Driving in the U.S.: Rules and Tips

Driving in the U.S.: Rules and Tips

Are you keen to explore the U.S.? The country offers picturesque landscapes for sightseeing. Traveling by road is a great option. But, bear in mind, your love for driving is not enough. As a visitor from a foreign country, you must have a valid driving license.

Rent a car to voyage along the beautiful Pacific Coast Highway and make a grand entry into the golden state of California. Take the Blue Ridge Parkway across the state of Virginia. You can choose wherever you want to take a pit stop and explore the place. There’s nothing more thrilling than a road trip.

The perks of having a valid driving license are many. You can pick the car of your choice, rent it, and set course on a road trip. But, these perks are only available to residents of the U.S. As a foreigner stepping in, the rules differ. You must get an International Driving Permit, to begin with.

It is imperative to be familiar with the traffic laws of the country. And in the U.S., the traffic rules are not the same in every state.

Why is it good to know about traffic rules in America?

Your enthusiasm and an adventurous spirit are praise-worthy. Dropping into a foreign land and planning a road-trip right away does speak volumes about your gutsy attitude. Little did you know, it is very similar to the American style of life. People here in the U.S. take pleasure in driving.

But, you are new in the country. Violating traffic rules can get you in legal trouble. The rules here are pretty strict. You can get fined or even end up in custody for breaking ordinary traffic rules—exceeding the speed limit, for instance.

Did you know that even the slightest infraction can be stressful to deal with? So, your venturesome attitude can take a backseat for some time. Meanwhile, learning the traffic laws for the state you are about to visit is a good idea.

Getting information from the state’s motor vehicle department would also be a wise decision.

1. Keep an eye on road signs

Know everything you can about the road signs in America. Things can switch from good to bad in the bat of an eyelid. Being aware of road signs can help you drive carefully.

First is the stop sign. Whenever you see a red octagonal sign with the word “STOP” in white, you must bring your vehicle to a complete stop and make sure the way is clear before continuing. Stop signs are usually placed at intersections. Some intersections have two stop signs, others have four. Don’t be confused. Only two stop signs means that cross-traffic is not stopping. Watch before you take a turn or cross the junction.

Second is the yield sign. It usually appears as a yellow sign in the shape of a triangle. The sign clearly allows the oncoming traffic to pass through on the right side of your way. Pull the stops and wait for the traffic to clear.

2. Check for the speed limit

Speeding is a serious offense. Instead of tearing down the road, watch for signs that indicate the speed limit. The white, rectangular signs dictate how fast you can drive on that particular street.

The speed limit can also change multiple times along a single stretch of road. Highways are no exception. Keep an eye on the speed limits and drive accordingly.

3. Stops for parking

Don’t be too gutsy and park your car just anywhere. There are signs on most streets that indicate whether parking is allowed. Watch out for these signs. Park your car in spots where you are legally allowed.

In the U.S., certain parking signs come with time limitations. You might also need some kind of permit to park your car.

Some parking spaces are reserved only for handicapped drivers. Don’t park your car in these reserved areas.

If a spot is colored in yellow, take the hint. It implies “No Parking” in that spot.

4. Watch for the signs of a railroad crossing

The sign is loud and clear. Two rail tracks in the shape of ‘X’ clearly suggests that a railroad crossing is coming up. Sometimes, the signs can include letters like “RR”.

What you must do is be vigilant while driving. If you hear loud rings or see lights sparking up, stop at the point. A train is about to pass. But, if you reach a crossing with no lights, you need to be extra careful. Check both sides before driving off.

5. One-way traffic sign

You risk a head-on collision with another vehicle if you take a wrong turn and head the wrong way down a one-way street. Look for the sign. It is a rectangular sign with arrows in black or white.

The arrow makes it easy for you to drive onto the right route.

6. Turn with caution

Don’t be puzzled about turning while stopped at a red stoplight. Turning to the right is legal once you have stopped and made sure the intersection is clear. Some stoplights will have a sign that reads “No right turn on red” or something similar. In that case, wait for the light to turn green before turning.

Making a left turn at a red light is breaking traffic rules. It is not legal.

When are you handed tickets for violating traffic rules?

If you are not aware, there are cameras fitted to stoplights and light posts to monitor traffic in the U.S. So, if you are speeding or rolling through stop signs, you stand a good chance of receiving a ticket in the mail (at the address that the license plate on your car is registered to).

Sometimes people act like daredevils and pass through the tolls without paying. Don’t think you can get away with it just because there are no police around. The camera picks it up and you will certainly get a ticket.

Think you can get a free pass since you have rented a car? Well, the fines and costs of tickets will still be reported to the rental agency and added to your final bill.

How to secure an International Driving Permit

If you are of the idea that you can get an International Driving Permit in the U.S., you are mistaken. The U.S. does not issue IDPs to tourists or foreign nationals. Here’s what you can do:

  • Get in touch with the motor vehicle department in your home country.
  • You will be instructed on how to get an IDP before visiting the U.S.

If you are a resident of the U.S. but a non-U.S. citizen, the rules are slightly different.

  • Check for your eligibility. If you are eligible to apply for a driving license in the U.S., go ahead. You will need to submit documents like your passport, driving license issued by your home country, and social security number.
  • Check with the department of motor vehicles in your state. It is a good place to learn about the requirements.

Having a U.S. driving license gives you the freedom to cruise on the roads of the country. But, you should be responsible and thoroughly informed about the rules of the road and traffic regulations.

Important tips to remember while driving in the U.S.

  • Drive your car on the right side of the road, whether you are on a highway, city street, or residential street.
  • In American cars, the driver’s seat is on the left. Steering the car will not come naturally if you are accustomed to the driver’s seat being on the right. Every car in America is tailored for left-side drivers. So, hit the roads only once you are comfortable with left-side driving.
  • Watch out for the lane markers (painted lines on the road). You can break traffic laws unknowingly simply because you did not keep an eye on the line. For example, white lines are to separate lanes of traffic moving in the same direction. Yellow lines separate lanes moving in opposite directions. Broken yellow lines suggest that you can change lanes to pass cars, but only if you are clear to do so. Be watchful about the oncoming traffic.
  • Do not drive through a vibrant yellow line. Sometimes, double yellow lines.
  • On highways, the far left lane is intended for passing only.
  • At any permitted crosswalks, parking lots, or residential streets, pedestrians have the right of way.
  • Do not honk unnecessarily.
  • Pull over if a school bus is making its way by flashing red light.
  • When you are driving in cities, always keep an eye on the bike lanes. You must be careful while making a turn. Ensure that no bike is coming your way.
  • Never drive in a zig-zag pattern or swerve between lanes. If you are in the left lane and you need to move right, use your turn signal and look carefully before you move over.

What are the legal requirements to drive in America?

  • One must be at least 16 years of age to get a learner’s permit, although the minimum age varies by state.
  • Must have a valid state-issued driving license and an international permit. An expired license is no good.
  • Some medications may caution against “using heavy machinery” while taking them. This means driving.
  • Must be familiar with all driving laws and regulations before hitting the road.

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