By George Clissold Worldwide Specialist

The great American road trip – it’s the ultimate way to explore the USA. But, whether you’re taking on an epic such as Route 66, exploring the canyons of Utah and Arizona, seeking out Fall colours in New England or exploring California’s Pacific Coast Highway, there are some rules of the road that are well worth remembering. To keep you on the right road, our USA specialist George Clissold shares his top tips for a safe and memorable self-drive, stateside.

The rules of the road

While some driving rules vary from state to state, some are consistent throughout the country. And, while many might seem like common sense, there are the odd one or two that might just catch you out:

General rules

  • In the USA, cars are left-hand drive. You’ll drive on the right. Simple, but important
  • In most states, the speed limit is 70 mph for rural freeways, although this can vary. However, undue dawdling isn’t tolerated as a minimum 45 mph limit is also often in place. For other 4-lane highways, you’ll need to keep the pace down to 65 mph, while it’s just 55 mph for all other highways. In urban areas, lower limits apply
  • Seatbelts are essential for all passengers in all vehicles at all times. No exceptions
  • Kids will need safety or booster seats, depending on age and size, while baby seats must be in the back seat and rear-facing. Our specialists can arrange these with the car rental company at the time of booking
  • Look out for car-share lanes on some freeways and interstates. You’ll need to have at least two people in the car to use these. If you have, you’ll be well set to beat the worst of those infamous gridlock traffic jams

And some to watch out for

  • You can turn right at a red light, as long as there’s nothing coming
  • At a four-way intersection, the car that arrives first has right of way. If two cars arrive at the same time, the car to the right goes first
  • In most states, you’re allowed to undertake – watch those mirrors 
  • In some cities, notably San Francisco, all intersections of streets wider than 25 feet are legal pedestrian crossing, unless they specifically say “no crossing”. They don’t have to be marked and pedestrians have the right of way, always

Toll roads

Yes, there are toll roads in the USA, usually on the outskirts of cities. You can pay for these in cash or ask your car hire company for a toll payment transponder, which you can top up at your convenience.


If you see a curb painted red or yellow, or a bay is marked with diagonal white lines, parking is prohibited. If the lines are blue, this is usually a handicapped zone and you’ll need a permit.

The price of gas

Petrol, or gas as it’s known stateside, is cheap, usually around 40p per litre. Good news if you’ve hired a gas-guzzling muscle car. To fill up, pop to a gas station and your card will be charged for a set amount at the pump. You’ll then fill up and head inside where the original charge will be released, and the correct amount paid. Simple.

Hiring the right car

Of course, there’s a full range of car hire options for your USA road trip and the car you choose will come down to personal preference. Perhaps, for a California adventure, a convertible Mustang might be to your taste. Or, you might choose an SUV for a little more on-road security. However, it is worth remembering that they don’t really do small in the USA, so don’t expect to see too many Fiat Puntos in the rental centre parking lot. Also, when it comes to gears, automatic is the name of the game, allowing you to stick it in drive and concentrate on the traffic, all these new rules and those oh-so-breathtaking views.

Insurance and documents

When it comes to booking accidence and breakdown insurance, go for the most comprehensive cover you can. It really lowers the stress levels.

Document checklist

For driving in the USA, you’ll require:

  • A full and valid UK driver’s licence (an international permit is not required)
  • Valid Passport / photo ID
  • Proof of insurance
  • Warning triangles (these will be provided by your rental company)

And that’s about it. If you’ve got any questions, don’t hesitate to contact our USA specialists who’ll be happy to help. In the meantime, why not browse our USA self-drive holidays below.