Driving in the USA

You have checked in at your hotel in Orlando. With your U.S. Visa, Brazilian driver’s license, and international driving permit in hand you head to the rental car agency ready to take to the American roads and enjoy your vacation. You are confident that since you drive in Sao Paulo every day that American roads and traffic will be no problem, think again, there are subtle yet important differences, as you soon find out, after getting on the Interstate Highway in route to pick up your family a police car with blue lights and siren going pulls you over. After the officer leaves, you are looking at traffic citations for speeding in a construction zone; ($320.00), HOV lane violation ($160.00), no headlights in the rain ($130.00), and failure to wear seatbelt ($130.00) for a total of US $740.00, but the good news is that the date to pay the fines is one month away, and you will be back in Brazil in two weeks. Back at the hotel you remember an article on English Experts about driving in the USA, and decide to get your laptop out and read it despite of cries of “Papai, Vamos Para Disney, AGORA!”.

Three months after a very enjoyable vacation to Orlando you are looking at your latest credit card statement, and are shocked when you see three new charges from the rental car company in Orlando, for “Traffic Fines, Orlando, FL” – $740.00”, “ Late Fees Traffic Tickets – US $120.00” and “Processing Fees Traffic Tickets (4 ea.) – US $200.00”, all with the notation of “See paragraph 26.c.1 rental contract”, suddenly you feel very sick.

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Some things you need to know are:

  1. In the U.S., notification of speed enforcement is not required and is never given, your speed can be clocked by radar, laser, timing with a stopwatch, aircraft or a police car (marked or unmarked) pacing your car from the front or rear.
  2. NEVER EVER (sic) pass a stopped school bus from either direction if its red lights are flashing. In Florida this violation requires a mandatory court appearance with a fine of up to US$500.00, and as an out of state driver you will be required to post an appearance bond of $500.00 in CASH.
  3. Fines in a school or construction zone are doubled.
  4. Stop lights mean stop at all times, never stop and then go even late at night, some cities use automatic cameras to record violations and mail a citation to the owner of the car.
  5. When a traffic light changes to yellow stop, but only if you can do so safely.
  6. Stop signs and flashing red traffic lights mean come to a complete stop then proceed if there is no hazard.
  7. Turn on your windshield wipers AND HEAD LIGHTS when it is raining.
  8. When making a right turn at a red light always look for a small sign saying “NO TURN ON RED” or “NO RIGHT TURN ON RED”.
  9. “HOV LANE” or “HOV” means “high occupancy vehicle lane” you must have at least two people in the car to use the lane.
  10. Move over and or slow down when passing any stopped vehicle with blue, red, or yellow flashing lights, (Police, Fire, Ambulance, and Service Vehicles).
  11. Do not follow too closely, allow at least two to three seconds separation between your car and the one in front of you.
  12. Never drive on the shoulder or between lanes, even if you are on a motorcycle.
  13. If you have mechanical trouble, pull of the road onto the shoulder, raise your engine hood and place a cloth (red or yellow is preferred) outside the drivers window, this is a signal asking for help.
  14. Remember that in the U.S.A. a police officer’s word carries much more weight in court than a citizen’s word does.
  15. If you follow these suggestions your vacation in America will be much more enjoyable and safer.

For many more see:

Boas Férias!

Sobre o Autor: Bill Slayman tem 66 anos é americano e mora em Pensacola, Florida, USA. Ele atuou no exército americano e hoje está aposentado. Suas paixões são: andar de Harley Davidson, motocicletas, fotografia e qualquer coisa brasileira. Bill é um dos maiores colaboradores do EE.

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25 comentários

  • 03/08/11  
    Luciano diz: 1

    Great Bill!
    Thank you so much.

    • 07/08/11  
      w.slayman diz:

      It is I that should thank all of you for reading, commenting, and understanding my weird sense of humor.

  • 03/08/11  
    Henry Cunha diz: 2

    I can sympathize, Bill. Sometime in the 80’s, living in Ontario, Canada, I took my family for a summer holiday in Ocean City, Maryland, USA. During our time there, I received a parking ticket somewhere in town, which I decided to ignore, since I had Ontario plates on the car, and thought that soon enough we would be back in Canada and outside Maryland (and US) jurisdiction. After all, it was only a parking ticket — not even a moving violation. Well, lo and behold, in about two months we received a summons by mail at home in Toronto, advising us that failure to pay the fine (now augmented significantly by the failure to pay on time) could well result in our car being apprehended any time we might be back (anywhere) in the US. After checking around to see if this was for real (it was), I paid the fine. Call that the long arm of the law…and shared databases that have been around far longer than the Internet.

    My suggestion: in North America, don’t skip town if you have any kind of a date with the justice system. Not unless you plan to never return. Because when you do, they will know about it somehow, maybe even from your post on English Experts.

    • 07/08/11  
      w.slayman diz:


      I am sorry that you had a brush with American law enforcement, no matter how minor. As you said the shared data bases make it easy for officers to check. Most American police cars now have computers installed, as well as dash cameras, and they can accomplish a NATIONAL check on you and your car in a matter of seconds.
      \It is becoming very 1984, as in George Orwell’s novel.

