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Despite what you might see in the Indy 500 or in Hollywood movies, high speed car chases are not the norm in the United States.

Traffic laws are taken seriously and strictly enforced.

If you are traveling to the United States for the first time, it is likely that traffic laws will be different than those you’re used to. This Byte will outline the different rules of the road that are common in the U.S.

General Driving Rules

The following traffic laws apply to every state in the United States. Take your time while driving to allow yourself to adjust to any differences.

  • Vehicles drive on the right hand side of the road. Steering wheels are located on the left side of the car.

  • White lines are used to separate traffic lanes moving in the same direction. Yellow lines are used to separate traffic lanes headed in opposite directions. 

  • Carpool or HOV (high-occupancy vehicle) lanes are typically located on the far left side of U.S. freeways. 

  • If you are behind a school bus with flashing red lights, you may not pass it until the lights have stopped flashing. 

  • Emergency vehicles such as firetrucks and ambulances always have the right of way.

  • Pedestrians, or people walking on foot, always have right of way. If you see someone crossing the street, you must come to a full stop for them. 

  • Be aware of motorcyclists and bicyclists. Check your mirror and blindspots before making lane changes. 

  • Car horns should be used carefully and only if you fear someone is putting you in danger. 

Quiz

If an emergency vehicle using its lights and sirens is approaching, you must:

For Your Safety

Safety laws will vary state by state, but the following suggestions are good to follow no matter what state you are in.

  • Always wear your seatbelt. It could save your life. Children under a certain age or weight are required to sit in a child safety seat. You can check safety law requirements by state to see what the regulations are. 

  • Never drink and drive. Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol is illegal in all states.

  • Don’t text and drive. The use of handheld devices will vary state by state, but is always a good idea to put your phone down while driving. 

  • After sunset and in bad weather, you should use your vehicle's headlights. 

  • Always use your turn signals to let other vehicles know if you are changing lanes or turning. 

  • On freeways, slower traffic generally stays in the right-hand lanes while faster traffic stays in the left-hand lanes. 

  • Hitchhiking, or the practice of strangers asking for a ride, is prohibited in most states. It can be dangerous to give a ride to someone you don’t know.

Quiz

What does DUI stand for?

Road Signs And Traffic Laws

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If you’re new to the U.S., you will likely encounter a few road signs you don’t recognize. Keep in mind:

  • Traffic lights have red, yellow, and green lights that indicate when you need to stop and go. 

    1. Green means go. 

    2. Yellow means slow down and prepare to stop. 

    3. Red means stop. A flashing red light is similar to a stop sign. 

  • Stop signs (red and octagonal in shape) indicate that you must come to a complete stop before continuing through an intersection.

  • Yield signs (yellow and triangular in shape) mean that oncoming traffic has the right of way and you must wait until the road is clear before progressing.

  • Speed limits are posted on the sides of the roads and indicate (in miles per hour) the maximum speed you're allowed to drive. 

  • When parking on the street, make sure that you read all the signs around your spot. These usually indicate if and how long you are allowed to park there. 

This video is an overview of all the common traffic signs you may see while driving in the U.S.

Quiz

When a traffic signal shows a steady yellow light, the driver should:

Summary

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The information in this Byte can help you adjust to driving in a new place. Remember that the skills and experience of U.S. drivers are as diverse as its culture. Do not assume that all drivers are familiar with or follow the traffic laws outlined in this Byte.

Can you commit to practicing these safe driving tips and following traffics laws even if other drivers don't?

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This Byte has been authored by

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Margaret Proffitt

Learning Designer | Travel Junkie | Book Lover