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How to drive in the United States

Driving in the United States is much easier than you might think. Traffic laws are more respected, so even the absence of power at traffic lights is no reason to panic. Everything flows smoothly.

The United States of America is the country of cars. In 2010 alone, there were around 251 million vehicles1 – almost one per inhabitant. Of these, around 238.3 million are classified as passenger cars, including cars and SUVs. With so many cars, the country has structured its cities and highways to allow good circulation and to accommodate the entire fleet. This structure includes, of course, easily enforceable traffic rules.

1. “Federal Highway Administration, number of drivers and motor vehicles since 1960”

Find out what Americans are like behind the wheel, what to do to rent a car and get around the roads and cities.

As the USA is a country with independent states, traffic laws can vary slightly. For example, in Nevada it is possible to turn right when the traffic light is red. In other states, you can only do this when the light is green.

But what is important to know in order to drive well in the United States? What are the main traffic rules in force?

To introduce the current driving rules in Nevada (but also in other US states), we have prepared a list of the main points to know:

1) Speed limits:

Speed limits must always be respected. There are police officers all over the city, always on the lookout for any violations.

If the maximum speed allowed is 45 mph (miles per hour), the ideal is to drive between 40 and 45 mph. No more, no less. Fines are issued both to those who speed above and those who speed far below the permitted speed.

But be careful! Always follow the speed of the flow of vehicles! If any vehicle has to be fined, it will always be the first (the one pulling traffic). If the speed limit is 35 mph and the cars in front of you are driving at 60 mph, go with the flow and keep up the speed, because at a slower speed, you’ll be holding up traffic.

2) Stop Sign:

The STOP sign really means “STOP”, so you need to slow down and stop, even if only for 01 second.

Curiosity: There are plainclothes policemen in apparently normal vehicles. The only difference in the cars is the presence of the siren, which is next to the rear-view mirror (see photo opposite). To avoid being caught by the police, always follow the traffic rules to the letter.

3) 4-Way Stop:

This sign is placed at intersections where there are no traffic lights. This means that all vehicles must stop, with the vehicles that arrived at the intersection leaving first. Therefore, when you are driving and come across this sign, pay attention to the order of arrival of the vehicles, as there is a right time to exit and cross the intersection. In the event of a power failure at the traffic lights, the 4-way stop rule prevails.

4) All way STOP:

Same rule as above, but used at intersections with more directions.

Another variation is for the 3-way STOP, which is used at T-shaped intersections – that is, with only three directions.


5) Turn right when the signal is closed:

Even at signs where the light is red, indicating a ban, you can turn right if traffic allows. This is because turning right – for cars already in the right-hand lane, of course – does not interfere with traffic.

Attention! Under no other circumstances is it permitted to turn when the light is red.
Regardless of the place, time and conditions, the rule of the road must always be respected.

Some streets and avenues do not allow this conversion, but when this happens there is a sign indicating the prohibition. A common example is this white rectangular sign, which warns you not to turn right when the light is red.

Another important detail to remember is that pedestrians always have the right of way! There are traffic lights for pedestrians, but once they set foot on the crosswalk, the preference is theirs. Remember that life comes first!

6) Sirens or lights – Emergency vehicles:

Whenever you hear the siren of emergency vehicles (police, fire engines, ambulances and even tow trucks), you need to slow down and, in most cases, stop – whether the vehicle is traveling in the same direction as you or not. Normally, cars in the other lane only stop when there is a central median dividing the directions. In addition, it is prudent to free up the lane to make it easier for vehicles to move, as is already normal in the traffic rules of most countries.

To avoid any doubts about changing lanes or stopping the car, we recommend following the flow. This attitude always avoids mishaps.

A pertinent note: In the United States, if the siren is on, it’s really an emergency. There is no abuse of the law by turning on the siren just to get out of a traffic jam.

In the image below, the cars were stationary while the ambulance drove between them. This pipeline is widely used in Nevada.


7) U-turns

In Nevada, U-turns are generally allowed on most streets, as long as it’s safe to do so. They are normally only prohibited in the following cases:

  • When there is a sign indicating the prohibition;
  • In a Business Area, except at an intersection or in an area suitable for U-turns;
  • In curves;
  • In a place where there is less than 500 meters of visibility in both directions.


8) Turn left or right:

Before doing these maneuvers, make sure you’re in the right lane.

On avenues there is at least one special lane for turning left, and it is compulsory for the vehicle to be in this appropriate place.
As expected, these lanes are located to the left of the tracks. Once in these lanes, turning is compulsory and drivers cannot simply change their minds and go straight instead of turning.

Likewise, on many avenues there are special right-turn lanes, which are located on the right-hand side of the road, of course.

As mentioned in item 5, remember that you can still turn right at a red light.

Discover the roads of the USA! Understand the numbers used to name them and what each one means.

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