There is nothing I love more than exploring somewhere new. Especially if that involves getting off the beaten path and leaving the hordes of tourists behind. However, finding the hidden gems often only happens because we have the flexibility to follow Google down obscure paths and roads down which no public transport would ever venture. Doing just this, is how we found the amazing Peričnik Waterfall in Slovenia and the Medula Roman Gold Mines in Spain. However, driving a car abroad does come with its challenges.

For starters, I am from the UK, which means that I have to drive on the other side of the road pretty much everywhere I go. Luckily I grew up in Spain, which makes me somewhat ambidextrous when it comes to driving on the right or the left. However, getting in on the right side of the car still remains a struggle! The other thing that is a struggle is figuring out what the road rules are. The written and then the unwritten ones!

This blog post aims to provide those of you planning to visit the US with some tips on how best to adapt your driving to the US roads while providing light tongue-in-cheek reading! The below are my observations and not legal recommendations!

A typical wooden barn in Montana, something you will only find if driving across USA
Montana, best explored by car

Different states have different rules

If you visit the UK, you just need to read the Highway Code, and you will know the rules for every eventuality. The same goes for pretty much every other country I have driven in. Apart from the US, that is! Driving in the USA requires you to know the specific rules for the state you are in. If you are visiting Orlando, for example, then this isn’t so much of a problem, as you will likely not leave the state of Florida. Therefore you only need to learn the rules that apply to Florida. Having just spent two weeks there, I am not sure there are actually any rules… or at least none that people obey!

However, if you are driving around the USA like me, you might start jumping from one state to the next. For instance, you can turn right on red in some states but not in others. Neighbouring states can have different rules, yet you can drive from one state to another without realising it.

In New York, Virginia, North Carolina, Nevada, and California, you can’t turn right on a red arrow, but in all other states you can. Confusing or what?!

How do I work around this? First, I hope that there is always someone in front of me to copy. And if not, then I wait until someone honks! Patience always appears to be low, so you will soon be told if you are doing it wrong!

A busy night time long exposure shot of the streets in New York
The busy streets of New York

Beware of the time differences

If you think the changing rules are confusing, wait until you drive across a time zone. I was driving from Florida to Alabama and had not realised that Alabama was on Central Time Zone while Florida was on Eastern Time Zone. As it happens, my journey was very short. I was in Tallahassee and my meeting was only 30 minutes away. So you can imagine my confusion when I arrive at my appointment, look at my phone, and it is telling me it is 30 minutes earlier than when I left my hotel!

Luckily Google is pretty good. When you start your route it will tell you that you are crossing time zones.

The speed limits are decorative

I realise that breaking the speed limit is customary in many places, but never have I seen it done to the extent it is done in the USA. At times I wonder whether they are actually the minimum allowed speed! I have to say, they are very low. On the highways (like our UK motorways and dual carriageways), they are often 55 or 65 mph. The average speed of both cars and trucks (lorries to us Brits) is 80 mph! I am not lying. The speed at which the trucks drive is terrifying! The other day I got overtaken by one of those “wide load” trucks! You know, the ones that in the UK go really slowly and have a convoy of cars with flashing orange lights because the cargo takes up more than one lane? Yes, one of those overtook me, and I was not exactly going slow!

Now, just because everybody speeds in the US doesn’t mean speed limits aren’t enforced. I don’t believe radar speed cameras are particularly popular, but there are certainly a lot of patrol cars that have a field day pulling people over and fining them. Be careful, the fines are doubled if you get caught in roadworks, especially if workers are present. There are also other stretches of highways where fines are doubled. There is always a signpost making you aware if this is the case.

Palm trees in the setting sun
Florida, I am unsure there are any rules here

Green means GO, Amber means GO FASTER!

In the UK, when the light is turning red, it goes from green to amber and then to red. The time it spends on amber is generally relatively short, so most people slow down when it goes to amber and come to a stop. Unless, of course, it isn’t safe to do so or if you are an amber gambler!

Beware of coming to a stop too early in the US though! Or you might end up with the car behind you sitting on your back seat!

The lights remain on amber for much longer in the US than in the UK, which means people put their foot down to get through the lights when they turn to amber. The first time I came to an amber light, I automatically came to a standstill only to find myself stopped with the light was still amber and a very angry car driver behind me! However, in Colorado, they seem to turn red faster. Yeah, no chance of getting it right!

