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Driving Etiquette - USA

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In general, driving a motor vehicle in the United States of America is a widely varied skill. Every state has its own laws, guidelines, and types of intimidations on how to handle their cars. There are some basic laws that govern all states, though:

  • Keep your car on the right-hand side of the road, unless you like to meet interesting people face-to-face really fast.

  • Keep up to date on all the latest American curse words and gestures, as you will need to use and/or translate them when travelling.

  • Learn individual state laws. For instance, Delaware does not have a seatbelt law, but they don't need one since nobody drives for more than an hour there before hitting another state, and all the surrounding states do have seatbelt laws.

  • Speed limits give you an indication of how fast to drive. If you go below that number you are likely to be rear ended. This does not apply in Ohio though. If you drive at a speed anywhere near the limit it will be assumed you've done something illegal, and will be jailed accordingly.

  • Traffic lights: green means go, red means stop. Amber is where most foreign visitors have problems. In normal practice it means speed up to make the light before it turns red. Also, if you can see the traffic light for the cross traffic, an amber light for them means you may proceed before the light turns green, but do it quickly.

  • For many years in the United States it has been a law for the driver and front passenger to wear seatbelts, but many people have ignored it. But recently in Ohio, and probably a lot of other states, a law has been passed allowing police officers to pull over and fine a motorist just for not wearing their seatbelt. So when travelling in the States, buckle up, not just for your safety, but for wallet's safety as well.

Atlanta, Georgia Driving Etiquette

Firstly, the highways have six to eight lanes... in each direction. Apparently it is okay to exit on the right from the left-most lane, as long as you are travelling at least 80mph. If the person in front of you is only going 70mph (the legal limit is 55mph) it is okay to swerve off of the road, around the 'offender', and back onto the road, as long as you don't use a signal.

Be warned: Atlanta is the worst city for rubber-necking in the world. Everyone drives fast unless anything remotely interesting is happening on the other side of the road, then all traffic slows to a snail's pace.

California Driving Etiquette

Treat speed limit signs strictly as a suggestion, unless there is some form of police officer or highway patrolman around.

In a right-of-way situation, the most expensive car always has the right of way. It's not written anywhere, it's simply understood.

In Los Angeles County it is a generally accepted rule that three cars will pass through a given intersection after the light has turned red. No one seems to care, so feel free to take advantage of this.

Chicago Driving Etiquette

Driving in Chicago is like driving in a Drag Race. You must slam the gas immediately or risk being honked at. Conversely, if you're behind someone who should be going when they are not, it is your known duty to lay on your horn for at least five seconds to gently remind them to move their car. Turn signals are only for use when no one is behind you.

Florida Driving Etiquette

In Florida you basically have two kinds of drivers: relatively young executive-types and really old old-timers. This makes for general chaos for the following reasons.

The elderly drivers tend to own enormous, powerful luxury sedans, but, paradoxically, tend to drive them at extremely slow speeds - usually paying very little attention to what's going on around them (this includes the colour of traffic signals, noticing the lane changes occurring near their vehicles, the strange way in which their gas pedal is either put entirely to the floor or not depressed at all). At the same time, the young executive-type drivers tend to have slightly smaller, sportier and even faster cars - often luxury convertibles, and tend to drive them extremely fast, recklessly and without employing turn signals. Large intersections are particularly problematic due to the fact that no-one can seem to agree when the signals have changed.

Florida is also full of tourists who, despite never having driven abroad before, have made it their quest to find Disney World, even though their hotel is closer to Jacksonville than Orlando.

New Jersey Driving Etiquette

If you find yourself in New Jersey you will encounter a phenomenon known as 'psychic driving'. The masses of motorists will be thinking for the person ahead of them and responding according to what the person ahead should be driving like.

Psychic driving is a marvellous phenomenon to behold when it works. You will see hundreds of cars zooming along making the exact same turns and speed-ups and slowdowns all in unison. If you are not from New Jersey and happen to be driving there for the first time, this can be a terrifying experience.

New York City Driving Etiquette

Never use your turn signal when you want to change lanes. New York City drivers respond to this by congesting the lane you are trying to get into. Only use your turn signal for turns.

