws they have in place on the other side of the Atlantic!
How old do you have to be to drive in USA?
It may be a good idea to get a grasp of the legal age to drive in the USA before deciding to hop in a car over there. Commonly the law states that learner permits can be granted from as young as 14yrs old with a few states preferring you to be 15 or 16. A restricted licence can be granted in most states from 16 with a full licence then being available from the ages of 16,17 or 18 depending on what state you reside in.
The rules around hiring cars are somewhat different though. In all except seven states you must be at least 20 to rent a car. In those seven states, you must be at least 21 years old before hiring a car for your trip.
So, assuming you are old enough for the state(s) you are visiting, you can just go and hire a car right? Not quite, read on!
Can I use my UK driving licence in USA?
You can and we have provided a comprehensive insight into driving in the USA with a UK license. Just be aware state rules can vary and in the case of hiring a car, many companies will insist that you are at least 25 years of age. Some are accepting of drivers aged 21 and over so it is always worth checking. Also worth noting, especially if on a road trip is that you can only use your UK licence in the USA for 3 months.
What side of the road does America drive on?
So now you know whether you are eligible to rent a car and drive in the USA, it may be a good time to get an understanding of the rules around driving there. When driving in the USA, you drive on the right, not the left that you will be more accustomed to in the UK. This can prove to be a little confusing for newer drivers so consider leaving a note on your dashboard or find something that works for you as a reminder.
USA Speed limits
As with any country, there are speed limits to be adhered to but with the USA being as large as several countries combined, it may come as no surprise that speed limits can vary quite dramatically from state to state.
In most cases, the speed limits are fairly similar but with differing rules on the leeway you can be given, it’s best to be safe rather than sorry! The penalties for breaking the limits can range from small fines to court appearances and from driving school to prison!
Speed limits will be shown in miles per hour just like in the UK and this is worth bearing in mind as many countries, especially those in Europe, indicate limits in kilometres per hour. That being said, it is worth being aware that in rare instances km/h may be shown. This tends to be near the borders of both Canada and Mexico.
Speed limit signs in the USA are square or rectangular with a white background and black numbers and lettering. On some roads, you will see signs with the colours reversed. These indicate nighttime speed limits. To avoid confusion, they will also have the word, “night” on them.
Some roads will carry a minimum as well as maximum speed, the signage will indicate both if you are approaching a road that requires you to adhere to them both.
To further add to the signage, some areas will also carry advisory speed signs. These are yellow with black writing.
Speed limits in the USA
Current speed limits in the USA, as mentioned above, vary depending on the state but you can commonly expect them to be between the following:
|Road Type||Speed Limit|
|Divided road (rural)||45mph-75mph|
As you can see, the range can vary and these starting points in the table above do not indicate minimums, but the maximums employed by some states on those road types. We would always advise you to check with local authorities before you travel so you are fully aware of the limits of the roads you are travelling on.
Roads in USA
We mentioned earlier just how big the USA is and the roads cover a fair bit of it! More than 4 million miles worth of the USA is covered in them! Defining what type you are on though can be important to ensure you drive at the correct limits
The high-speed roads that link the country together. These are the roads where you will see the famous signs like the one that adorns Route 66. The Interstates are laid out in a grid-like formation. The even numbers will indicate east-west routes with odd numbers indicating the north-south route. Only motor vehicles can use these.
The freeways are similar to the interstates but are the high-speed roads that appear in the more urban areas. Unlike some roads in the USA, these do not operate with tolls, hence the name freeway!
The numbered highways are the original interstates until they were replaced by the newer system in the 1950s. These work like the current interstates by being laid out in a grid. These are noticeable by the white badge on a black background for the signage.
Quieter roads with lower speed limits.
Picturesque roads that take you by areas of national parks or areas of beauty. Their signage may be unique to the area.
Are there toll roads in the USA?
You will need to pay the toll for certain roads in the USA and the cost can vary quite significantly. In some cases, the small tolls are just a few cents but other tolls can be well over $10. Most of these tolls are for the use of highways but you will see a sign indicating that a toll is due.
