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Many visitors to the United States go to typical tourist areas like New York, Washington DC, Orlando, Chicago, Las Vegas, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Especially in the bigger cities, it is not necessary, nor even desirable, to have your own vehicle - although many of even the larger cities do not have good public transportation. Because of the sheer size of the United States and the American preference to the automobile over mass transit, traveling by car is a good way to get around and to see sights of the "real" America away from the cities. The United States has a very good system of streets and highways, including the huge Interstate highway system that includes modern limited-access expressways (also called freeways) throughout the country. Even secondary roads are a good way to travel to see more typical American lifestyle.
Some possibilities for interesting car trips are:
If you are wary about driving in the United States, it is suggested that you rent a vehicle for only a portion of your stay in a city. Use taxis and public transportation for sights in the city, then rent a vehicle for a few days' travel outside the city. The best way is to not rent a vehicle from a location in the center of the city, but instead rent it at the airport, so that you will not need to drive in congested traffic in the city core. However, there may be some extra "airport" fees (taxes) for this. It is also possible to rent a car in one city and return it in another city, although extra "one-way" fees may apply.
If you are a confident driver, you may want to rent a vehicle just to drive around the environs of a city or take a single or multiple-day side trip. For example:
In the United States, renting a car is a fairly common practice that businesspeople, families on vacation, and foreign visitors engage in. Car rental agencies (such as Herz, Budget, Enterprise and many more) have branch offices in nearly every city in America, although they are most commonly found at airports. There are also brokerage companies such as Rentalcars.com, Economy Bookings, usacarsrental.com CarRentals.com, Travelauto and AutoEurope.com who exclusively deal with car rentals. A wide variety of car makes and models are available to rent -- everything from a 4X4 pickup truck or full size SUV to a tiny VW Beetle. Prices typically vary depending on the make and model (a high-end sedan or sports car will be very expensive, whereas a small economy car will be much less, for example) and charges per day can vary -- anywhere from $15 to $85 or more. Reservations should be made in advance, usually without the need for a credit card, although you may be able pop into a rental office and secure a car without a reservation, depending on the time of year. Hybrid cars are available and popular, so if this is your aim, you may want to make a reservation, and you should expect to pay more than for a typical compact car.
Below are listed a few things to remember at the rental agency:
Basic Highway Primer
The United States Interstate Highway System has definite rules and regulations: East of the Mississippi River the typical speed limit is 65 mph and west of the Mississippi it is roughly 70. Speed limits are determined by population so the more rural the area, the higher the speed limit ( i.e., New Jersey's limits will always be lower than Arizona's). It is also true that one can tell what direction they are going in if they pay attention to the interstate's number: in either direction, odd numbers usually head north-south, even usually run east-west.
Highway signs are often color coded to indicate what they mean:
Signs with a green field and white letters indicate route information; these are the most common and they indicate places, distances, and places (including exits.) These are normally found on the side of the road or are overhead and some will quote the distance between where the sign stands and a destination the highway passes through.
Signs with a blue field and white letters are hospitality signs. They indicate rest areas, food, hotels, hospitals, gasoline, and often most importantly for long trips, where the next bathroom (or "rest area") is. In more remote areas, please note that the last two of these amenities are less common -- be careful about how much gasoline is in your tank if you are crossing the desert or plains.
Brown signs with white letters are heritage signs. These indicate historical attractions, entertainment (amusement parks), campgrounds, and natural attractions like national parks or protected natural areas. These are important to tourists in particular as most often it is the desired destination: normally they occur within a twenty mile radius of the location and some (but not all) will tell you which exit to use.
Red or orange signs equal "caution, danger, or stop." They must be heeded. In the USA, it is very foolish to take this only as a suggestion as one may find onesself being blindsided by another car and endangering anyone with him. A blinking red light means the same thing as a stop sign -- stop the car completely, and proceed when safe to do so. An upside down triangle means you must yield to crossing traffic.
Yellow signs or lights mean "caution." A blinking yellow light means "proceed with caution," but does not incidate that you should stop the car. Yellow signs with black lettring are most commonly found in areas that contain the presence of wildlife or small children – a useful thing to know, since neither are known for their judgment around cars or roads. In areas with children (usually suburbs and near schools) it is wise to keep an extra watchful eye out for bicycles and kids, especially during daylight. It is important to remember that in America animals large enough to do damage to your car are not necessarily restricted to wilderness, wildlife sanctuaries , or rural areas – they can and do live in suburban areas or abandoned/public land. For example, a section of Interstate 90 less than 40 miles from Boston has become infamous in recent years for fatal accidents involving moose – an animal weighing up to a ton and over 7 feet tall (2.5 m). Similar events happen in other states with bears, cougars, and deer every year, especially during the spring and fall, so if you are driving in fog or past sunset and see one of these signs it pays to keep your headlights on and keep an eye open for animals like these. Deer "in rut" who are chasing a mate can appear out of nowhere in a matter of seconds, and the results are often deadly.
