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United States of America

Travel in the USA is dominated by the car and plane. Car hire is readily available at all major airports and in most towns. In many regions the best way to appreciate the delights of this marvellous country is by car, indeed in many areas public transport is not a viable option.

It is important that the visitor remembers that distances in the USA are huge. Even in some of the popular holiday regions it can take many hours to drive from one attraction to another. That said the main problem is usually that of driver fatigue as the road system is superb and driving standards are usually very high.

One aspect of American life that visitors sometimes do not appreciate is the federal nature of the system of government. This means that although there is a central core of legislation that is common throughout all states, each state has the right to enact laws applicable only in that state. This applies equally to the rules and regulations affecting driving. The staff of the car rental company will always advise visitors of the local conditions if the visitor asks when picking up the car.

Each of the fifty states publishes a guide to driving in that state, available online through the state website. If in doubt check the website of the state(s) you intend to visit.

In the event of a serious problem or accident the emergency services can be contacted by dialling 911.

Most speed limits are posted by roadside signs where the local limit is less than the national maximum of 65 mph for daytime driving. In certain states the limit is lower during the hours of darkness.

It is compulsory to wear seat belts at all times and small children must travel in a child safety seat or restraint. Car rental companies can provide child seats, but they must usually be booked in advance. Often the best policy is to take one with you.

There are very strict rules about speed limits outside schools, when the warning lights are flashing, the limit is 15 mph. It is also an offence to pass a stationary school bus in either direction when its warning lights are flashing.

The best advice regarding driving after the consumption of alcohol is simply not to do so. The limits are low and strictly enforced. There are also strict laws on the presence of alcoholic drinks in vehicles - known as "open container laws" these mean that the driver (and sometimes passengers) can be prosecuted simply for allowing an open container inside the vehicle, watch out for the precautions taken if diners leave a restaurant with a partly consumed bottle of wine, even then the re-sealed container must be carried out of reach of the driver.

In some states it is mandatory to use dipped headlights during rain, the best way of avoiding problems is always to turn on the headlights during rain irrespective of the state you are driving through. Many of the latest USA specification models have daylight running lights in any case.

Congestion is not unknown, but is mostly confined to the major urban areas and can often be avoided by choosing the best time of day and less popular routes, but lets face it downtown Manhattan is never going to offer the freedom of the open road.

Driving on the right hand side of the road may be a new experience for some visitors - one good thing about using a rental car is that it will be adapted to local conditions with the steering on the left hand side.

Another feature of driving in the USA is the almost universal provision of automatic transmissions. It is possible to hire cars with traditional gear shifts, but only by special order and then the availability is very limited. Driving an automatic is no more difficult than driving a manual car, quite the reverse in fact so long as the driver remembers to keep his left foot well away from the pedals.

Most car hire companies will not normally rent cars to persons under the age of 21 years even though the driving age is 16 years in most states.

It is not necessary to carry an International Driving Permit in the USA as the authorities accept national driving licences, however if your licence does not bear your photograph it can save time if you ensure you have your passport with you as additional proof of identity.

Navigating in the USA is quite easy, all roads are clearly identified with their designation as Interstate, State or County highway, together with their number or letter as appropriate.

There are sections of the highways that are toll roads, these are usually called turnpikes, although these are a minority.

Interstate highways that run North to South have odd numbers and are numbered from Interstate-5 over on the Pacific Coast through to Interstate-95 on the Atlantic Seaboard. Those running East to West have even numbers and run from Interstate-8 down near the Mexican border to Interstate-94 near Canada.

Disclaimer

These notes are intended only to draw attention to some of the rules and regulations that apply to driving in the United States of America. They are not an exhaustive or complete set of regulations and may be superseded by changes in the law at any time. The publishers can accept no responsibility for any problem that may arise because drivers have failed to satisfy all the relevant legislation in any country or state in which they may use a vehicle hired through this site. It remains the responsibility of the driver to satisfy himself or herself that they are aware of all the relevant legislation that affects their conduct and the driving of vehicles in any country in which they may find themselves.

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