What documents do I need when driving in the USA?
Unless you have organized for your own car to be sent over to the USA, it is more than likely you will be driving a rental car. Luckily most of the documents you need to keep whilst driving in the USA will be provided by your rental agent. You should still ensure that you carry your passport, driver’s licence and proof of insurance. To be covered even further, a policy for car hire excess insurance would also be worth carrying. This way you can avoid the costly fees that you may otherwise find yourself lumbered with if there is an accident or problem.
What should I pack for driving in the USA?
In many countries, there are stringent rules over what safety equipment you must carry in your car. Unlike these countries though, the USA states that you do not need reflective jackets. You will need warning triangles though. With rentals, these are normally provided, however, it would be worth checking first as without them you could find yourself in trouble!
We have put together a small list of some essentials that you should consider when driving through the USA:
- First aid kit
- Drinking water
- Something to keep the kids entertained
- Fully charged power bank
Of course, this list is not exhaustive but can go some way to helping you should you end up waiting for roadside assistance or be stranded.
Driving rules USA
Aside from speed limits and ensuring you hold the correct licence there are a few other things you must be aware of when driving in the USA. Penalties for road offences can be huge so steer clear of them by following the rules.
Drink driving USA
The common rule in the USA in regards to drink driving is that if any driver over 21 has an alcohol blood volume of 0.08% or above, they are breaking the law. Under 21 and the limit ranges from 0.00-0.02%. The simple answer here. Do not drink and drive to protect yourself, your passengers and other road users.
Who has the right of way in the USA?
It can take some getting used to but understanding right of way will be extremely useful in keeping you safe on the road.
- Whilst you need to stop at a red light, if you need to turn right, you still can even when the red light is showing.
- You can overtake on either side of a multi-lane route.
- First to arrive at the junction gets to go ahead.
- Pedestrians only have the right of way at a pedestrian crossing.
- If someone is on a slip road, you should allow them space to enter the traffic flow
- You should also avoid overtaking a parked school bus with flashing lights. This is illegal.
You should also understand that a STOP sign means stop. Even though turning at a red light is permitted, a STOP is a stop and even if there is an intersection that you can easily cross, STOP! If you don’t you are very likely to be fined.
Parking rules in the USA
If you need to park your car whilst on your USA trip, do not park in any disabled space unless you are permitted to do so. Nor should you park in front of red or yellow kerbs.
Parking within 10fteither side of a fire hydrant is also prohibited as is parking on the white line at a bus stop.
You should also pay attention to local signs as some areas have specific times when parking can be restricted. If you chose to park here, you could find your vehicle being towed which could then see you having to pay a substantial fee for the offence, the cost of towing and the cost of storing your vehicle.
You should also make sure that you are always parked in the direction of traffic flow.
In some places, additional signage will also be present. It is not uncommon to see:
No Stopping – Simply put you cannot stop your vehicle here.
No Standing – You can pick up and drop off passengers but must do so quickly. Your car must leave the area once you have picked up or dropped off.
No Parking – You can drop off or pick up but if the stop is for a prolonged period, the driver must remain in the driver’s seat.
Driving with children in the car
Current rules in the USA for carrying children as passengers state that they must be in an approved car seat or booster. From the age of 2-4, a rear-facing car seat must be used. Once they have outgrown this, they can use a forward-facing seat until at least 5 years of age. Once they have outgrown this seat, they can use a booster seat up until the seat belt fits properly.
Car insurance in USA
In all bar one of the states, it is a requirement to have an active insurance policy. As a driver in a rental car, it is likely that you already have insurance factored into your costs automatically. Different states have different requirements for what your policy should contain so if you are planning on crossing state lines, check that you are eligible. An incorrect policy can lead to a fine and a suspension of up to three years.
To remain extra safe, holiday car hire excess insurance gives you further protection.
If you are heading to the USA and want to be fully protected from surprise costs associated with driving, speak to our team. We can give you a totally free hire car excess insurance quote that will save you money. With varying policies that offer differing levels of cover, you are free to select one that suits you best and then enjoy your trip with one less thing to worry about!