It’s one of the most classic travel experiences anyone could have — a roadtrip in the USA. It gives you the freedom and flexibility traditional holidays just don’t offer (plus you can avoid airport stress, especially if you’re one of the 25% of travellers who admits to missing flights).
But you might have questions and concerns if you’re not used to driving on their roads. We’ve put together a guide so you feel better prepared for what’s ahead. Here are five safety tips for road tripping in the USA.
- Learn the road rules for each state you visit
Some things stay the same wherever you go (e.g. you always drive on the right-hand side of the road). But a lot of rules vary from state to state, so it’s important that you learn the ones you need.
Knowing what to expect before you arrive is a huge stress reliever and means you’ll drive more safely.
Useful traffic laws to know:
- Speed limits
- Age limits
- Drink or drug driving laws
- Change your driving to suit the conditions
There are lots of types of roads in the US. Interstate roads, mountain paths, desert tracks… all of them require a different approach, and then of course there’s the weather to think about as well. Here’s some advice for driving in different conditions:
When it’s raining
Drive slower than you would in ideal conditions, and don’t drive through any large pools of water — you won’t know how deep they are.
Keep the windscreen clean and clear. Remove snow from your roof as well, in case any sudden movements make it fall down and block your view.
Use your headlights if you can’t see very far ahead and drive slowly and gently. You may need to pull away in second gear if it’s snowy or icy.
Top tip: Make sure you have antifreeze, snow chains, an ice scraper and a shovel. If you’re hiring a car, the company should provide these for you.
On interstate roads
Interstate roads are at least two lanes wide, with slower traffic staying in the far-right lane and faster traffic on the left. You’re allowed to pass another vehicle if there’s a broken line separating the lane.
Remember: Each exit number refers to the number of miles you’ve reached on the road. If you pass exit 280 and the next exit is ten miles away, it’ll be exit 290, not exit 281.
On mountain roads
Make sure your car has a full fuel tank before you set off, in case you don’t find another gas station for a long time.
Once you’re on the road, use low gears when going up or down steep hills. It’s tempting to stay as close to the middle of the road as possible, but this is dangerous if cars are coming the other way.
In the desert
First things first, let someone know where you’re going and which route you’re taking. They’ll be able to tell the authorities if you don’t come back in good time. Bring plenty of water with you, and keep an eye on your car. Roll down your windows if it starts to overheat, or pull over and give the engine time to cool down.
- Avoid driving carelessly
You don’t have a say in the way others drive, but you do have control over your own behaviour. Simple precautions like checking your blind spot before you change lanes, maintaining a sensible, appropriate speed and leaving plenty of room between you and the driver in front will reduce the risk of accidents happening.
Ignore any road rage and do your best to stay calm.
- Don’t drink and drive
Maybe this goes without saying. But even one drink can affect your ability to drive safely, so it’s just not worth the risk. If want to have a drink, stop for the day and continue driving again when you’re able to do so. Generally, the body gets rid of alcohol at the rate of one unit per hour.
- Use your common sense
It’s all too easy to forget about the sensible stuff when you’re ready to travel and enjoy yourself. But it’s worth bearing the following tips in mind:
- Always fill up your tank when you’ve got the chance.
- Carry a smartphone, a portable charger and a torch with you at all times.
- Look up information about roadside assistance in each state. Write it down and keep it somewhere safe.
- Don’t pick up hitchhikers, no matter how friendly they might be.
- Don’t stop on a road in the middle of the night.
Have you ever been on a US road trip before? Let us know in the comments!