Taking a road trip through the USA is an easy way to see the country. But with different laws in different states, you should always be aware of signs and other posted regulations. Here are some basic rules that apply across the US to get you started on your journey.
Driving Rules and Regulations
- Seatbelts are required for all passengers in all vehicles.
- Children are required to be in safety seats or booster seats. Babies in baby seats are not allowed to be put in the front seat facing forward because of risks from airbags.
- Some interstates or freeways have high-occupancy-lanes (HOV) marked by signs and a white diamond shape on the road. You are allowed to drive in these between certain hours only if you have 2 or more people in your vehicle.
- In many states, it is required by law to move over if a vehicle is stopped on the right-hand shoulder with hazard lights flashing. This also pertains to service vehicles like tow trucks or police and emergency vehicles.
- If you are stopped by the police, pull over safely to the side of the road, turn the car off, roll down your window and do not exit the vehicle. Also be sure to have your driver’s license and car insurance on hand to show.
There are no countrywide speed limits in the US, making it tricky for drivers planning to travel to more than one state. The best advice is to look out for signs and pay attention to how fast others are driving. Just be aware that many areas are monitored by radar (often posted with signs) and if you drive too fast you might be surprised with a speeding ticket in the mail.
- Within cities, speed limits are generally 25-30 mph unless otherwise noted.
- The maximum speed limits for interstates and freeways range from 65-80 mph.
- The speed limit in school zones is 10-25 mph (16-40 kph) when the yellow warning lights are flashing when children are present or during school pick-up and drop-off hours. By law traffic in both directions must stop when a school bus flashes its red lights. These rules are strictly enforced.
Overtaking, Turning, and Parking
- You should always pass on the left. You may pass on the right (depending on the state): if the vehicle in front of you turns left, if you are on a road with two or more lanes going in one direction and no sign prohibiting passing
- Right turns on red are allowed unless restricted by a sign. You must stop and yield to traffic before you turn right.
- If the curb is painted yellow or red or the parking spot is marked with diagonal white lines, parking is prohibited in this area. If the parking spot is marked with blue lines it is a handicapped parking spot and you need a special permit to park there.
Right of Way
- Stop Signs: At any stop sign, you have to come to a complete stop before the white line and yield to traffic. At a 4-way intersection with four stop signs, the driver who arrives first goes first. If drivers arrive at the same time the one to the right goes first.
- Traffic Lights: If there is no sign and only the red light is flashing you have to stop and yield to traffic before you proceed (equivalent to a stop sign). If there is no sign and only the yellow light is flashing you need to slow down and proceed with caution (equivalent to a yield sign).
- Roundabouts: Those entering the roundabout must yield to those already driving in the roundabout.
Some roads and bridges require fees to drive across them. They are called toll roads or toll bridges (e.g. the New Jersey Turnpike) and are often found in high-population areas or states. You can pay cash, although if you know you will be driving on toll roads it’s much faster to add a toll payment transponder to your car rental. Please check with your rental branch for availability and fees.
- 911 for all services – police, ambulance, and fire
- If you have a vehicle breakdown or some other non-life threatening emergency, it’s best to call the local police or state patrol.