I’m not suggesting you should become an amber gambler, and certainly do not run a red light, but beware of stopping too soon!

Beautiful mountain scenery of Colorado
Colorado in all its glory

4 way stops – what the…?

I come from the land of roundabouts, a method that keeps everything moving smoothly most of the time. Therefore the idea of a 4 way stop is probably the most alien of all the road rules I have encountered while driving in the USA! A 4 way stop is like a roundabout but in reverse. Instead of giving way to the car you would cut up (like on a roundabout), you instead give way to the person who would cut you up (the person to the right).

Actually, that is only true if you all arrive at the 4 way stop simultaneously. The theory is that whoever gets there first goes, which actually means it moves along pretty smoothly as you pretty much get there, stop, and then go. And if ever in doubt, give way (but be prepared for a honk from the person behind!).

Whatever you do, do not overtake a stopped school bus!

When the school bus pulls over in the UK, you are free to pass so long as it is safe to do so. Do not do this in the US! You will notice that the yellow buses will have a stop sign on the left-hand side. When they approach the bus stop, this sign will pop out, and you are to stop, even if you are on a dual carriageway!

An American yellow school bus with the red stop sign that gets flipped when the bus stops at a bus stop

It’s illegal to put gas in your car in New Jersey

I always feel a little bit of trepidation when filling up a car with gas (or fuel for us English lot) when in a new destination. How this is done seems to vary considerably between countries. In Spain, there is generally an attendant, but you are OK to fill it up yourself. However, whatever you do in New Jersey, do not put gas in the car yourself! It is illegal! Every station has multiple attendants that will fill your tank up for you. You just hand over your card or cash and remain inside the vehicle!

I believe it is correct etiquette to tip the fuel filler-uppers, which becomes awkward if you aren’t carrying any cash! Lesson: always have real money on you when in the US!

A man putting fuel in a car

Beware of what fuel you put in!

In the UK unleaded is the green hose and diesel is the black hose. It is the other way around in the US! I very nearly made a very expensive mistake! The good news though is that most pumps only have unleaded, and most cars run on unleaded. The other benefit is that you actually have to press the button for what you want dispensed (which is how I realised I had the wrong nozzle, as nothing was coming out!).

Red indicators and big blind spots

Indicators are red, and the mirrors are distorted, making it quite hard to know what is happening around you. Having grown up with orange indicators, red indicators never get my attention in the same way. There also seems to be a problem with people forgetting to switch their indicators off. It happens to the best of us, but I’ve never seen it happen anywhere else as often as it does here. I would happily place a bet that on my next 1-hour drive I will see at least 10 cars that have left their indicators on despite having no intention to turn.

The other thing that gets me is that the mirrors are distorted, making the other cars look closer than they are. The problem with this is that the magnified mirrors reduce the visibility of what is there as it covers a smaller area and therefore increases the blind spot. Has anyone got a good explanation for why they do it?

Snowy mountain peak, in Colorado, with yellowing tree lines at its base

You can overtake in any lane you want

Apparently, you are only meant to overtake on the left-hand lane (the fast lane). However, nobody seems to obey this. Cars and trucks whizz in and out of lanes like scenes from a TV cop chase! Most states have some kind of law that mandates that slower traffic should keep right and allow faster vehicles to pass on the left. This is another scenario where the law is somewhat different in each state.

For example, in South Dakota, only slow-moving vehicles need to keep right. Yet, in Massachusetts, it is prohibited to pass on the right. Other states seem to have a hybrid approach, like Michigan, that says to keep right unless there is heavy traffic or if the freeway has three or more lanes.

Again, my approach is to copy what everyone else is doing. I have to say, it is pretty refreshing being able to pass on any lane as well as not feeling guilty about hogging a specific one.

Americans are lovely… until they get in their cars!

People often ask me where I have experienced the most generosity on my travels, and I have to say, it is probably the US. Free lifts, free accommodation, free food, and lots of conversation. However, when these lovely people get behind the wheel, they become demented maniacs!

If you make a mistake, you will know about it, not just because of the loud sound of their horn as they press against it with all their strength. But likely because of their flailing arms and unheard explicit, you will undoubtedly manage to lip-read.

But even if you don’t make a mistake, they will still not let you out. You might need to merge, and thus you put your red indicators on. In the UK, more often than not, someone will flash you to let you know you can join their lane (unless they are driving a BMW, in which case you will need to wait for them to pass). In the US, they will just keep driving past unless you force your way out. Of course, it might just be that they can’t see the red indicators so easily, or maybe they just assume you have forgotten to turn them off like the other 10 cars they have just passed!

