Taking a road-trip is the best way to get to the heart of a country, but when we drive abroad, how many of us actually research the local road etiquette and unique driving laws in the places we’re visiting? As we’ve learned over the last five months during our own US roadtrip, it’s probably a good idea!
While similar in so many ways, the United States does have a lot of differences in driving compared to Europe. This is complicated by the fact that every state seems to have its own driving laws, some of which can be unique contradictory to the state you’ve just left, and they have often taken us by surprise.
If you’re thinking of road-tripping through the US for a while (and you really, really should if you can), then we’ve compiled some rules that may confuse drivers from Europe into a small list to get you started:
Right Turns on Red
Generally, if you’re waiting at traffic lights, then the right lane is allowed to turn at any time, even when the light is still red. However, if the light has a separate right-turn arrow beneath it, or there is a second light with a sign with an arrow pointing to the right, then you have to wait for that to turn green. When we first started driving in the US, we would often be amazed at what we thought was drivers making blatantly illegal right-turns, and would sometimes get beeped by drivers behind us while we waited. Don’t try it in New York though, unless you want a ticket.
The first time we encountered a car doing a U-turn on a highway, we though there was something seriously wrong going on! In Europe (or the countries we’ve visited anyway) there are usually metal bars in between lanes on highways, and it is an offence to turn around. In the States however, you often see U-turn signs and gaps in the barrier to let this happen. Roundabouts are scarce though, so I can see how it can save you some time.
In most European countries (as far as I know), if you find yourself on a crossroad, you’ll give priority to the cars coming from the right. Here in the US it’s a case of whoever arrives at the crossroads first has priority, so when you’re approaching, you need to pay attention to what cars are there already so you know in what order they will be crossing in order to avoid a collision. This seems to be standard even on marked crossroads. Our policy is always just to edge out really, really slowly and wave sheepishly if we get it wrong.
As we recently discovered to our cost, when parallel parking, you must park in the direction you’re travelling, not against traffic. Finding a parking place has usually been relatively painless wherever we’re been, but we’ve picked up the odd ticket here and there and we got one for this.
This is an important one – on highways here apparently it’s not illegal to undertake (overtake a car from the inside lane), which can be both dangerous and infuriating to drivers unaware of that fact.
I hope this will help you feel more confident when driving in the USA, and avoid the mistakes we’ve made!
nb: This article has been sponsored by Accident Advice Helpline.