It is not so different. The roads are bigger, the distances you cover are often much longer. There are some things I always remind myself of before taking a deep breath and edging out onto US roads when I arrive there:
Drive on the wrong side of the road
Stating the obvious but probably the most important thing. At the time of writing this there were a couple of fatal crashes reported by the UK media involving cars driving the wrong way into oncoming traffic, one involving Liverpool band Hers
Give way signs and road markings at junctions
Always stop for these. Unlike in the UK where you can roll up to a junction and if it is clear as you approach you keep going, in the US that’s a ticket (if you are seen doing it).
At traffic signals when you are in the right hand lane and turning right you can often go on a red light. You must stop first and make sure there is no oncoming traffic, but if is safe you can go. Look out for the ones that have signs saying you can’t though as there are some like this.
In the US there is increasing use of fixed camera technology but nothing like the coverage in the UK. It is mostly Highway Patrol cars and they can be hard to spot as they are not marked as clearly as UK police cars. Don’t be surprised to find one hiding between bushes at the side of the road like a hunter laying in wait for an evening meal. The US patrol cars are also equipped with technology that allows them to capture the speed of cars coming towards them in the opposite direction which will mean by the time you see them, they will have also seen you.
If you do stopped by the police stay in the car, keep both hands on the wheel and wait for them to tell you what they want. It will be you licence, passport and the answers to a few questions. If you are unlucky enough to get a ticket make sure you pay it otherwise your next trip to the States will start badly before you leave the airport.
Big yellow things with flashing lights. If a school bus is stopped in front of you and the lights are flashing you stop too. Do not pass it, wait for it to start moving again.
The distances are vast and the brain goes into auto pilot after a while. Away from the main Interstates and Freeways America can be a lonely place. Watch out for the give way signs that can appear out of nowhere for crossroads and debris in the roads. I once hit a rock in that was sitting in the middle of the road rounding a bend in Death Valley. Luckily I was able to get under the car and make a temporary repair to the damage but in temperatures that are regularly over 100º it is not the kind of place you want to be stuck. It was also the last free upgrade Hertz gave me – if someone important at Hertz happens upon this I am truly sorry about your BMW and I would love to get back on your VIP list.
Carry basic supplies
If you’re on a road trip, make sure you have water, a first aid kit, blankets or something warm, sunscreen, a map (don’t rely on your phone having GPS or the battery lasting forever) and some basic tools (which the car should have anyway). Gaffer tape is useful, a flashlight.
…is pretty much the same. Don’t refuel at a gas station at night in Compton, double yellow lines in the middle of the road mean no overtaking, you’ll get arrested for drink driving (limit is 0.8g/dL in blood, and roughly similar to the UK), You need a valid UK licence (although hiring a car under 21 is more difficult), red means stop and green means go.