Are there any special requirements for driving or hiring a car in USA?
Driving is on the right with the steering wheel being on the left hands side of the car. The rules of the road can vary from state to state. Ask our representatives about laws particular to the state you are in.
Seat Belt Laws
All passengers and the driver must be securely belted in to a car when it's moving. a fine applies if caught without a belt on.
Drinking and Driving
It varies from state to state but is always strictly enforced and the drinking limit is as low as 0.05% in some states. Most states have zero tolerance of alcohol whilst driving if the driver is under 21. There are various levels of drunk driving including driving under the influence and driving whilst impaired.
There is a misconception that a conviction for drink driving will preclude entry to the US. It's unlikely that a single conviction will prevent you entering the US but two or more may well do.
The complexity of the laws and the level of punishment mean that we would highly recommend you don't drink and drive whilst visiting the US.
Must Have Documents
You will need your driving licence, an international driving permit and all car hire documents. You should always have photo ID on you in the states.
The subject of speed limits in the US is a complex one as they vary between staes. They can be as high as 75 mph or down to 65 mph. Depending on where you are travelling to, you should check the speed limits before you travel.
Limits can also reduce around schools and hospitals as well as roadworks.
Some states have minimum speed limits too.
The limits are generally strictly enforced and more often than not by radar trap.
Minimum Driving Age
Generally the minimum age for driving in the US is 16 although for hiring a car it can be as high as 25. If you are younger than 25 and want to hire a car, check with us first and we can advise you which companies are prepared to hire to a younger person. You will have to pay an extra daily amount for the privilege though.
Safety Camera Warning Devices
Safety camera detection equipment is illegal in the US and if you are caught using it you will have it confiscated as well as face a fine for doing so.
On the Spot Fines
America does not employ the use of on the spot fines. Instead you'll receive a ticket stating the offence and the fine payable. You'll be told how you can pay it on the ticket.
Child Safety Rules
The US takes child safety in cars very seriously and exacting standards apply for the use of car seats and restraints for children.
Laws vary by state but almost all require yound children to be in a child seat facing backwards in the front of a car, facing forward in the rear. Below 145cms or 45kg, they need to use booster cushions to ensure they are held safely and securely by the seat belt system.
Once again, car insurance is a complex issue in the US with most states requiring at least liability insurance whilst in some, including Virginia, you simply need to pay an uninsured vehicle fee to the state. Others just need to know you are 'financially responsible'. Given the high cost of medical care and the propensity for litigation, we'd recommend you take out the best insurance available. All our hire cars have comprehensive insurance that cover you for most eventualities.
Rules of the Road
There are a number of peculiarities to driving in the US and it's best to be aware of them before taking the wheel.
Watch out for four way intersections where all cars must stop. The car which got to the intersection first may go, followed by the next cars to arrive.
You cannot overtake a school bus if red lights are flashing on it.
Undertaking is not illegal in America so watch out for this. It makes signalling before changing lanes all the more important.
If you are pulled over stay in your car until the policeman arrives at the window and keep your hands visible at all times.
Most cars in America are automatic.
In the US there are no specific regulations for towing other than the vehicle being towed must be securely attached and you should make other drivers aware of what you are doing.
Radar traps are more common than fixed cameras. You can also be pulled over by a police car. In all cases, stay in the car until you are approached and keep your hands visible.
Using Mobile Phones when driving
The use of mobile phones without a hands free kit is forbidden in the US whilst driving.
Parking is easy to get in most smaller towns and cities as long as you don't rely on street parking in the centres as it's non-existent so as to maintain throughflow of traffic. There instead, you'll find parking garages. Elsewhere where there is parking, park in the the direction of the traffic.
Paid parking can be in dusty lots, garages or by meter or ticket machine in parking bays. There are usually plenty of signs to indicate parking restrictions.
Enforcement of parking is done by the police but sometimes by parking attendants. Clamping isn't as common as being towed and if you need to reclaim your vehicle from the car pound, you'll need to pay a fine as well as the release fee. You mustn't park next to a kerb painted yellow as it's for emergency services only.
The European blue badge scheme is not recognised in the US but find a place with a parking attendant and they'll do their best to find you a more accessible spot to park in.
Motor Way Signs
The major interstate highways that travel from north to south are odd numbered, i.e I-5 along the Pacific Coast and I-95 on the Atlantic Ocean coast. Highways which run east to west are even numbered, i.e I-94 near the Canadian frontier and I-8 near Mexican border. You should be prepared for the fact that some motorways have six or even eight lanes.
Americans use different words for traffic vocabulary than are used in England so here are some of the differences!
Motorway – Freeway
Toll Road –Turnpike
Petrol – Gasoline
Excess – Deductible (insurance)
Gearbox – Transmission
SUV –Sports utility vehicle
Boot – Trunk
Pavement - Kerb
Bonnet – Hood
Bumper – Fender
Detour – Diversion
Indicators - Blinkers
Traffic lights follow similar principles to those in Europe but the general advice is to remember that when traffic lights go from red to yellow this does not mean you should go, you must wait for green. There are usually turn signals at junctions but in the absence of signals you can turn right on red as long as there are no cars coming from the right. You can never turn left or right on a red arrow.
Many US roads have tolls on them but they're not expensive. You can pay in change or in some circumstances use credit or debit cards.
You can call the emergency services on 911.
In most states you can call 511 to get up to date travel information depending on where you are.
The British Embassy is located at 3100 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20008 and can be called on 1 202 588 6500. Other embassies are also located in Washington DC.
What to do in an emergency
If you break down, contact the number given to you by the car hire representative.
If you are involved in an accident you can resolve the issue between you if it is minor but you must file a report at the nearest police station.
If the accident is more serious involving damage or injury, call the emergency services and your rental company. Exchange information with the other driver including your address and insurance details. If you can, take photos of the scene if you have a camera handy. If the cars aren't causing a danger to others, leave them in position until the police arrive.
Prices vary from state to state and from station to station. As at May 2014, the average price of 95 octane petrol in the US is 57p per litre. Diesel is rarely used but is a few pence dearer.