What do I need to know about driving in the US?

What do I need to know about driving in the US?

This article is primarily intended for those that may soon be driving in the US and haven’t done so before. There are some obvious differences (side of the road, left-hand drive, etc…) but also some more subtle rules that it’s worth being aware of. I outline some of the larger differences here and include some links to very useful resources along the way.


  • In the UK we are used to following the Highway Code wherever we drive, but in the US it’s not so simple – each state has it’s own driving laws! Although to be fair they’re no so vastly different that you now have a huge deal of information to memorise. The state-specific driving laws can be found here whereas the rest of this article will focus on the more general rules of driving in the US.


  • If you’re hoping to avoid being pulled over, then one of the most important things to be aware of is that the maximum speed limit in the Route 66 states is between 70 and 75mph, but keep your eye out for signs that indicate otherwise.


  • If driving in the US is new to you and you’re feeling at all anxious, then please believe me when I say that it’s much easier than driving in the UK! Let me explain… First of all any rental car you use is almost certainly going to be an automatic transmission. In the UK only 20-25% of vehicles are fitted with an automatic transmission, whereas in the US it’s 95%! So if you’re in the 75-80% of UK drivers that are used to a manual transmission you’re in for a treat! With two pedals – basically stop and go – you’re more free to focus on the actual route that you’re taking. Secondly, once you’ve moved away from the cities the roads are long, wide and open – they really are something to behold. As someone who relies on the M4 to get to work each day they really are beautiful! 😀


  • Driving on the right-hand side of the road, in the left seat, takes a little adjustment but you soon get the hang of it. It’s also worth keeping in mind that the controls on the steering column (indicators, wipers, etc…) will also be reversed. The one great fact is that the the pedals remain in the same position (minus the clutch if you’re in an automatic).


  • In the States, a STOP sign really does mean stop. You must always come to a complete stop even if the road appears to be clearly deserted. This is a well-enforced law and so it’s not worth taking chances. Every other driver will do the same so don’t be concerned that you may hold up traffic behind you.


  • In most US states, and all of the those on Route 66, it is legal to turn right at a red light. Always look left to ensure the path is clear and don’t be bullied into turning if you feel uncomfortable. However, in cases where it may be dangerous to turn right there will be signs stating “Do not turn right on red”. Here is a website I found very useful before my first driving experience in the US. It gives detailed information on traffic lights and intersections (junctions).



Hope you found this useful. If you’ve driven in the US before how did you find it?

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2 Responses to What do I need to know about driving in the US?

  1. All good stuff but unfortunately I’m a little concerned about road rage after a recent incident that happened to a friend in Florida. He turned in to a car park, followed the one way only arrows only to be met by a female in a SUV coming the wrong way. She stopped then said ‘you either reverse or you get shot!’
    I know incidents of rudeness happen here in the UK but that type of threat never happens.
    Okay isolated incident aside but have you experienced anything like this or similar? I’m feeling that hand gestures wouldn’t be received as gratefully as they are here in the UK! Im already thinking the best thing to do is to ignore any provocation just for ones own safety irrespective if you are in the right. (Oh yes, my friend did reverse, as quickly as he could and simply parked somewhere else!)
    I’ve answered my own question haven’t I really but I would still like to hear your take. Thank you.

  2. Hi there, thanks for commenting 🙂

    I’d say that what your friend experienced was just exceptionally bad luck. I’ve covered quite a lot of mileage in the US and haven’t experienced any form of road rage.

    Incidents like this would be even more rare in the areas that you’d be travelling through on Route 66 as you’re off the beaten track. This means that you’re often not driving on main roads that may carry stressed commuters or rush hour traffic. You’ll often be surrounded by like-minded tourists of Route 66.

    Prior to driving in the US I had similar concerns, mostly due to what I thought I knew about America from TV shows etc… In reality I had a very smooth road trip.

    I’d be interested to hear anyone else’s experiences on this.

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