U.S. Rules of the Road - Driving-Tests.org (2023)

Whether visiting or moving to another country, it is crucial to familiarize yourself with the traffic laws that surround you. No matter what your intentions are toward driving, learning the rules of the road will keep you safe in an unfamiliar nation.

Some rules in America vary from state to state (and even in some larger cities). These differences can pertain to signage, speed limits, and the punishments for breaking certain laws. However, if you choose to drive when visiting or moving to the United States, there are a number of key regulations that apply across the country.

Good to know

It's useful to know that the general attitude toward driving in the US is one of adventurous spirit. The idea of a "road trip" is part of the American way of life and having a car and taking a drive is an activity that people in the US embrace as a pastime. It is something a family might do on a weekend, or something a couple or individual might find themselves doing just for fun.

While there is sometimes an aura of relaxation and leisure about the driving experience, traffic laws in the U.S. are rather strict and straying from these can cause serious trouble. In addition to arrest by police, the insurance structure means filing civil suits against others is very common. A small infraction or accident can prove disastrous.

Therefore, it is crucial to truly understand all the rules. That way, if you are put in a stressful situation you can react accordingly without hesitation.

Some General Driving Rules in the US

U.S. Rules of the Road - Driving-Tests.org (1)
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There are many rules to know. Before we go into some of the most important ones, you should reference your state's motor vehicle department to get a handle on any questions you may have.

That being said, a few things to remember when driving include:

  • Steering wheels are always situated on the left side of the car.
  • Always drive on the right side of the road.
  • White lines separate lanes of traffic traveling the same direction.
    • Hashed or broken lines means you may change lanes when it is safe.
    • Solid white lines mean stay in your lane.
  • Yellow lines separate traffic moving in opposing directions.
    • Hashed or broken yellow lines mean you can carefully pass, paying attention to oncoming traffic.
    • Never cross a solid yellow line (or double yellow line).
  • When turning left at an intersection, pass in front of any cars that are turning left from the opposing direction (Do not try to pass behind them).
  • Use the left lane to pass other cars traveling your direction.
    • Do not pass in the right lane unless absolutely necessary.
    • If you are driving in the far left hand lane and someone would like to pass you, move over to the right lane when it is safe to do so and allow them to pass.
  • You must ALWAYS yield to pedestrians.
    • Come to a complete stop whenever you see pedestrians trying to cross the street.
  • Never pass a school bus if it has flashing red lights. Wait until the lights have stopped.
  • Be aware of bicyclists. Often they share the road with cars and are supposed to also follow general traffic laws.
    • Be particularly careful about driving in cities with bike lanes -- always check before turning that a bike is not coming.
  • It is mandatory to pull over or stop at an intersection to allow an emergency vehicle to pass you if you see one traveling with lights flashing and/or a siren running.
  • Do not overuse your car horn. Horns are used almost exclusively for emergency situations or for when you feel unsafe.

Road Signs and Traffic Signals to Watch For

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Road signs and traffic signals in the US are likely unfamiliar to you if you've come from another country. While many are relatively self-explanatory, some can be more confusing if you haven't taken the time to study them before you drive.

In addition, laws that surround traffic lights may be different than those followed in other countries.

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Road Signs

Stop Sign: a red octagonal sign (generally with a white lettered STOP) indicates that you must come to a complete stop at an intersection.

  • Many intersections have two stop signs but oncoming traffic is NOT required to stop. Be careful when crossing or turning.
  • Right of way at an intersection with a four-way stop is determined by who has come to the intersection first.

Yield Sign: A white or yellow triangular sign indicates to allow oncoming traffic the right of way.

  • You must wait for oncoming traffic to clear before moving ahead, therefore, it is usually appropriate to slow down and check oncoming traffic before progressing.

One Way: A thin horizontal rectangular sign (usually white with a black arrow) indicates that you may only progress a certain way down a street - the arrow should tell you which way.

Speed Limit: these signs (usually a large vertical rectangular sign) say how fast you may go in miles per hour in a particular area.

  • Limits can change relatively often, even on the highway, so pay attention.
  • Sometimes these also indicate a minimum speed.

Railroad Crossing: Usually a large X or a pair of crossed train tracks.

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  • May include the words railroad crossing or letters RR.
  • Lights and ringing should indicate if there is a train coming. If you reach a railroad crossing sign that does not have accompanying lights, come to a complete stop and check both ways before proceeding.

