rules of the road

Guide to the U.S. Rules of the Road

If you’re heading out on a summer road trip this year, it’s important to brush up on the basic rules of the road. On the other hand, you may be visiting the U.S. for the first time or moving here permanently and need a better understanding of common traffic laws. Whatever the case, this article is intended to inform those who are unfamiliar with basic signage and roadway demeanor.

General rules of the road in the U.S.

Before we begin our guide on the most important rules of the road, we’ll start with a few reminders on U.S. traffic laws. Though they might seem obvious to some, for foreign visitors or those who are new to driving, this information is crucial to know before embarking on U.S. roadways.

Let’s break down the basics:

  • Always drive on the right side of the road
  • White lines separate traffic lanes going in the same direction (hashed or broken white lines means you can change lanes)
  • Yellow lines separate traffic moving in opposite directions (hashed or broken yellow lines means you can carefully pass another vehicle with attention to oncoming traffic)
  • Always use the left lane of a highway or roadway to pass other traffic.
  • Yield to pedestrians and cross walks at all times.
  • Stop and pull over when an emergency vehicle is passing by with flashing lights or sirens.
  • Be cautious of bicyclists and bike lanes. Many roads in the U.S. require vehicles to share the road with cyclists.
  • You can turn right at a red light as long as a No Turn on Red sign is not present. Wait until oncoming traffic clears to make this turn.
  • Oncoming traffic always has the right of way. Don’t make a left turn at an intersection until traffic has passed.

In addition to basic traffic rules, each state upholds their own set of guidelines as well. While most are self-explanatory, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with local road customs too. Before you hit the highway, take a trip to your local motor vehicle department or do some research online to make sure you are best informed.

Common road signs

If you’re preparing for your first driving test this year, these tips will come in handy. Road signs are essentially the fundamentals of driving. The differing shapes and colors are true indicators of how you should drive as well as when you should watch out for potential hazards. In the U.S., there are over 500 federally-approved road signs. That’s a lot to learn! However, these are the main ones you should know for conquering your first few hours on the road.

Stop Sign: Red octagonal sign that indicates you must come to a complete stop. Be weary of who has the right of way at an intersection (typically the person who arrives first).

Speed Limit: Designated sign for establishing the speed limit on the road you are traveling on . Keep in mind that limits change regularly, even on major highways.

One Way: Horizontal rectangular sign that indicates how only a certain direction may travel down a road. The arrow on the sign specifies which way you can travel.

rules of the road

Parking: Blue and white sign that indicates designated parking areas. Look out for No Parking Signs as well as Handicapped parking spots that restrict certain drivers from parking in chosen locations.

Aside from road signage, you’ll also need to master the coloration and timing of traffic lights. 

Green = Go

Yellow = Prepare to stop

Red = Stop until the light changes

If you’re used to driving in some European countries, yellow typically comes before the green light. This can be confusing for some visitors so it’s important to note the difference. In addition, if you see a flashing yellow light, it means you put proceed with caution. Be mindful of other traffic approaching an intersection before you pass through.

Safety reminders

The U.S. upholds some of the strictest safety laws around the world. For that reason, it’s vital to know and follow these common safety guidelines to avoid an increased accident risk or ticketing. No matter how short or far you are driving, always remember to follow the upcoming reminders:

  • Always wear a seat belt. Check to see that all passengers are strapped in before driving away.
  • Never drink and drive. The legal limit is .08% blood alcohol concentration, which equates to roughly 2 drinks in one hour.
  • Make sure young children are properly secure in car seats, booster seats, and seat belts.
  • Avoid distracted driving, which includes texting, talking on the phone, or eating while focus should be on the road.
  • Use headlights appropriately. Make sure headlights are turned on between dusk and dawn. Driving without quality headlights will impair your visibility.

We hope you enjoyed our guide on the rules of the road! If you’re looking for more information on car safety, check out our recent blog post on Common Safety Features Explained in your vehicle.

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Linzi Martin
Linzi Martin has worked as a content manager, consultant, and writer for the past six years. She's handled everything from blogs and articles to e-books and social media content. Her work has been featured in various publications including Apartment Guide, The Startup, and Voyage Magazine. Outside of work, Linzi enjoys staying active, frequenting new restaurants around South Florida, and spending time with her family.

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