Driving in the USA in a Rental Car

Driving in the USA in a Rental car

Driving a rental car in the USA for the first time can be pretty daunting and even downright scary as you leave the airport on the wrong side of the road with each and every road looking like the M25 on a busy day. Here I can give you a few pointers from aspects that we struggled with the first time we arrived over 20 years ago.

Probably the most important thing to note is that the road name dangling from overhead in front of you is the name of the road you are crossing, not the name of the road you are on. It can be pretty terrifying when, with map in hand, you appear to be travelling on multiple different roads without ever turning off. I still remember arriving at our hotel with absolutely no clue as to how we got there (I was the navigator!) because we had apparently been on so many different roads. As it turns out, we now know that we were on a straight road from the airport with our hotel on it!  To find out which road you are on, or to check at any time, have a look at the sign hanging from the crossing traffic and that will let you know.










Whilst on the subject of maps, the maps provided by rental companies, tourism companies or freebie coupon booklets are useful as a guide, but are not accurate at all. Roads and junctions will be missing if they are not felt to be relevant to tourists, junctions on a main road may be numbered or not, depending on how the person drawing the map felt on the day. This makes it difficult to navigate via a map unless you purchase a proper one. As a side note, the rental companies tend to provide you with a reasonable map of the city where you collect the car, along with a map of the state, and major urban areas, but these will feature major roads only.

Typical Tourist Map

Typical style of tourist maps

To help you locate junctions on major roads, these are not numbered in numerical order as in the UK. Each major road is marked with mile markers from the start to end of the road. The number of the junction corresponds to the mile marker location. It is common then to go from junction 42 to junction 47 without having missed any!

As a general rule, you can make a right turn on a red light as long as nothing is coming that you would obstruct. You must make sure no one is crossing the road, and come to a stop before you creep around the corner. Some junctions will tell you that this is possible, most will not. A few junctions clearly state that a right turn on red is not possible so always check around before acting.

There are many smaller junctions that feature a 4 way stop. These can have 2 lanes of traffic for each direction, but are still minor roads. Your 4 wheels must come to a full And complete stop before proceeding in a first come first served order. It is important therefore to note the order of arrival at the junction.

Unlike the UK where exits to the right (on a dual carriage way or motorway) are uncommon, they crop up quite often (to the left in the US of course) in America. Similarly, you may not always be able to turn left when coming out of a side road. In this case, turn right, and then move over to the central lane ready to perform a U turn at the next lights or crossing section. If a U turn is not permitted, this will be posted on a sign.

Finally, Florida recently passed a law requiring all traffic to move out of the inside lane if an emergency vehicle is in attendance for any reason. If weight of traffic will not permit you to move over you must slow right down and pass the incident at 25 mph or less.

Move Over Traffic Law

Move Over Traffic Sign in Florida