  • 03/08/11  
    João B. L. Ghizoni diz: 3

    Oh, my! I’m a careful driver, but I’m afraid of driving in the US!

    Bill, is it possible to say “car rental agency” (instead of rental car agency)?

    • 07/08/11  
      w.slayman diz:


      While it is OK to say car rental agency, in the US it is normally referred to as a rental car agency.
      Do not be afraid to drive in the US, just be carefull and try to remember my suggestions.

  • 03/08/11  
    Adriana diz: 4

    Oi, Outra dica,nas cidades de Chicago, Il e em Minneapolis, Mn, provavelmente ha em outras tambem, logo acima/ ao lado do farol, existe uma luzinha q comeca a piscar, se houver algum veiculo de emergencia na proximidade, assim, por lei, vc deve parar o carro e esperar q a ambulancia, ou carro de bombeiros passe pelo cruzamento. Somente assim, o motorista podera seguir seu caminho.

    • 07/08/11  
      w.slayman diz:


      You are correct! Some cities have special signals to warn of approaching emergency vehicles, they are activated by a special radio or infared signal, and you are required to stop. Since you mentioned Chicago, I will give a special tip. The Chicago Fire Department will take the right of way if you do not yield. One day, I saw a fire truck hit a police car that did not get out of the truck’s way and then it keep going, leaving the police car on the side of the road. :O

  • 03/08/11  
    cris diz: 5

    You don’t need an international driver license to rent a car in the US, only your Brazilian driver license is fine, no other documents, like a passport, are necessary.

    • 07/08/11  
      w.slayman diz:

      You are correct in the fact that many agencies will rent a car with only a Brazilian drivers license. However as a visitor to the US you are required by federal law to have your passport and visa with you at all times. The international driving permit is simply a translation of your Brazilian license, and if you should be stopped by a police officer it could save you some time and embarassment.

      When my step son visited I checked with my insursance company and they said that he would be covered by my insurance for any of my vehicles as long as he (1) had my permission (2) carried his passport (3) carried an international drivers permit (4) carried his Brazilian license.

  • 03/08/11  
    Dani Mesquita diz: 6

    I loved this post… I’m leaving in USA and I have a blog where I talk about a lot of things about USA! And my last post was about traffic… If somebody want to visit there!!! Welcome!

    • 03/08/11  
      Flavio Alves diz:

      What’s your blog address?

    • 07/08/11  
      w.slayman diz:


      Thank you for reading and commenting on my posts.

  • 03/08/11  
    Betânia M. N. J.S. diz: 7

    Hey….. I Love soooooooooo much all your articles, they are amaaaazing!!!!

    Thanks so much for sharing so rich informations!!!

    God bless you all abundantly!!!

    Keep the Great Job.

    Bê =)

    • 03/08/11  
      Alessandro diz:

      Oi Betânia,

      Obrigado pelo comentário. Se me permite fazer uma correção, information não tem plural. Sugiro a leitura do artigo abaixo:

      I hope that helps!


    • 07/08/11  
      w.slayman diz:


      Thank you for your kind words, the comments of my readers makes the effort worth while.

  • 03/08/11  
    Heloisa Santos diz: 8

    I really enjoyed reading this issue .. Now I am sure that driving in the USA only for americans …. is quite different than driving in Sao Paulo or Rio de Janeiro!!

    • 07/08/11  
      w.slayman diz:


      While driving in the USA has differences from driving in Sao Paulo or Rio, it is not all that different. Just pay attention, I had a lot more trouble driving in England than I do in Brazil, even on the Marginal Tete at 1630 hours. ;)

  • 04/08/11  
    Lenise diz: 9

    Very helpful!!!

    • 07/08/11  
      w.slayman diz:


      Thank you for reading and commenting.

  • 04/08/11  
    Egle diz: 10

    These links are interesting. About driving in the US, I think the hardest is keep some distance of others cars and read the traffic signs (highway or street ones) while driving and identify the majority of the sign types. Should be good if you can recognize them before you get near enough to read it.

  • 07/08/11  
    w.slayman diz: 11


    When I was driving in Sao Paulo for the first time I could not get used to every one “cutting me off”, just because I kept a reasonable distance between me and the car in front of me. I quickly adjusted, and the advent of the universal traffic signs has made the chore of knowing what a sign is going to say much easier.
    For example: an American and Brazilian stop sign are identical except one says STOP and one says PARA. :)

    • 07/08/11  
      Alessandro diz:

      Hi Slayman,

      Just a small correction. The sign says “PARE”.


    • 08/08/11  
      Egle diz:

      Oh well, but there I can see stuff like “4 way” or “2 way” under “stop” and here you must see how it is without any warning about that. Also, some signs are specifically to driving under snow. So I should say you’re very gentle to answer all comments. Thank you very much.

  • 07/08/11  
    Mariluci diz: 12

    Mostrei ao meu marido esse post e ele adorou. Fizemos uma viagem de + ou- 5 mil km de moto aos EUA, rota66, e essas dicas são 10.