Parking/No Parking

  • Read all signs to make sure you are legally allowed to park. Many signs have a time limitation and there can be other restrictions like a necessary permit.
  • Some spots are only for handicapped drivers.
  • A curb painted yellow usually indicates no parking is allowed.

Traffic Lights

  • Generally with red, yellow, and green lights.
    • Green means you may go through.
    • Yellow means to slow down in preparation to stop.
    • Red means you must stop until the light changes.
    • A flashing yellow light indicates proceeding with caution.
  • It is legal to turn right at a red light unless indicated by a NO TURN ON RED sign.
    • Oncoming traffic has the right of way - wait until traffic clears before turning.
  • It is not legal to make a left turn at a red light.


Road safety rules are universal the world over, but in the US there are strict laws to back up some of these regulations.

  • Always wear a safety belt when driving or riding in a car.
  • Younger children must be in car seats or booster seats and cannot ride in the front passenger seat. Rules on this vary slightly from state to state, but are generally similar.
  • It is illegal to drink and drive in all 50 states. While punishments vary, .08% is the blood alcohol concentration that is the legal limit (roughly 2 drinks in an hour, but depends on a multitude of factors such as metabolism, weight, etc.).
  • Do not text and drive. Some states prohibit the use of handheld devices.
  • Headlights must be used in inclement weather or after sunset. In many states, if you are using the windshield wipers, headlights are also required.
  • Hitchhiking is generally illegal throughout the US. Do not pick anyone up who is asking for a ride.
  • If you have an emergency, call 911 to inform police.

U.S. Traffic Tickets and Violations

Traffic tickets can be received for many infractions including parking violations, speeding, or going through stop signs. Most tickets result in a fine which is based on the severity of infraction and local laws.

Some tickets may be given without you noticing. There is increasing use of cameras to monitor traffic. For example, if you go through a toll booth without paying, a camera will likely catch you and send a ticket to the owner of the vehicle. If it is a rental car they will add a ticket cost to your bill.

Paying a fee as soon as possible is good practice. Depending on the state you may be able to pay your fine online.

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If Pulled Over By The Police

  • If a police officer asks you to pull over, or is running lights directly behind you, pull over immediately and stop on the side of the road where it is safe to do so.
  • DO NOT get out of the car unless asked to do so by the officer.
  • Keep your hands visible and on the steering wheel.
  • Keep license in a convenient location and your registration in the glove compartment so it is easy to access.

Types of Roads

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There are many ways roads are referred to across the US, but the major categories amount to:

Local roads running through small communities and going into neighborhoods. These are generally small roads with low speed limits. While most are paved, some are dirt or gravel.

Collector roads generally are providing access to businesses or as thoroughfares for access from different local roads. Speed limits can vary. Collector roads sometimes go through small towns and the limit can drop quickly and dramatically. Be careful as these places are closely monitored by police.

Arterial roads are highly trafficked generally urban roads. Centrally located these drive traffic from collector roads onto major highways. Arterial roads often have traffic signals and signs to be aware of.

(Video) Road rules: roundabouts

Freeways are the most highly trafficked roads and offer speedier travel since they have very little traffic lights and have higher speed limits. On and off ramps connect a freeway to an arterial road.

Tollways (or Turnpikes) are generally a kind of freeway (though not always) that require users to pay a certain amount for use. Fees are based on vehicle type and can vary.

  • Keep cash and change on you at all times if you are traveling toll roads.
  • You might want to get a device that allows for automatic tolls to be taken out via a transponder. They make travel easier and allow you to use automatic toll lanes.
  • Some rental car companies will rent one of these to you for a fee.

Tolls and Toll Violations

  • There are usually options to pay tolls either in cash to a person, machine, or via the automatic transponder.
  • Some lanes are only for those with the transponder device.
  • If you find yourself stuck accidentally in an automatic toll lane and you do not have the transponder, you will be in violation if you do not pay the toll.
    • You may be able to pay online within a certain amount of time without getting an added fine.

These are just some of the many laws and regulations you will want to know about when driving in the U.S. With some common sense and a little understanding, you will soon see why so many Americans love to "hit the road" every year.


