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10 Driving Laws That Vary Across The US

Understanding the rules of the road across America is important for the traveler.

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Did you know that driving laws vary across the US? While certain rules remain the same wherever you go such as stopping at red lights and driving on the right, there are some laws that differ between states. Whether you’re planning a road trip across the entire country or simply dipping into a neighboring state, it can be worth researching the differences in road laws. But just what types of driving laws are different from state to state? This post lists a few.

Minimum age

In many states across the US, you can drive with a full licence at 16. However, in some states like Florida, Nevada, Illinois and Texas, you need to be at least 18 to drive with a full licence. 

If you’re under 18, driving alone in a state like Florida could be illegal, even if you have a full licence from another state. It’s typically better to wait until you are 18 to drive out of state unless you really need to.

Speed limit 

The speed limit also varies on highways across the country. In South Dakota, most highways have an 80mph speed limit. In Hawaii meanwhile, you can expect speed limits of no more than 60mph on highways. 

Usually, any changes in speed limit will be signposted when you cross the border, but you still need to be careful if you’re used to driving at a certain speed on highways in your home state. Penalties for speeding can vary between states. 

Driving under the influence

All 50 states have laws in place to restrict and punish driving under the influence. The amount of alcohol you can legally drink before driving varies across the US. Many states allow a BAC level of 0.08% (which is about 4 standard drinks for men), however others like Georgia have a zero tolerance policy in place.

Make sure to look into this if you plan to have a drink and then go out driving. The consequences for a first offence DUI can be severe in some states including loss of licence and jail time – to be safe, it’s often best to not drink at all. 

Driving with a cell phone

Hand held cell phone use is banned in 30 states, while texting while driving is banned in 48 states. Montana and Missouri are the only states that allow texting while driving.

Penalties for getting caught using a cell phone while driving can vary in severity across the states. In fact, you could lose your license in some states. To be safe and to avoid penalties, put your phone away when driving in any state. 

Honking your horn 

Different states and even different individual US cities have different laws when it comes to honking your horn. In some cities, you’re not allowed to honk your horn at night. Other cities like New York have a full ban on using horns except for in emergencies (although, if you’ve been to New York, you’ll know that this law isn’t really enforced).

One unusual instance where horn use is a legal requirement is in Rhode Island. Here, it is legally required that you honk your horn before overtaking another car.

Parking

Social expectations when it comes to parking also vary across the US – and in some cases laws can differ too.

One big difference is the way in which people park in stalls. In San Francisco, there are many parking lots which have laws against reverse parking. Meanwhile, there are places in Hawaii where you can get a ticket if you do not reverse park into a stall. It’s worth looking at other cars in the parking lot to help you determine what the law is – if everyone is reversed into parking stalls, it could be legally compulsory.

Headlights

There are also differing laws when it comes to headlight usage. While all states require you to use headlights at night, some also require you to use headlights whenever it is raining (or whenever you are using the wipers).

A good rule of thumb is to always put your headlights on whenever it is raining in any state.

Dashcams

Dashcams are legal in all states, but did you know that some states have laws as to where you can legally place them?

For example, when driving in Ohio or Michigan with a dashcam, make sure that it is not mounted to your windscreen – you are not legally allowed to have anything attached to your windscreen in these states.

Window tint

All states allow window tints, but the legal level of tint varies. In Michigan, side windows can be fully blacked-out. In California, windows must still allow 70% of light through.

This could be something to consider if you have tinted windows – driving in California with blacked-out windows could result in your receiving a penalty. 

Unusual laws

Some states have very unusual driving laws. For example, did you know that it’s illegal to change clothes in your vehicle in Delaware? And did you know it’s illegal to drive a car without a steering wheel in Illinois (why would you want to?)? Check out this post for a few more weird state driving laws

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