According to the US Federal Highway Commission there are 4.12 million miles of roads in America. This includes Alaska and Hawaii. The core of this network is the Interstate system which comprises of about 1% or 47,575 of the road system and carries a quarter of all highway traffic. Another 179,650 miles of major roads comprise the National Highway System which carries most of the freight on America’s roads.
Your road trip is probably going to cover a fraction of the road system but here are few pointers for you, especially if you have never hired or driven in America.
Except for a few Commonwealth countries and a few others, I would assume most drivers drive on the other side of the road to the UK. I have often been asked about driving stateside and people are surprised by my enthusiastic response. I tell you it is so easy to drive in America. The roads were designed to be driven on and built in a very logical way. There are rarely bends to navigate so the route is the quickest way from A to B.
In the UK main roads were originally tracks between villages and owned land so they often had to curve around landowners acres hence the rabbit warren of routes. In comparison to America there just isn’t the land space to create a perfect road system for the drivers of the United Kingdom.
The most obvious difference between UK (and the few others) is the steering wheel is on the other side of the car. It does, undeniably, feel strange when you first sit in the car but you do get used to it. The thing I come unstuck on is faced with turning into a road when there is no other traffic and on more than one occasion taken a position on the wrong side.
Almost every junction has a dedicated left hand turn lane thus allowing forward moving traffic to keep going. Right hand turning traffic is allowed to turn on a red traffic signal and again this allows less queuing at junctions. Of course America has had the land in which to allow these simple improvements to traffic management.
- Overtaking (passing) is allowed on either side of another vehicle on a multi lane road.
- Turn right at a red traffic light (unless otherwise instructed by road signs)
- Interstates with even numbers run East to West or vice versa
- Interstates with odd numbers run North to South or vice Versa
- State Roads – marked with an outline of the State and often run close by to the interstate.
- Interstates or Freeways have no traffic lights and limited intersections. There are rest areas and service stations and any additional facilities are clearly marked towards the exit ramps but are not on the Interstate.
- US Roads have traffic lights and facilities along the route
- Turnpikes are toll roads that charge by the distance travelled
- Causeways are roads that are built over bodies of water joining banks of rivers or lakes or islands. Often constructed just above water level.
- Parkways don’t differ from Interstates but are greener and more landscaped.
Speed limits are clearly marked and are keenly enforced. You have been warned! Some very long roads have signs saying that traffic enforcement is by airplane. Interstates often reduce speed to 55 MPH towards exits and then increase to 70 MPH but it can vary.
Rules that must be observed that differ to the UK
There are a couple of rules that UK visitors come unstuck on and the most common is not pulling into the nearside lane if there is a patrol car or broken down car on the hard shoulder.
The other is that the fleet of yellow school buses have priority and if one signals to stop there is signage on the side of the buses that point into the road ordering cars to stop. You must obey this rule. You cannot overtake a stationary school bus if it is dropping or embarking children.
Roundabouts are called turning circles and you give way to the left these are becoming more and more prevalent in suburban areas as a traffic calming measure.
Crossroads not enforced by traffic signals can be puzzling for an overseas visitor. Simply wait your turn to move depending on who got to the crossroads first. I have never seen an argument at one of these junctions.
Some roads are shared as state roads or local roads and as the header image shows you have to have your wits about you.