What are the 10 basic rules of driving? ›


How do I study for my drivers test? ›

How to pass your driver's test
  1. Read your state's driver's manual.
  2. Take a practice written driver's test.
  3. Research and then practice potential test driving routes near your DMV.
  4. Don't skimp on behind-the-wheel practice time.
  5. Practice avoiding common newbie driver mistakes.
  6. Practice in adverse conditions.
9 Oct 2017

How is the driving test in USA? ›

The test typically takes place in the parking lot and on streets surrounding the DMV building. All U.S. states require an applicant to pass a road test before being issued a license. However, some states will waive the DMV road test if you already hold a driver's license issued by certain foreign countries.

Do you hold your hands at 10 and 2 or 9 and 3? ›

You probably learned to keep your hands at the 10 and 2 o'clock positions on the steering wheel. Today, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommends drivers put their hands at the 9 and 3 o'clock positions.

What are the 3 hand signals? ›

There are three hand signals that all drivers should know: left turn, right turn, and stopping. In case of an emergency where a turn indicator light has gone out, they could be your only way of alerting other drivers to your plans. All signals are given out the driver's side window, using the left arm.

What are the 7 hand signals for driving? ›

Learn about the different hand signals to use while driving and which situations it makes sense to use them in.
  • Left Turn Hand Signal.
  • Right Turn Hand Signal.
  • Slow Down or Stop Hand Signal.
  • When to Use Hand Signals.
  • When Tail Lights or Brake Lights aren't Working.

How do I pass my driving test ASAP? ›

How to pass your driving test first time
  1. Practice driving a lot - then practice some more. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect. ...
  2. Know what to expect in your driving test. ...
  3. Learn from other people's mistakes. ...
  4. Visit the driving test centre before your test. ...
  5. Prepare to the hilt. ...
  6. Breathe through your nerves.

Is hitting a curb a fail? ›

Hitting the kerb (or 'curb' as it's spelt in other areas) during a driving test is a concern for most learner drivers as it can result in a potential driving test failure.

What is the hardest part of the driving test? ›

The Hardest Part Of Passing A Driving Test Is…

It's hard to focus on obeying road rules, following the speed limit, and making good decisions while you're nervous, and even experienced learner drivers fail because they made a simple mistake due to nerves.

What is the number one reason people fail their driving test? ›

Not using mirrors correctly when changing direction

It's something that sounds very simple – look in your mirrors before changing direction, but it's amongst the most common reasons for learner drivers failing their tests.

Is driving in USA difficult? ›

All you have to do is just use the steering to make sure you are on right course… Ultimately, what I am trying to say is driving in America is very simple (Unless you have a manual drive vehicle) and there is nothing to worry if you do not have much experience driving car or any four wheeler.

How many people fail their driving test USA? ›

If you feel anxious before a test, you certainly aren't alone! Maybe that's why around 50% of people fail their driving test the first time. Moreover, up to 40% of people fail their written test the first time they attempt it.

How long is USA driving test? ›

The road test typically takes about 20 to 30 minutes. Even after you pass the test, there may be additional wait time at the DMV to process your paperwork, take your picture, and issue a license once you pass.

What is the 8 4 hand position? ›

There are two correct hand positions on a steering wheel: "9 and 3" and "8 and 4." These methods refer to visualizing the steering wheel as the face of a clock, and positioning the left hand at the 9 or 8 and the right hand at the 3 or 4 o'clock position.

Do you hold the steering wheel at 10 and 2? ›

NHTSA's recommendations have changed in recent years, however. The organization now suggest drivers lower their hands a bit to the “9 and 3” position. The change has been recommended in part because the “10 and 2” hand position could be dangerous in cars with smaller steering wheels that have air bags.

What are the 4 A's in driving? ›

In the past, some have called the topics in this lesson Aggression, Alcohol, Accidents and Awareness.

What are the 3 items you must have when driving? ›

License, Insurance, and Registration

Hopefully you won't be pulled over, but it's the law to have these documents whenever you are driving.

What 4 driving behaviors should you always avoid? ›

It's important to keep these factors in mind, as most drivers can check off at least one of these driving behaviors.
Here are our top 10 dangerous driving habits:
  • Brake checking. ...
  • Tailgating. ...
  • Speeding. ...
  • Swerving. ...
  • Texting/driving distracted. ...
  • Avoiding turn signals. ...
  • Running a red light. ...
  • Impairment.
16 Jun 2017

What is the signal for an orange hand? ›

A flashing or steady orange hand symbol means pedestrians must not begin to cross. A pedestrian facing a walk signal may cross the road in the direction of the signal. While crossing, pedestrians have the right-of-way over all vehicles.

