Driving a car or motorcycle in the United States


Ah, what a pleasure to drive on American roads! That said like everywhere, you have to know the regulations. But don’t worry: it’s very similar to Quebec, and not too exotic compared to France. Parisians will still avoid resorting to invective, especially if the driver of the pick-up next to you is wearing a cowboy hat!

road signs

Interstate highways are marked with blue signs, and others are red or black. The roads are long, and often very straight… sometimes a bit boring when you are on the “highways”, but never on the smallest country roads. Speed ​​limits are set by the States, and it is better not to (or not exceed them too much). That said, in the USA, if you drive at the same speed as the flow of vehicles, you will not be surprised: the police do not stop for a few MPH (miles per hour) too much. Pay attention to the black “night” signs which indicate a specific speed during the night.

Signal fires

In many states, if nothing tells you otherwise, you can, like in Quebec, turn right when the light is red (provided you take a short break). Pay attention to what is indicated on the traffic light on the other side of the street, that it is not written “no turn on red”. Likewise, you can U-Turn just about anywhere on the roads, except when you see “No U-Turn” signs. Traffic lights are almost always placed on the other side of the intersection. So be careful not to stop in front of a red light… that would mean that you are in the middle of the crossroads (French people who are not used to it need a little practice to calculate the distance!).

Other peculiarities in signage in the USA

“One Way” means “one way”. Lanes marked with a diamond and/or the HOV sign means that it is reserved for a minimum number of occupants in the vehicle, most of the time “2+”, i.e. if there are two of you (or more) in your vehicle, you have the right to take this route, but not if you are alone. Pay close attention to schools: as soon as lights start flashing on the road, you must lower your speed to the indicated limit. Likewise, if a yellow school bus starts flashing, you must stop behind it and you are not allowed to overtake it. Watch out for school buses : most of the time you can easily recognize them by their famous yellow color. If they have their warning signs, or if they have ‘stop’ signs that extend out the sides, then you’re not allowed to pass them (while the kids are getting on and off)! In any case, be very careful when you see one: if the police observe you brushing against it or doing what they may interpret as a fishtail, it will cost you dearly. Don’t crush the Xing Peds!  Different exotic signs on the roads, such as the Xing Ped painted huge on the road and which often challenges the French. It’s not Chinese, it’s an abbreviation that should be read backwards: Ped Xing for “Pedestrians Crossing”. After humans, you will also pay attention to animals: horses or cows can thus be completely free, contrary to European practices. If you are in tourism mode, do not miss the “historic road” signs, they will show you paths that are always more pleasant than the highways to visit the United States. Finally, the accepted blood alcohol level – if it varies between the States – is nevertheless most of the time very very low.

Fuel in the United States

Here too there are a few little surprises, starting with the good (surprise): the price! Generally it is pleasant for Quebecers, and unimaginable for the French! Good to know: you have to pay for the fuel BEFORE using it. If you pay by card at the pump, you can help yourself as much as you want, and your bank account will then be debited for the amount you used. Here, we do not count in “litres”, but in “gallons”. So if you want to convert, 1 gallon = 3.785 liters.

If you do not take Diesel, then you will have several choices of gasoline. You can take the cheapest: “regular” or “Unleaded” or “87”: it works very well. When you unhook the hose to serve yourself, on some pumps you have to raise the hose rest upwards, otherwise it won’t work. Be careful if you are on a “road trip”: don’t wait until the last moment to fill up in the middle of “Death Valley” or other desert places…. Similarly, American service stations have toilets for customers, but also most of the time food and drink.

(photo credit: John Phelan – (CC BY-SA 4.0))
(photo credit: John Phelan – (CC BY-SA 4.0))

Road abbreviations:

Avenue  : Avenue Boulevard  : Boulevard Cir : Circle CR  : County Road Dr : Drive Expy  : Expressway Fwy  : Freeway Highway  : Highway Ln  : Lane Pkwy  : Parkway Pl  : Square Plz  : Plaza Rd  : Road Roundabout: roundabout Square  : Square St  : Street Trl  : Trail Tpk  : Turnpike U-Turn: possibility to turn around

Road Sign in United States
Road Sign in United States

This article was originally published on Naija News

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