Don’t engage in road rage

This is a valuable tip for any country you are in. However, the number of deaths resulting from road rage is significantly less elsewhere than in the US! Between 2016 and 2020, on average 22 people were shot due to road rage. Not 22 people in 4 years. That, to me, would be shocking enough. Not even 22 people a year. On average, 22 people get shot a month as a result of road rage!

So when someone cuts you up, take a deep breath and let it go. It’s not worth a bullet to the brain!

A sticker showing one stick man beating another, to signify road rage

Don’t get distracted by all the billboards

There are over 2 million billboards on the sides of US roads. Whether you are driving, listening to the radio or watching the TV, one thing you will notice is that there are 100s of adverts. Consumerism is rife, like nothing I have seen anywhere else.

Some states have prohibited billboards. These include Maine, Vermont, Alaska, and Hawaii. But if you are travelling anywhere else in the country, then be on the lookout for funny billboards. The best one I have seen so far was for a liquor store that said: “Alcohol is cheaper than therapy!”.

The most important rule for driving in the USA: Make sure you study the actual rules before you pick up your hire car

I am no expert. Although there is some truth in all of the above points, I did not take my test in the US, and I have only been driving here for 20 weeks. Therefore, take these tips as my tongue-in-cheek observations, not as gospel! But who knows, maybe they have inspired you enough to consider a job driving in the US 😉 If you have then Jooble is the place to look!!

If you will be driving in the USA, I recommend you familiarise yourself with the state laws for whichever states you will be visiting. Knowing what you are doing is definitely the best way to stay safe and get maximum enjoyment!

Happy USA travels!

Pin so people can save to Pinterest, with the American flag painted on a brick wall
Like it? Pin it!


    1. Sounds like there is a story there! I think I’m going to have to update the article now that I’ve driven in Texas this weekend! Most stressful state so far!

  1. I always had the idea of traveling US from coast to coast! it seems that I should consider a lot of rules before doing that 😀 thanks for sharing this article and giving all else tips! definitely will be useful for future!

  2. As someone who grew up in the US, this post is spot on. Also, hilariously true. Our four-way stop obsession is ridiculous. I am from the Midwest, which means people who were clearly stopped before you and have the right of way will wave you on until you go… if you have time to wave, you have time to go!
    It was so interesting reading your perspectives of driving here, I had no idea how bad this country’s road rage was… Also I had never questioned the amount of billboards we have.. Consumerism isn’t the norm/celebrated everywhere?..

  3. Okay, this is made my day! What a fun post! I loved reading it….being an American. It made me laugh when you said Americans are lovely except behind the wheel…..It is so true. Oklahoma is the only place where I have found nice drivers.

  4. Its always interesting to me how long it takes me for it to become automatic driving on the other side of the road. I’m always fine and have no challenge but car parks put a twist on things. I will reverse out of a space in a big car park and have to be conscious of which way I go, but on the road I’m fine. I have very much notice the speed signs being indicators” and not real signs!!

    1. You are so right, car parks throw me! In fact, I had no problems in the US yet managed to drove the whole way round my neighbourhood once I was home on the wrong side before realising!

  5. Having lived in the US all my life, I do not even think about some of these things because they are so normalized for me. These are some great tips!

  6. Wow, this post pretty much sums up why I don’t drove when I am on vacation in another country! There are so many rules to remember and it’s too intimidating. Great tips because driving in America is more than a notion for visitors who are not used to our rules of the road.

  7. I absolutely loved reading this! Being from the US, your perspective is so interesting and hilarious! It’s true the rules are confusing. I can’t imagine driving as a foreigner here, it must be intimidating.

  8. I’m from Canada so I assumed your rules were pretty much the same. Good thing I read this before driving in the states!

  9. I’m Canadian, so I don’t notice a difference in the driving, other than the American highways don’t seem near as busy as ours are. I know I would feel exactly as you do if I had to drive in Europe lol.

    1. I think whenever you visit a different country you notice different customs that can be quite funny. It’s mainly a tongue in cheek guide to driving in America from a Brits perspective.

  10. Being from Canada, we too have to adjust to driving on the other side of the road when we get to the UK. Sure makes us a much more cautious driver. I did laugh at your comment about amber meaning “go faster”. I sure wish there were more roundabouts in North America – one of my favourite things about driving in Europe – when people know how to drive them properly! A good look at driving in the USA.