What is the first thing you should do when a vehicle starts to skid? ›

What Should You Do If Your Vehicle Is Skidding?
  • Take your feet off the pedals. Don't brake, and don't accelerate.
  • Turn the steering wheel in the direction you want to go.
  • As the vehicle turns back, steer in the other direction to stop turning and return to your path of travel.
  • Don't jerk the steering wheel!

How do you indicate a right turn with your arm? ›

Extend your left arm out sideways bent at a 90-degree angle at the elbow joint, hand pointing upward and the palm of hand facing forward. Extend your right arm out straight with all fingers extended or use your index finger to point right.

What is the 7 second rule when driving? ›

For example, if driving a 60-foot vehicle at speeds over 40 mph, you should leave seven seconds between you and the vehicle ahead. You arrive at this number by calculating one second for each 10 feet of vehicle length plus an additional second for safety, a total of seven seconds.

What are the 4 driving rules? ›

The Four Rules
  • Rule #1: First to arrive, first to drive. If you arrive at the intersection first, come to a complete stop, then proceed. ...
  • Rule #2: Right of way goes to the right. ...
  • Rule #3: Straight doesn't have to wait. ...
  • Rule #4: Left turn yields to right.
30 Mar 2021

What are the 3 types of indicators driving? ›

Hand signals
  • Extend your arm to the right and bend at the elbow to signal you're stopping.
  • Extend your arm to the right to signal you're turning right.
  • 'No left turn' road signs, indicating you must not turn left.
  • 'Left lane must turn left' road sign, indicating you must turn left if you're driving in the left lane.

Do bananas help you pass your driving test? ›

Bananas are high in vitamin B, which can help calm the nervous system. Bananas also contain tryptophan, a type of protein that the body converts into serotonin, aka the 'happy hormone' which will help you to remain positive for your driving test.

What time is the best to take a driving test? ›

5pm – 6pm appears to be the most successful slot

Early birds are out of luck though, with 6am-7am (38%) recorded as the second-lowest pass percentage, only losing out to tests taken after 7pm (30%).

What are the maneuvers in driving test 2022? ›

an eyesight check. 'show me, tell me' vehicle safety questions. general driving ability. reversing your vehicle.
Pulling over at the side of the road
  • normal stops at the side of the road.
  • pulling out from behind a parked vehicle.
  • a hill start.

How many maneuvers do you get in a driving test? ›

Driving test manoeuvres

There are three manoeuvres in total, and you will be asked to carry out one of them during your practical. Let's take a closer look at what these manoeuvres are and what else you might need to know.

What time are you most likely to pass your driving test? ›

The best time of day to take your test

Around two thirds (65%) of those taking evening tests pass. The worst time slot is between 11am and 1pm with a pass rate of 48%, while the early morning slot of 7am to 9am – when you would assume people would be at their most alert – returns a 50% pass rate.

What state has the hardest drive test? ›

Washington has the hardest driving test in the US
  • Number of graded elements related to traffic laws, such as signs, on the driving test.
  • Number of graded driver behavior elements on the driving test.
  • Number of attempts to pass the driving test before you pay another fee.

Why is parallel parking so hard? ›

It is one of the hardest skills for a driver to learn because it involves maneuvering your car to fit perfectly between two already parked vehicles. It needs a delicate touch, presence of mind, and the use of car mirrors. You can't boast about being a great driver unless you've mastered parallel parking!

How many people pass their driving test first time? ›

Women have a theory pass rate of 49% and males fall behind at 45%.

Did Albert Einstein fail his drivers test? ›

Even the brightest among us has failed - probably more than the rest of us. Einstein failed his drivers test 3 times - he couldn't parallel park.

What percentage of drivers fail first time? ›

The data from the DVSA shows that there is a drop of over 226,094 tests conducted between the 1st and 4th attempts it is interesting to see that the pass rate percentage still remains 45%. This shows that not only are you more likely to pass your driving test on the first attempt!

What is the speed limit in USA? ›

What is the speed limit in the USA? The maximum speed limit on rural interstate highways is 70mph, with a 45mph minimum. On four-lane divided highways, the limit is 65mph, and on all other highways it's 55mph. If you are driving through a designated school zone, you must drop to 15mph.

