Most foreigners discover that driving in the United States is quite different from their native country. Even with an International Driving Permit, you will agree that the traffic laws are not exactly similar to your country of origin. What is allowed in your country could be illegal in the United States or vice versa. If you are from Britain, you will find out driving is on the right side of the road which is the opposite of what you are used to. Of course, you also have to consider the type of roads and signs that you will encounter in the U.S. For instance, roundabouts are quite rare in the United States compared to Commonwealth countries. In fact, they are known as rotaries and if you’re lucky, you will spot one if you pass through Michigan, Indiana, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Vermont or Maine. Go out to any other place in the U.S and you won’t be so lucky. Just to avoid any inconvenience and trouble with the law, there are certain crucial factors you should know about driving in the United States for the first time.
- Driving License Credentials- You must have an International Driving Permit (IDP) and a valid driving license from your home country. Although the International Driving Permit is not necessary for every foreigner that wants to drive in the United States, it will come in handy since some states are keen to check the IDP. You should also note that the U.S.A has a mutual understanding with various countries which makes it possible for foreigners to skip obtaining International Driving Permit to drive a car in the United States. For instance, U.K citizens can use their valid driving license in the U.S for at least 1 year.
- Renting a car- If your driving license credentials are in check, the next process is renting a vehicle. Most rental companies have a strict policy of not renting out vehicles to any person below the age of 25 years. This is because rental companies tend to avoid accident liabilities which are most common with people below 25 years. There is always an exception to every rule and with proper consultancy, you will find companies that rent out to a person under 25 years although you will likely pay extra. Always make sure you have adequate insurance cover before acquiring your convenient automobile. When selecting a car, you ought to consider the terrain/roads in the U.S are entirely different from your country of origin. A small car that would be very convenient in European roads will probably have its weak points exposed in the diverse roads the U.S has to offer. To lessen the doubt, a 2.0-liter diesel or petrol engine is recommended.
- Basic Rules of the Road- Perhaps the most surprising culture shock for European drivers on U.S roads is finding out the undertaking is legal. Moreover, U.S drivers are not fond of indicating direction change and you should be keen on watching through your mirrors. It is also illegal to overtake a school bus in both directions while the bus has activated flashing lights or a precaution sign. School buses are usually colored yellow with a bold “School Bus” mark. If you come across a four-way intersection, the rule is usually the car that arrived at the intersection first is allowed to proceed ahead followed by the next car in their respective order. In case you have children less than 8 years in your car, make sure the child occupies a special or booster seat or else you will have a serious problem if you’re pulled over by the traffic police. Just to be on the safe side, do not let a child under 12 years seat on the front passenger seat.
Crucial Point: If you ever get pulled over by the traffic police, stay in your vehicle until the police walk up to your window. Remember to keep your hands at the steering wheel. In some Europeans countries, it considered arrogant to keep staying in your car after you have been pulled over by the police but doing that in the United States will get you into a lot of trouble.
- Parking regulations- Finding a perfect spot in big cities will take you forever. Instead, you should opt to finding parking space in nearby small towns or less populated areas before heading to any major city. Riding a bus or a train to a major city is cheaper than driving with a private or rented vehicle. In a city like New York, the highway entry toll fees are between $14 and $9.75 depending on the peak hours. If you park your car anyhow, don’t be surprised to find your automobile towed to the car pound. In order to reclaim a towed car, you will need to pay the fine plus release fees.
- Common Phrases- Americans have their own traffic vocabularies that have different meanings than the U.K English. For instance, in the U.S, gasoline is what you would call petrol in England. The Motorway is referred to as the Freeway in the United States. Other U.S traffic phrases that you should take note include blinkers (indicators), kerb (pavement), hood (bonnet), diversion (detour), turnpike( toll road) and fender (bumper).
- Fuel stations- The average price of fuel in the United States is way cheaper than most countries around the world. However, gasoline station services are entirely different from most countries. The majority of gasoline stations are self-service and you have to pay up first before activating the pump machine.
If you are involved in a serious emergency situation, dial 911 for prompt services. But if you require updated travel information, most states have a 511 helpline service that you can dial anytime.