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On the Road


No wonder there's so many trucks on the road
Lots of trucks on the road

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 do.

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!

Walmart truck
Walmart truck

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 also common.

Interstates are well-marked
Interstate roadsign

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 know better.

Road Signs

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.


Rest room in the snow
Rest room in the snow

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.