Which state is the easiest to drive in? ›

Best states for drivers
  1. Ohio. According to our research, Ohio is the best state for drivers. ...
  2. Iowa. In terms of weather and safety, Iowa ranks in the middle of the pack. ...
  3. Utah. Utah ranks in the top 10 best states for safety, driving quality and weather. ...
  4. Indiana. ...
  5. Idaho.
15 Nov 2021

What US state has the best drivers? ›

Connecticut has the best drivers nationwide. States with a high number of DUIs also ranked high for other dangerous driving behaviors like speeding and accidents.

What are automatic fails? ›

Automatic Fails on the Driving Test in California

You can miss up to 15 points before you automatically fail. However, there are some things that will result in an automatic fail on the driving test. In general, this refers to things that could cause a fatal crash or force the examiner to intervene.

Do most people pass their driving test second time? ›

You're not alone. If you fail your first test, it's really easy to let it knock your confidence going forward. But you should remember, you're not alone in this. In fact, 47.6% of learner drivers pass on their second attempt, so you've got nothing to worry about.

What country has the hardest driving test? ›

The most difficult tests to pass

In China, the theory test contains 100 questions and requires you to memorise 1,000 in total. There are then two separate practical assessments, followed by a final theory test. New drivers in Croatia must attend 70-100 hours of mandatory driving school before attempting their test.

What is the 10 second rule in driving? ›

The rule of seconds advises that if you're driving below 40 mph, you should maintain at least one second of distance for each 10 feet of vehicle length. Over 40 mph, add an extra second.

What are 15 good driving habits? ›

Defensive Drivers Choose Caution Over Speed, and Other Core Concepts of Road Safety
  • Prepare before you leave. ...
  • Look ahead. ...
  • Prepare for the unexpected. ...
  • Don't speed. ...
  • Don't drive when impaired. ...
  • Always wear a seatbelt. ...
  • Don't run red lights. ...
  • Follow traffic laws.

What is the 20 for 10 rule for a car? ›

Basically, the rule goes that you provide a down payment of 20% of the balance, sign a loan for a four-year period, and pay no more than 10% of your monthly income on car expenses. These expenses include any money you put towards your new vehicle, including gas, insurance, and loan payments.

What is the 3/4 second following rule? ›

The California driver's manual refers to the three-second rule when driving by saying, “Leave three seconds of space (three-second rule) between you and the vehicle ahead of you. Make sure you can stop safely if you need to.”

What is the 4 to 5 second rule for driving? ›

Count slowly and steadily. If you did NOT reach 4 before the point passed your front bumper, then you are too close to the car ahead. At 55 mph, you should be almost 323 feet behind the car ahead.

What are the top 5 mistakes you should avoid when driving? ›

Driving Safety Tips: 5 Common Mistakes to Avoid
  • You get distracted easily. ...
  • You're focusing on the wrong things. ...
  • You drive aggressively. ...
  • You signal too early, too late, or not at all. ...
  • You drive when you're tired.

What is the 50 25 rule? ›

Invest 50% of your salary for your future. Set aside 25% for taxes. Spend the remaining 25%

What is the 50 2030 rule? ›

The rule states that you should spend up to 50% of your after-tax income on needs and obligations that you must-have or must-do. The remaining half should be split up between 20% savings and debt repayment and 30% to everything else that you might want.

How many car lengths should you stay back? ›

If you want to be a safe driver, try to keep one car length for every 10 miles per hour you drive. Alternatively, you could measure distance with the three-second rule. Just pick a spot on the road and count how many seconds it takes you to reach it after the car in front of you does.

What are 6 things you should check before driving? ›

Before Entering the Car
  • 1- Walk around the car. ...
  • 2- Look for obstructions. ...
  • 3- Check the tyres. ...
  • 4- Adjust your seat into a comfortable position. ...
  • Caution: Never adjust your seat while the car is in motion.
  • 5- Adjust side and rear view mirrors while the car is on a straight road. ...
  • 6- Put on your seat belt. ...
  • 7- Check Your Dashboard.
30 Aug 2017

What are the 3 basic driver actions? ›

The basic maneuvers everyone must do are entering and leaving traffic, right and left turns, lane changes and turning the car around.

What are the four keys of driving? ›

It's called The LLLC Defensive Driving Principles™, but we just call it “Triple-L-C.” Using the Four Driving Principles of Safety, Look Ahead, Look Around, Leave Room, and Communicate, gives you the time and information you need to avoid an accident and be an all-around better driver.


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