Expat Life: The Truth About Driving in America

I was a delivery driver in the UK.  I spent hours every week stuck in traffic, driving a manual (stick shift) vehicle, driving along country lanes, navigating roundabouts…I thought I had seen and experienced a lot when it comes to driving and was fairly confident in my abilities.  That was until I moved to America.  Here I share some of the truths about driving in America (especially from a British expat’s perspective)!

If you do the speed limit, you’ll be the slowest on the road.

Yep, if you do the speed limit, everyone will be over taking you.  In the UK, trucks are limited to 56mph, so on a 70mph road, you fly by them.  You can guarantee that there will be some people that are happy to cruise along doing 60 and of course there are the speeders.  Driving at 70 will mean you sit somewhere in the middle

I still can’t get used to trucks over taking me! American trucks are so much bigger than their European counterparts!

70mph as a maximum speed barely exists.

Driving into Milwaukee, Wisconsin was the first time I’ve seen a 70mph speed limit in a longgggg time.  This is the standard dual carriageway speed in the UK.  Here, it’s usually 65mph.  If I remember rightly, during the whole 3 hour journey between Iowa and Chicago, you never see a 70mph limit.

There’s nothing unusual about people driving around in a car that’s only half there and may possibly feature in the Flintstones soon.

Especially in the Midwest where they salt the roads like crazy during the winter, cars just rot away.  I’ve noticed the rust spreading on my car just in the short time I’ve been living here!  The common victim seems to be pick up trucks, the wheel arches and bucks will often be non existent.

MOTS don’t exist in all States.

In the UK, cars have to pass an annual ‘check up’.  Things like lights, brakes, suspension parts etc are all checked to make sure they are in working condition.  I kinda miss not having these safety checks.  It’d be nice to know when parts are getting past their ‘sell by date’ without having to strip everything and look yourself.

People stop dead in the middle of roundabouts to let other cars pull out.

Coming from what feels like roundabout capital of the world, I find it hilarious that people don’t know how a roundabout works.  But then it’s frustrating and makes me get road rage and shout at the people that aren’t moving.

Route 1 California Road Trip

Exits on an Interstate can be on ANY lane.

Usually the exit is the lane that’s furthest away from the central reservation, the one right on the edge.  Not in America.  On a recent road trip to Wisconsin, the exit lanes were all over the shop.  Some were on the edge like normal but then some were on the inside lane and a couple even came up in the CENTRE lane!!  At one point I knew the road I needed headed off to the right.  In normal circumstances, you’d assume that driving on the right hand side of the road, the exit would be in the right lane.  WRONG.  It was the one on the far left and took me on a flyover that seemed to twist and turn for miles.  I would have been so confused without a GPS.

Being a ‘slow’ (speed limit) driver I don’t want to cruise in the fast lane, but when that’s where the exit is there’s no choice but to annoy other road users.  I saw SO MANY people cutting each other up.  Sometimes there’d only be 1/4 mile to get from lane 1 to lane 4 and at 70mph in high traffic, it’s next to impossible.

Driving an Automatic turns you into a lazy driver.

Add cruise control to the mix and I’m just about ready to settle in and put my feet up on the dash.

Every time you come to a stop sign it’s like a puzzle solving challenge to work out if any other roads coming off the junction have them too.

Some cross roads will have all way stops, some will only have 2 roads stop, I’ve seen one junction where 3 roads stop and the 4th can just carry on!  At night, this is awful.  Stop signs aren’t lit up most of the time and it’s really hard to see who else has them.

Nearly everyone will pay at the pump when filling up their car.

Card payments are a common thing in the USA, it seems that not a lot of people will carry cash so therefore there is no need to walk those few feet into the shop to get the change.  The nozzles still have the catches on here so you can go ‘hands free’ when filling up.  In the cold weather, people sit back in their car while it fills up!  In the UK truck drivers that have huge tanks will have a gadget that holds the trigger open so they don’t have to stand and squeeze it, here it’s just standard!

Some small town gas stations will even fill the car up for you!

…and even wash your window for you, because like I mentioned above, they fill it up hands free!

‘Headlight flashing’ isn’t a thing here.

I was lost.  I was in the fast lane, someone wanted to pull across in front of me, they had the indicator on so I flashed them out to say I’ll ‘slow’ down and let them out. Flash flash flash flash flash flash flash, still nothing.  Turns out that it doesn’t exist here, only truck drivers do it.  I’d have thought it would be common sense as to what it meant but apparently not.  I asked my American other half how you let someone know it’s safe to pull out to which he replied, you don’t, you just keep going, no one cares about being polite to other drivers.  Friendly.

The amount of people that think it’s fine to be on their phone while driving or drink drive is incredible…and awful.

Even with some bars/restaurants and events offering free drinks to the designated driver, people can’t seem to hold themselves back from having a drink and then getting behind the wheel and it scares me.

I’d never want to be a passenger in this situation and especially at night it worries me how many people around me are driving and may not be in control.  I’m being sensible but I could still be in danger by others that are irresponsible.  The drinking culture seems to be massive in America.

Loads of people constantly use their phones too.  Maybe it’s due to cars being automatic, it makes it easier.  If there was a gear stick and people needed to be changing gears all the time, they wouldn’t have a hand spare to be using a phone.

Do you have any other driving observations to add to the list? While you’re here, you may be interested in reading my post about what it’s like to pass a USA driving test from a British point of view!

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The Truth About Driving in America

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8 thoughts on “Expat Life: The Truth About Driving in America

  1. I have this to look forward to soon! Having lived & worked in London for nearly all the past decade I didn’t learn here in the UK as I always intended to move to America and figured there was little point learning to drive a manual on the left when I’ll be driving an automatic on the right side of the road (though the move to America has ended up taking 8 years longer than originally planned). Having read your blog, though, I do question my choice. At least the UK test is fairly rigorous; from what I hear of the driving test in many states, if you can drive 500 yards down the road without hitting anyone they give you a licence. Probably makes for a lot more inexperienced and incompetent drivers on the road, hence more general driving experience can only be a good thing. Ah well! Soon I shall be zooming around Texas in a massive tank like everyone else 😉

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  2. Great perspective. What’s funny is every state you go into it is completely different. From how people drive, to stoplights on exit ramps. It’s almost like relearning the rules of the road each time. I agree with you about the automatic transmission making us all lazy. I miss my manual transmission but it’s impossible to find a company that makes them anymore. Unless I go back to a sports car but that just doesn’t work with two car seats.

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    1. Yes! Like in Iowa I’m yet to see 70mph, it’s all 55 or 60 but in Michigan it went up to 75!!! Wisconsin seems to have crazy drivers, you cross back into Iowa and everyone just seems to chill out!

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    1. Thank you 🙂 Amazing!!! My husband thinks I’m crazy when I start having a small party at the sight of a 70mph sign, can you imagine how happy I’d be at 80?! It seems everyone else does 80 constantly but I’m a stickler for the rules!

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  3. I’m near Des Moines, Iowa and both I-80 and I-35 are 70mph. Head west. 🙂
    Flashing lights to let people know they can merge in was common when I was growing up, though it seems much less so now.
    And don’t get me started on idiots in roundabouts. I feel like I need to write an informational article for my local area!

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