DestinationsTips for Driving in the United States

This article provides tips and information about driving in the United States.

Driving Tips

Driving Licenses and Laws

When driving in the U.S., you must have a valid driving license.  If you are coming from overseas, some states will require that you have an International Drivers Permit (IDP).  Visitors from other countries cannot apply for an IDP once they are in the USA, so, if you need one, you must obtain it in the country that issued your license.  If you drive in the USA, remember that each of the 50 states has its own set of traffic laws and regulations. Fortunately, most of the laws are the same, but some states have slightly different rules or safety tips (e.g. elk warning)! When you rent a car, you should ask the agent if there are any special driving rules in that state or nearby states in which you will be travelling.

Speed Limits

The highway speed limits in the U.S. generally range from 65 miles per hour (110 km/hr) to 75 miles per hour (122 km/hr) depending on the region you are in. Speed limit signs are well posted on the highways and just about any navigation app will tell you the speed limit of the area you are in real time. Speed limits are strictly enforced by radar in many states (especially the eastern highly populated areas). Speeding in any road construction area is strictly enforced with very heavy penalties in most states.

Are There Toilets?

Yes! The highways across the USA have regular rest areas and truck stops which, at a minimum, will have restrooms. Many will also have a gas station, a convenience store and a few fast food restaurants.  Rest areas tend to be smaller but will have toilets, a vending machine, picnic tables and a place to stretch your legs.  Truck stops are larger and will have a gas station and more places to eat and shop.  If you happen to be on Interstate 80 (I-80) travelling across Iowa, take the time to stop at the Iowa 80 Truckstop, the World’s Largest Truckstop. They have a trucking museum, fully tricked out truck cabs that you can climb into, a huge shop, homestyle cooking and fast food restaurants.  And yes, there are toilets!

Minimum Driving Age

The minimum age for driving is 16 in most states but some states will not allow unrestricted driving until 18. Some car rental agencies refuse to rent a car to any person under 25 years of age. Other agencies will rent to young drivers but require an added surcharge. Some rental agencies in the US will not rent to drivers over 71 years of age.

Seat Belts

Nearly all states have laws requiring the driver and front passengers to wear seat belts. Many states require children to wear seat belts even in the back seats. Nearly every state requires special child restraint seats for all young children. Most states require motorcyclists to wear helmets.

Driver Beware

The speed limit in front of every school is greatly reduced when classes are in session. The reduced limits in these school zones is posted on a sign. When these reduced limits are in effect, lights with the limit sign will flash. You are required to stop in both directions for any school bus with flashing lights. These rules are strictly enforced in every state and have severe penalties for disobedience. Drinking alcohol and driving is also forbidden and strictly enforced in all states.

The U.S. Highway System

State Route Sign
U.S. Route Sign
Interstate Road Sign

The USA has an extensive system of interstate highways and state maintained roads. Some of the major highways are toll roads often called turnpikes, but most are free. All major interstate highways running north to south have odd numbers and are ordered from I-5 on the Pacific coast to I-95 along the Atlantic coast. All interstates running east to west are evenly numbered beginning with I-8 and I-10 near the Mexican border to I-94 near Canada.