The first thing to remember is that they drive on the right side of the road
in the US. That is right as in opposite to left, not right as in opposite to
wrong. We all know that driving on the left is right - confused?
Driving on the right is pretty easy really but you have to remember that the
car's steering wheel is on the left. OK, you're still confused.
First thing to do is just get use to sitting in the car. You are bound to
put the windscreen wipers on when you want to indicate and then indicate when
its raining. Just practise and you will get it right. Then when you get back
to Australia you will have to go through it all again.
We have always rented an automatic car - never tried a manual but if you did
then that brings in a whole new range of problems.
Once you are out on the road you have to remember that although you are on
the opposite side of the road you, the driver, are in the middle part of the
road. Same as in Australia, the driver is in the middle side of the road and
the passenger is on the kerb side. That's what worked for us. When you get to
an intersection and you think 'what the hell do I do here', just remember the
driver is on the middle part of the road - sounds simplistic but in the words
of our good friend Dick in suburban Chicago, 'works for me!'
We had a big advantage in that during our first trip in 2001 we spent a lot
of time as passengers. Jim and Bette in South Carolina took us all over the
east coast and we had time to observe. It wasn't until a month into the trip
that we actually got to drive and by that time we had some idea on what to
Here is an easy to say hard to do one - try not to get yourself in difficult
panicky type situations. That is when you do what comes naturally and that may
be going to the left.
Shopping Centre car parks were our down fall. You will be driving between
rows of cars and have a car coming the opposite way and you will pull left and
the other car pulls right - oooopps!
In some states it is law to merge into a left lane when a vehicle is in the
emergency lane - this means there will be a clear lane between the stationary
vehicle and the moving vehicle. This would be especially important when the
stationary vehicle is a police car.
Emergency vehicles - you are required to pull to the right and stop when an
emergency vehicle is in the vicinity (lights flashing).
Counting Wal-Mart trucks helps to pass the time. FedEx trucks are the
most common, if you are going to count those you will be busy. Swift trucks are
Stay in the right lane unless overtaking. Interstates have a dual carriage
way across the country. No traffic lights, we believe you can drive from LA to
NYC without going through a traffic light. Overtaking is easy.
There are a huge amount of trucks on the road, especially the Interstates -
they often out number cars.
When a vehicle is entering from an on ramp you are expected to move one lane
left to allow the entering vehicle free access onto the roadway.
Interstate exit numbers relate to miles travelled. Once you enter a state
from the west the exit numbers start at 1 so if you are due to get off at exit 5
then you know it is 5 miles after you cross the border (or 3 miles after you
pass exit 2). However, if you enter the state from the east then exit numbers
start at the top end of miles. If the state is 300 miles across then the exit
numbers will start at 300 and work down. Good idea.
When driving, you can usually turn right at a red traffic light. You do have
to stop but if clear you can then go. At some red lights they have a sign
saying 'no right turn on red light', so wait for a green light. You will get
honked for forgetting this rule, Don't feel bad as many Aussies have done the
same thing before you.
Roundabouts are rare in the US. We were on one in Syracuse, NY once. It was
quite large and very confusing because of driving the opposite way.
Instead of roundabouts they have a lot of 4 way stop signs. These work
pretty well and are on a first in best dressed scenario. Everyone seems to know
who is next to go without too much difficulty.
In Australia stops signs always have a big white line on the road so you look
for the line as much as the sign. In the US there are not always lines and Gary
has been known to sail past an obscured stop sign. On one occasion he cut off
an off duty cop in Cedar City, UT. He had visions of being handcuffed and led
away but wasn't even stopped - must have known he was just a tourist who didn't
Road signage is usually very good. At exits they have signs indicating what
services there are as you leave the Interstate, such as which restaurants,
accommodation, fuel, etc.
In the really built up areas they have big signs advising of the upcoming
exits. Don't assume that because you have got yourself into the correct lane
for your exit 5 miles before hand that that lane will remain to be the correct
one. In LA you will have 2 or 3 lanes merge with your road and so you have to
merge across more lanes to be in what you then hope is the correct one. This is
very likely the case in other major cities.
Petrol stations are called gas stations in the US.
Petrol/Gas is usually paid for, using a credit card, at the pump. No need to
go into shop part but do remember the important rest room tip mentioned
below. The directions are pretty straight forward although one company
(Chevron) asks for a zip code to start the payment procedure. Your Aussie
postcode will not work as it is one number short. Try 90210, if it's good
enough for Beverley Hills then its good enough for Chevron.
Toilets, better known as Rest Rooms - a far better term we think. The
most important piece of advice the Hartmans have is 'if you see a rest room,
use it!'' Even if you don't need it, use it! The Hartman motto is
'Never miss an opportunity!'
McDonalds, Burger Kings (same as Hungry Jacks) and service (gas) stations are
ideal for rest rooms even if you aren't hungry or want fuel. They are always
open and you are welcome and don't even need to cart a key (attached to a brick)
with you. Very civilised.
Rest rooms are usually very clean although there can be some exceptions.