Driving in the USA

The issues around driving in European countries are more relevant to must UK motorists but more and more families are hopping on the plane and holidaying in the USA where another set of driving rules applies. Whether it’s hiring a car to get about town or the full-on American road trip, driving in the USA presents a new set of challenges.

• International driving permit: do i need one?

Most UK motorists will have to adjust to driving on the right side of the road, larger cars, larger roads, undertaking on the motorway and different road etiquette before they’re fully confident behind the wheel in the US.

This is where we come in. We’ve complied a handy guide for touring the America by car, packed with tips, advice and checklists for all UK motorists to consider before making the transatlantic journey.

Read on for our detailed guide to the documents, equipment and road etiquette you need to drive legally and well in the USA. 

Which documents do I need to drive in the US?

You’ll be glad to hear that you can rent a car in the US with your UK licence. The US has an agreement with the UK whereby a full and valid UK driver’s licence permits vehicle rental in the States, you will have to have held your licence for over a year.

In most cases you have to be above 21 but some companies will insist that you’re 25 before handing you the keys to a rental car. A passport and visa are obvious requirements to enter the country, and will be needed to rent a car as well.

Tips for renting a car in the US

Wherever you will be driving, you’re most likely to spend at least some of the time on the motorway. Motorways, or interstates, extend for miles without a kink in the wide open spaces of America, which is why we recommend getting a car with enough oomph to make the journey smooth and comfortable. Anything with a 2.0 litre diesel or petrol will do just fine but smaller cars that work so well on European roads might not cut the mustard.

What do I need to carry in my car when driving in the USA?

US laws do not necessitate reflective jackets, but your car must come with warning triangles that can be placed by the roadside. 

Most US states have banned using a phone while driving, but even if there are no specific laws prohibiting it, we recommend you using a hands free system at all timers when driving.

Radar detectors are also allowed in most states, though areas near military bases will have specific laws banning their use. Washington D.C. is one of the states prohibiting the use of radar detectors, but the fixed location speed camera alerts on your sat-nav are unlikely set the highway patrol after you.

You must carry a proof of insurance and ownership of the vehicle at all times. If the vehicle is a rental, you will be provided with all the necessary documents to carry.

Checklist for driving in the USA

  • Full and valid driver’s licence
  • Proof of Insurance
  • Passport/national ID
  • Warning triangles 

What is the alcohol limit for driving in the US?

There is no US law that requires you to carry a breathalyser, but the country is cracking down on drink driving. Each state has its own blood alcohol limit, and the most common level we found was 0.08 per cent, the same as in England and Wales.

US highway toll fees and petrol prices

The US has road tolls that you should be aware of. Tolls are often placed before entering cities and usually charge a standard fee. For example, entering New York will cost $14.00, or $9.75 during off peak hours.

If UK fuel prices give you nightmares you will be sleeping soundly while visiting the US. Petrol and diesel priced at around 40p per litre means you can afford to rent that big V8 muscle car for the week and not worry about turning off the air-con.

Driving in the USA: insurance and breakdown cover

Since you’re likely to be renting a car in the US, we suggest you spend a little extra on insurance and breakdown cover. You’ll be driving on unfamiliar roads and the premiums the hire companies ask are usually quite reasonable.

Driving in the USA: top tips

Watch out for undertaking

Undertaking is perhaps the biggest culture shock for UK motorists on US roads. Undertaking is not illegal, and is exercised on most motorways. US drivers aren’t particularly fond of indicating for direction change, either, which will make you watch your mirrors even more closely.

Right turns at red lights

You’re also allowed to turn right when a traffic light is red, provided that there is no oncoming traffic.

Take your turn at the crossroads

If you come to a four-way intersection without lights, the car that arrived first has priority and then the next. This will take some getting used to, so when approaching intersections slow down and keep an eye out on who’s arrived to the stop mark when. 

What are your top tips for driving in the US? let us know in the comments section below…

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