Driving in the USA, what do you need to expect?

By Ronak

What can I expect as an Aussie driving in the USA?

Not following speed limits, no use of speed cameras in some states, no Crash Avoidance Space, driving on the other side of the road and taking U-turns and right turns when the traffic lights are red; pretty much everything that defines driving in the United States. No safety rules or anything to prevent crashes and only statistics to rely upon, that would seem like a rollercoaster to any Australian travelling in the USA. So if you are travelling overseas to the United States of America, what do you need to expect?

Speed Limit

As all Australian drivers know, speed limits are compulsory on all roads with rare expectations. Without following the speed limit you could get a serious penalty which may result in the loss of your licence. However, when you travel to the USA speed limit signs are rarely followed and most people drive at least 10 mph above the actual speed limit! This is reflected as each year the amount of police patrols decrease and speed cameras are only used in just 18 out of the 50 states. 

Crash Avoidance Space/3 second gap

Most states in Australia require a crash avoidance space, also famously known as the 3 second gap. This helps drivers to avoid crashes when something abruptly happens and make decisions that can help save lives on Australian roads. Meanwhile, in America, a crash avoidance space is not mandatory, and they rely solely upon the safety features of the car to help save lives on American roads. Despite this rule, it is always safe to maintain a distance anyway, and for American drivers visiting Australia, please remember that it is enforced by law to maintain a 3 second gap. 

Left, or right?

As soon as an Australian is on the road, we automatically drive on the left side of the road, we take turns and end up on the left side, we take U-turns and end up on the left, in short, we stick to the left. On the other hand, in America all drivers are used to driving on the right side of the road, they take safe-left turns instead of safe-right turns, in short they are the opposite to us. As a result, Australian drivers must always keep their full concentration and eyesight on the road, keeping in their mind ‘drive on the right, drive on the right.’ To add to this, it can become even more confusing when you are first in line to take a turn since you have to end up on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. This makes you much more aware of your surroundings, and with speed and crash avoidance space rules, things can become a little tricky. 

“I bet you like sitting at red lights,” - not in America

As everyone knows, a driver must stand still at any red light unless shown otherwise. If you fail to comply with these rules, a severe punishment will be upheld as a safety breach. In spite of this rule in Australia, American drivers turn right on red lights, though this is similar to Australia’s safe-right turn. Additionally, whenever the signal has turned green, they are also allowed to take a U-turn. These laws are similar to Australia’s safe-right turn except you can take this turn at any point unless shown otherwise. Despite these rules, you should always check in front of you, most commonly near a traffic light since there are signs that can prohibit this action at some intersections.

Flashing traffic lights

Most traffic lights in Australia switch between 3 colours - green, amber and red. All of these colours stay solid unless they are switched off or they are switching between colours. Though in America, flashing lights are common among developing areas and roadwork. Flashing red lights are read as a stop sign. This means that you must stop as there is danger or roadwork ahead. You should not cross these, as it is a warning that something hazardous is approaching ahead. Flashing orange/amber lights mean that you should try to avoid that road or area, but you can cross the intersection if necessary. The flashing orange/amber lights can also mean that there is caution ahead and can eventually turn to flashing red lights if necessary. 

Fast/slow lanes

In Australia, if you want to go a little faster and overtake, you must change to the rightmost lane. All other lanes mean that you are following the speed limit or going slower. In America, the leftmost lane is used as the fast lane and all other lanes can be used for people not wanting to go over the speed limit. Contrary to Australia, the fast lane means that people using it will have to pay a toll on some common roads. Each road usually has a sign displaying the tolls that you will need to pay to use the express lane though it should be noted that sometimes these lanes are free after a period of time using them. 

‘Stop’ in the name of the law!

In Australia, stop signs are often used in intersections where a traffic light is not required. Stop signs are displayed in 1 or 2 of the corners of the intersections, this indicates that this person must stop, look and give way to any drivers approaching the intersection when they are not already crossing. In America, stop signs are on every corner of the intersection, this can confuse drivers on who goes first and last. If you are driving in America it is important to note that whoever approaches the intersections first goes first. This then continues in order of appearance. This means that if you came 5th, you would go after the 4th car has gone. Although if you and another car approach at the same time, the car that is to the furthest right would have the right of way and would cross the intersection first. 

So for all the Aussies travelling to the USA and the Americans travelling to Australia, it is important to remember these rules and stay safe. Each country has their own, unique rules and it is important to respect them. So the next time you are on a freeway in America, don’t forget to not go 110 mph.

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