Guide to driving in the US


Heading stateside for a road trip? Well, there are a few things it might be handy to know… 

The US is a country set up for driving. By and large, it is a doddle – and occasionally very boring – as you just slip into cruise control and eat the miles across the country. But there are a few things to look out for that drivers accustomed to British roads might struggle with.

Right or wrong side? Driving on the right is usually the big fear for those who haven’t done it before, but it clicks fairly quickly – especially given that most hire cars in the US are automatics, so you don’t have to go fumbling around with the gear stick that often. The time to watch out is when you’re coming out of car parks – there’s a strong, absent-minded temptation to turn the wrong way.

Right on red? As a general rule, it is OK to turn right on a red light providing there is nothing coming the other way or there’s no sign specifically prohibiting it. New York City is an exception here. People will honk at you if you don’t go when it’s clear in such situations.

Four-ways: Far more common, however, are four way junctions where there are no lights at all. The British thing to do in such scenarios is for everybody to politely way for the others to go, but in the States, the rule of thumb is that whichever car got to the junction first gets to go first. And bear in mind there are an awful lot of these junctions, because Americans are for some reason utterly terrified of building roundabouts.


Lane discipline: One aspect of American driving that will either annoy or terrify a novice is that there is no compunction about overtaking in the inside lane. The idea the you stay in the inside lane unless overtaking just hasn’t caught on in the States, meaning you have to use your mirrors a lot more than you might in the UK. In more urban areas, it’s often wise to stick to the middle lane anyway, as lanes can suddenly change into exit ramps on either side, leaving you no choice but to exit because no-one will let you out.

American driving standards: As hinted above, American drivers are terrible for letting people out of a lane they don’t want to be in. And that conforms to the overall picture of American driving. It doesn’t tend to be bad, per se, but slightly switched off. It’s a country of automatics, cruse control and large distances, so drivers tend to slip into a mental cruise control themselves, making them a little less attentive to what’s going on around them than might be ideal. Although, that said, the standard of the American driving test is widely thought to be much lower than the British test.

Freeway faux-pas: The interstate freeways that cross the country can be extremely monotonous to drive on, but they’re the best way of getting from A to B fast. However, they can have surprisingly few exits. So if you miss yours, you can end up driving 30 or 40 miles in the wrong direction before you get to branch off and go the right way again…



by David Whitley   




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