  11. This is literally the guide we’ve been looking for, thank you so much! We’ve always wanted to do a road trip across the USA and we’ll definitely be saving this for when we do; has everything we need to know!

  12. So funny! As an American who has done many road trips in multiple states, I know this guide will be very helpful for international visitors. Those of us who learned to drive here would not have thought of some of your suggestions because they are second nature, but there are many confusing driving laws and expectations in the US. So, your tips are especially helpful. Well done!

  13. Yes, driving rules and etiquettes are different all over the world! There is one more thing in US driving: Every now and then there is a stop sign especially in cities. Here you are supposed to fully stop and then move. If you just slowed down and not stopped fully, a cop could pull you up if he/she noticed you. If you love driving you have to get used to the left and right hand driving. The direction indicator and wipers too are interchanged. This takes a few minutes to get used to. LOL! Enjoyed your blog post. 🙂

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it! Luckily I grew up in Spain so I’m pretty ambidextrous when it comes to driving on both sides. Good shout on the Stop sign. I thought stops signs meant you needed to stop whatever the country so I hadn’t expected them to be any different to elsewhere. In the UK as an example you also have to stop.

  14. Haha, I got a few chuckles out of this article! Very true on US drivers! I do find it aggravating how there is no respect for the fast lane.

  15. Have to agree with the high speed trucks…they are terrifying. Haha. And, I had no idea about New Jersey…learned something new today.

  16. Such an enjoyable read! It probably would be more funny if it weren’t so true. I live in the U.S., and I can’t keep up with all the rules. The “amber gambler” still has me laughing. Great post!

  17. So nice to have all this info in one place for visitors from abroad! It’s hard to remember to tell them all the right stuff!

  18. Yes, the things we ‘take as normal’ here on the road. I can’t imagine what people from other countries must think! Good tips!

  19. I laughed at ‘speed limits are decorative’ so true that people speed a lot in the US, I noticed that. Also drink driving, so causal to have multiple beers and drive home. Such a big no!! haha.

    I also had a flashback reading this of the first time I drove in the US with my Uncle in the passenger seat who is American. After a few minutes he was like.. just remember what side you need to be on and I had been driving on the left automatically for a good few minutes!! Thank god no cars were around at the time!!

  20. I’m American and want to send this to my visiting friends 🙂 I can attest to the fact that we overtake in any lane! I didn’t know this was weird until driving in Europe!

  21. Haha! I love this guide! I don’t actually drive at all but there are some super handy tips in here that I’ll share with my boyfriend when we next visit the US! Thanks for sharing these insights!

  22. These are great rules! We’re from the USA and had to learn a lot of different rules for driving in Europe so it’s definitely interesting to see it the other way around! I definitely agree with your advice of reviewing the driving rules for whichever state you plan on visiting and driving in. 🙂

  23. Lol great post!

    Lots of these are pretty similar in Canada too (although maybe not so much the road rage…sometimes drivers here are so polite it can be dangerous!) One of my friends told me the unofficial rules here for driving on the highway was to drive 10km faster than the speed limit. I have noticed that is what most drivers stick to. I don’t understand why they don’t just raise the speed limits, then make everyone stick to them!!

  24. Oh my gosh! Haha. I loved reading this. I am from Canada but moved to the UK 7 years ago… And now when I go back to Canada I think everyone drives so painfully slow! I also totally forgot about all the billboards they have in the US. They can be so distracting! This guide was great. I just shared it with my dad who is visiting the USA soon!

    1. I bet adapting to the UK when you first came was different as well. Although the official rules are kind of the same everywhere, it is the unwritten rules that are the ones that catch you out!

  25. I would love to do a road trip in the US, so this is super useful. It’s good to know that every state has its own driving rules. I had no idea of this, and of couse, it’s something I need to take into consideration whenever I go on this road trip 🙂 Thank you for sharing.

  26. I don’t drive but I’m seriously enjoying these tips! It’s so interesting to see how things can differ from country to country e.g from where I’m from, Amber is SLOW DOWN! We would definitely be messing up all over the place in the US 😂🤣

    1. So I actually run a red back in the UK as the light went to Amber and after 9 weeks of speeding up I did the same automatically here and by the time I went past it was red! By the way, amber does mean slow down in the US as well, it’s just they stay amber so long that nobody does!

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