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Most Helpful Tips for Visitors Driving in the USA

Miami downtown skyline and freeways

The United States is a right-hand driving country! You probably know what right-hand traffic or left-hand traffic means. Two-way traffic must keep either on the left or right side of the road, unless otherwise directed. Sometimes this is called The Rule of the Road. It helps improve traffic flow (your ability to get where you're going quickly) and cuts down on traffic fatalities.

Essential tips for driving in the United States

Roadway signs in the USA commonly use symbols instead of words to communicate with drivers, regardless of language barriers. The color and shape of each sign usually indicate the type of information the sign conveys. Familiarize yourself with traffic sign symbols to maximize your safety when driving in the United States. Visit United States Road Symbol Signs at the Federal Highway Administration website for a full list of signs!

Here's what you need to know if you are planning an American road trip for your next vacation

  • If you're driving slowly - perhaps just getting used to the traffic - the best lane for you to drive in is the far right lane, if there is more than one lane going in the same direction as you, of course!

  • When traveling on a freeway or highway, your car should stay in the right lane, unless you're passing another vehicle. There are often signs to remind you of this. However, be aware that on Interstate highways, the right lane within an urban area is sometimes only for exiting (leaving) the Interstate at the next opportunity. 

  • If you're at an intersection, American drivers usually defer to the vehicle who arrived at the intersection first. If two vehicles get there at the same time, the driver on the right proceeds, unless stopped by a red STOP or YIELD sign.

Man honking the horn

  • Don't honk your horn, unless you're in a situation where you need to get the attention of another driver or pedestrian. For example, it's okay to honk when another car is about to hit you, but you may find that honking in the USA is less common than in other nations.

  • The speed limit in a residential area is often 35 miles per hour (60kph), but is as low as 25 or 30 miles per hour in many areas. On Interstate highways and roads with very little traffic and intersections, the speed limit is commonly 55 miles per hour or greater.

  • Based on the information released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration about “Traffic Safety Facts 2015: Alcohol-Impaired Driving,” it revealed  that 10,265 people have died in drunk driving crashes - one every 51 minutes - and 290,000 were injured in drunk driving crashes. Remember to always make allowances when driving, And never ever exceed the legal blood alcohol limit which is 0.08.

Know the rules for each rental car company for foreign visitors

Follow this link to check out Terms and Conditions for all of the United States Rental Companies that we compare for you here at VroomVroomVroom! 

Keep in mind that each company's terms and conditions will tell you everything you need to know about the company's requirements regarding car rental insurance, driver's license requirements, and whether or not you are allowed to drive the rental car out of the U.S. (to Canada or Mexico).

Renting a car in the USA

If you will be driving during a visit to the United States, it would be a wise choice to check the state website for driving rules. For example, if you're going to be in Los Angeles, you may want to read the information at California Department of Motor Vehicles. You need to verify that you can use your non-United States driver's license in the state or states in which you will need to drive. Click here for a complete list of state sites on how to get or renew your driver's license and other motor vehicle services.

Also, you will want to acquire an International Driving Permit (or IDP), which contains the same information on your official driver's license, but also has the info translated in several different languages. You must acquire that BEFORE visiting the USA, because the U.S. government agencies DO NOT issue them!

For other current U.S. resident (non-citizen) planning a road trip, remember that each state has different requirements for obtaining a U.S. driver's license. You may want to check the USA.gov link above for info about the state you reside in. Once you have a U.S. license from your state motor vehicle department, you are free to drive in all U.S. states including Alaska and Hawaii. However, remember that the driving laws in each state differ slightly. It's always up to you to research and learn the laws of the state where you are driving! For additional information, you may also want to read our car rental check list here.

Hiring a car as a student in the USA

Foreign students who are visiting the USA should consult with your contact person at the college or university you are visiting or attending. They can provide you with info about driving.

Have you taken a road trip in the United States? We'd love to hear your story.