Oregon Driving Etiquette

When attempting to change lanes, Oregon drivers never signal. Furthermore, they move from lane to lane at a speed roughly equivalent to that of a snail with a hernia pulling a Volkswagen.

Even worse, when faced with a yellow warning sign bearing the phrase 'right lane ends', Oregon drivers invariably zip into the right lane and stand on the accelerator. This results in large blurs of speeding metal zooming past the out-of-state drivers who have smartly moved into the left lane and generally also causes large fits of yelling and obscene gesturing.

It seems that all highways in Oregon were designed by mentally-inhibited apes making paint splatters on canvas. As a result, many highways twist and turn and have oddly-placed divisions in the middle that split one highway into two which then go totally opposite directions. There is never any warning of these divisions, and you often end up in the lane furthest from the one you need to be in. As a result, it is customary for drivers to speed towards the concrete barrier signifying the end of the exit while trying to force other drivers to let them in. The other drivers never do, so the exiting driver always ends up smashing violently into the concrete barrier or slamming on their brakes and leaning on their horn in a vain attempt to convince the barrier to move.

Pittsburgh Driving Etiquette

One peculiar thing the drivers in Pittsburgh like to do is not go when the traffic signal turns green. It seems the local etiquette is for the first vehicle waiting to turn left to have the right of way, then traffic may resume at its usual frenetic pace. It can be quite embarrassing to not know this rule as the second vehicle in line. The light turns green, you hit the accelerator, you hit the car in front of you and you have a very difficult time of it in traffic court explaining why you rammed into the rear of another car.

Equally dangerous is being the first vehicle in a queue at a red light. The light turns green and you begin to go straight through the intersection only to find that the person on the other side has turned left into your path, assuming you would not drive through a green signal as per Pittsburgh-etiquette rules. That collision can be equally embarrassing because the traffic officer will invariably find you at fault for causing the accident by driving through the green signal.

St Louis, Missouri Driving Etiquette

St Louis has the highest ratio of stop signs to residents in the entire United States. You would think this would mean stopping early and often, but this is not the case. Instead of actually stopping, one must master the skill of slowing down enough to allow the other car at the intersection to cross before you attempt your crossing. If you actually come to a stop, madness will follow. All cars will stop, and being the friendly Midwest, everyone will wave everyone else on. If all the cars don't hit each other head on, the driver with the least valuable car goes first.

Signalling appears to be optional. Unfortunately if the option is taken, it is usually during or after the turn is completed.

Texas Driving Etiquette

Driving in Texas is simple. There are two speeds - stop, and goveryfast. Goveryfast should be reached as soon as possible, which means that everyone floors the gas pedal when the lights turn green. It's a speed that is often maintained for as long as possible, which means that many Texans brake very late and very hard. The steering wheel isn't necessarily a means for changing direction, in fact it's a handily positioned armrest. Sometimes it seems as if it is mandatory under state law to make all turns one-handed. Everyone drives in the outside lane until they need to make a turn, then they'll cut across all lanes of traffic. In fact, any manoeuvre should made at the last possible moment.

Having said all this, when driving in Texas you may notice the folks are very friendly on the long stretches of highway. They will even pull over onto the shoulder on the side of the road to let you pass. But these same people will ram you into the post if you meet up with them on I-20 entering Dallas. Once you get on the overpasses all bets are off and you're on your own.

In the town of Corpus Christi, Texas, for some reason, most of the shops lining the streets have their own entrances, but you cannot get from one shop to another without getting on the main road first. This means that there is someone trying to get on the main road every five feet, and as a result, no one on the main road wants to let anyone else in. There are two popular strategies for getting onto the main road, both of which are sure to draw a few shots from the concealed handguns that everyone is allowed to carry:

  • Slowly pull out into the right lane of traffic. You should be going slow enough that you cover less than three or four inches per hour. In a few days you will be far enough out so that someone will have to either let you in, or hit you.

  • Pull out into any lane of traffic as soon as you feel you are ready. Make sure you are looking anywhere other than the road, such as looking at an interesting tree, or at the floor behind your seat.

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