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American Driving Style

If you're traveling to the United States from another country, there are certain customs that might catch you off guard. Driving in the U.S. is likely one of the biggest differences you'll have to get used to. Not only do you need to be conscious of the different rules of the road, but also of the different driving style.

The way that people drive will even vary from state to state and city to city. Our guide will outline some of the generalities you can expect, but be sure to do some research on the specific area you're visiting.

American Driving Habits

Depending on where you're visiting from, you might be pleasantly surprised or quite horrified at the way that people drive in the United States. In general, Americans are relatively relaxed drivers.

Unwritten Rules of the Road

With the exception of a few large cities, most American drivers are courteous and cautious on the road. They will usually:

  • Allow you room to make lane changes if you use your turn signals.
  • On the highways, keep to the:
    • Left lanes if they're traveling faster than other traffic.
    • Right lanes if they're slower drivers.
  • Refrain from using their horns, UNLESS you're causing danger or aren't paying attention (e.g., ignoring a green light).
  • Give pedestrians the right of way.

U.S. Driving Annoyances

Most negative driving experiences that you'll encounter will be in larger cities where traffic is dense and patience runs thin. Prepare yourself for the following situations if you're going to be driving in a large city:

  • Dense rush hour traffic.
    • You should plan accordingly if traveling in the morning or late afternoon—traffic could add hours onto your commute.
  • Road rage.
    • Do NOT instigate or engage other drivers in aggressive confrontation on the road—things could escalate to violence and even death.
  • Fair-weather drivers.
    • People who aren't used to rain or snow will not drive well when the weather turns.
  • Increased police presence.
    • Make sure that you're following all of the state traffic laws—American police are especially vigilant on the roads.
  • Running red lights and stop signs.
    • Whenever you're crossing through an intersection, take a moment to pause and check traffic coming from all directions, just in case someone decided against stopping themselves.
  • Tailgating.
    • Impatient drivers will sometimes leave barely any space between your car and theirs, but don't try to teach them a lesson by slamming on your brakes (you'll just end up making the situation worse).
    • Make sure that you always allow a good amount of room between your car and the car ahead of you.

American Cars

The cars that Americans drive may have some features that you're not used to.

First, vehicles in the U.S. are built with the steering wheel on the left side of the car. This could take some getting used to as you adapt to turning through intersections and switching lanes in the United States.

When switching lanes, you'll also need to get used to bigger blind spots. American cars tend to be larger than European and Asian cars, which means that you should check your side mirrors and over your shoulders twice before making the lane change.

Another difference is that more and more American cars are built with automatic transmissions. This means you don't have to manually change gears at all. In fact, it may even be more relaxing for you, as there's one less thing for you to worry about on the road.

A few more regularities of American cars include:

  • Air conditioner and heater.
  • Seat coolers and warmers.
  • Cruise control.
    • Set your car at a certain acceleration and it will maintain that speed until you turn cruise control off.
  • Anti-lock braking systems.
    • Keeps your car from spinning out when going around sharp turns and curves.
  • Power steering.
    • Mechanism that helps put more energy and precision behind your turns.

Finally, it's important to be aware: in some countries, new drivers are given “L-plates" to let other drivers know that they're just learning how to drive. In America, this is NOT the case. There is nothing to signal to you the experience another driver has on the road, other than observing the way they are driving. If they look young, and are driving less than perfectly, you may wish to give them extra room—both for them to learn and to avoid any unfortunate incidents.

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