Once you get over the basics such as the steering wheel being on the wrong side driving in the USA is not that difficult. Generally the speeds are slower, most cars are automatic and the petrol is cheap. However, what will surprise you is that America is no longer in love with the iconic muscle cars of the past.
These days cars are selected on the size of their cup holders rather than their styling. This can be seen when you collect your rental car, you are more likely to get a Kia or a Hyundai rather than a Dodge or Chevy. So if you want to live the dream of driving a Mustang or Dodge Challenger through the desert in the style of ‘Vanishing Point’ make sure you get the car type guaranteed by the rental car company, it won’t be the same in a Kia Optima!
If you have never driven in America, don’t let any nervousness deter you, you will soon get over it. Driving is a great way to see the fabulously diverse country that is the USA. You get to meet some real characters (and the odd bods) in the small towns, you can stop at your leisure and get a real feel of the place. Try to avoid the Interstates if time allows, like our motorways they may be the quickest route but they are not the most interesting.
Here is our slightly irreverent top 5 loves and hates about driving in the USA.
Our Top 5 Loves About Driving In The USA
1. You Can Turn Right At A Red Light
Jeremy Clarkson referred to this as America’s only contribution to civilised society. A little extreme but it is useful, be careful of crossing pedestrians.
2. Cheap Petrol
Petrol (Gas!) is much cheaper and will not be a significant cost during your visit. Most petrol stations are pre-pay. Just pay at the kiosk before filling, the pump will cut off once the pre-pay amount is reached. The grade of petrol is lower than the UK, just pick the option ‘regular’
Tip: Some pumps require you to lift a lever on the pump itself before it works (where the nozzle is placed). Knowing this will help you from standing around looking confused for 5 minutes.
3. Cruise Control
With long distances and straight roads this feature can come in useful. Just remember you can’t leave it on and have a sleep or go and have a cup of coffee in the back of your moving camper van. Don’t do a ‘Ron Burgundy’ from Anchorman 2.
4. The Roadside Advertisements
These will keep you amused on a long drive. On our drive from Memphis to Nashville we had a bizarre mix of adverts for evangelical churches, adult superstores and the odd gun and knife store for good measure. If you feel the sudden urge to buy a Ninja Throwing Star you should find one available at the gas station, well at least in a Tennessee gas station!
5. You Can Undertake
If you are stuck behind a car doing 40mph in the outside lane don’t worry you can undertake, but see number 5 below.
Our Top 5 Hates About Driving In The USA
1. The Cars
As already mentioned, the classic American car brands of the past are being replaced by anonymous bland imports from the far east. The big rental companies often feature Fords, Chevrolets and Jeeps on their websites but the chances are you will end up with a Kia, (a bit disappointing from the likes of Hertz, Alamo and Avis).
So if you want a specific car type make sure you get your selection guaranteed. One of the best cars we had was the Chevy Tahoe, a good old American monster of a car, see picture below.
Tip: It may seem obvious but make sure you have enough luggage space, although some SUV’s seem big, storage space can often be relatively small.
2. Traffic Lights
When it’s time to go the lights change straight from red to green. Where’s the amber! There is no “Get Set‘ before the ‘Go‘. I love the ‘Get Set‘ part.
3. The Standard Of Driving
Most drivers are OK but as American cars are now predominately designed as a place to drink oversized coffee and use your phone, many drivers are slurping and texting. I know we are not much better in the UK but some US drivers have refined their supplementary activities into and art form. Just watch their texting skills as they charge towards you as you cross the road.
4. The Four Way Stop
The US alternative to a roundabout. The problem with the four way stop is that even Americans don’t seen to know how to use them. Basically who stops first gets to go first, if stopping together the car on your right goes first. There’s more to it than that but no one seems to know, just act confident and go.
5. You Can Undertake
Lane discipline, they have never heard of it – any lane at any speed. You will get stuck behind a car doing 40mph in the outside lane while the driver concentrates on his burger and fries. Although you can undertake it takes some getting used to for a UK driver. Also take care as cars frequently change lane and do like to cut in and out.
Have you driven in the US recently, why not share your experiences and observations, thank you.