White signs with black letters or numbers are called "regulatory signs" and must be obeyed.
Other signs (of many shapes and colors) indicate when you have crossed into another state.The designs on the sign are usually unique to the state and are larger than normal. They are found at the exact border where the highway crosses into another state.
It is also should be mentioned that distances are not measured in meters on any road unless one is close to the Canadian border: one mile is roughly equal to 1.6 km. Paying attention in particular to signs that indicate how far away something is is a worthy idea as exit ramps may appear sooner than anticipated!
If you are a first time visitor to the United States and are planning to rent a car during your visit, there are some driving rules and customs you might not be aware of. It is a good idea to drive defensively -- always be aware of nearby vehicles and anticipate possible movements by other drivers. Also, it is important to know that driving laws are set by each state and rules and speed limits may differ slightly when traveling across state borders. However, there are some general rules. Below are a few highlights:
More serious problems:
There are variations depending on the municipality you are visiting; you are strongly encouraged to review the traffic laws of each for your personal safety as well as that of other drivers.
Some driving terms used in the United States are different than those used in the United Kingdom. For example, in the US, "pavement:" indicates the actually roadway; the term "sidewalk" is used for the pedestrian path next to the road. Others:
Earthquakes - Earthquakes are quite rare.
You can check out the latest earthquakes in the U.S. in the past 7 days at this website: http://earthquake.usgs.gov/eqcenter/r...
If you're driving and notice there's an earthquake (it has to be quite big for a driver to notice), your car may feel like its tires have gone flat. Pull over, but away from anything that could fall on you. Afterwards, drive much slower (so you can stop in time) and keep your eyes open on the road ahead of you--bridges may be out, bridge sections may be out, etc. This is one of the biggest threats and endangers many people.
As a general rule, there's always the juggle of speed and safety. Try not to loiter around anything that could fall on you. As all learn in driving school, always know your "way out."
Hurricanes - Check the local TV and radio stations frequently if there is a chance of a hurricane
Hurricanes affect the entire eastern seaboard of the U.S. and the Gulf of Mexico, The season lasts from late spring through the late fall typically and if the lessons of Hurricane Katrina teach anything it is that it pays to pay attention to the National Weather Service and the Weather Channel during the months when hot, moist air is most plentiful. There are some rules to abide by in the event of a hurricane:
Tornadoes are rare in most of the eastern and western states, but all the midwestern states are prone to tornadoes. States in "Tornado Alley" (Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Illinois, South Dakota, Texas) have the highest frequency and the strongest storms. Tornadoes can form any time of the year, but the typical season runs from March to August.
Folklore also used to advise that if you are driving and a tornado is suspected or sighted, you should turn and drive at right angles to the storm. This advice is not recommended because tornadoes do not necessarily travel in straight lines; you cannot always tell the direction the storm is coming from; the road you turn onto may curve and head into the storm, rather than away from it; and there may be more than one tornado associated with a strong storm system, but you may not see it because visibility is diminished by heavy rain and wind-blown debris. The safest thing to do is go to a nearby sturdy building and go inside to an area on the lowest level, without windows: there is a reason why Aunt Em made a beeline for that cellar in The Wizard of Oz! If a sturdy building is not available, then get out of the vehicle and lay down in a low spot on the ground not subject to flooding, protecting the head and neck. Be sure there are no electrical wires or poles that can fall on you.
These are most common in summer but can occur in any season. Though there are no specific warnings if you are indoors, there are some if you are outdoors:
If the thunderstorm is severe, p ull safely onto the shoulder of the road and stop, making sure you are away from any trees or other tall objects that could fall on the vehicle. Stay in the car and turn on the emergency flashers until the torrential rains subside. Heavy rains produced by thunderstorms can greatly reduce visibility. Vehicles will provide better protection from lightning than being out in the open. Emergency flashers will alert other drivers with limited visibility that you have stopped. Keep car windows closed.
Avoid contact with metal or conducting surfaces outside or inside the vehicle. Lightning that strikes nearby can travel through wet ground to your car. The steel frame of a hard-topped vehicle provides increased protection if you are not touching metal. Rubber tires provide no protection from lightning. Avoid contact with potential conductors to reduce your chance of being shocked. Although you may be injured if lightning strikes your car, you are much safer inside a vehicle than outside.
Avoid flooded roadways. Most flood fatalities are caused by people attempting to drive through water, or people playing in high water. The depth of water is not always obvious. The roadbed may be washed out under the water, and you could be stranded or trapped. Rapidly rising water may stall the engine, engulf the vehicle and its occupants, and sweep them away. Look out for flooding at highway dips, bridges, and low areas. Two feet of water will carry away most automobiles.
Many places in the U.S . are subject to snowstorms, including the Northeast, most of the Midwest, much of the far West, Alaska, the Rocky Mountains and even the high desert. Here is what to do if you encounter one:
Millions of people visit the United States every year, and very few have any kind of problems with severe weather :-)