By Spreet Aulakh on January 11

A guide to driving in America

The USA offers some of the best road trips in the world. From driving across the country on the iconic Route 66, or exploring the beautiful West Coast, the States needs to be high on any road trip bucket list. But first, there are certain things you need to know before you get started.

We’ve pulled together some highly useful information to help you get prepared for your US driving holiday.

What do I need to drive in the USA?

Driving permit USA

You can drive in the USA, on short-term trips, if you hold a full Irish driving licence. Some states, though, may require an International Driving Permit (IDP). Check with the Motor Vehicle Departments of the states you’re visiting to see if you require one.

IDPs can be obtained from the AA travel services, by anyone with a full Irish driving licence. The application fee is €15.

It’s worth noting that although you can legally drive at 16 in the USA, most rental car companies have a minimum driver age of 25. Some may allow drivers from 21 years of age, but they will ask you to pay a young drivers surcharge that can be costly.

Toll road payments

Like some European countries, the US requires toll payments in order for you to use its highways. These aren’t applied in all 50 states, however, so check before you travel and prepare appropriately.

Payments can be made in cash, which is the easiest way of covering toll road charges for tourists and visitors. To pay toll charges in cash pull up to the attended or automatic booths on the roads.

Most US toll roads also have an automatic payment system, which registers your car number plate and adds charges to an account. You will have to login to an app or website to pay these. This can get complicated if you have a hire car or are travelling over vast areas where multiple systems are in use.

Drink drive limit USA

The drink drive limit in the US is a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) of 0.8, compared to 0.5 in Ireland. This means that for every 100ml of blood, there is 0.8 grams of alcohol. Although most people will remain under this BAC after one drink, it’s better to be safe than sorry. So, if you are driving, always nominate one member of your party to stay off alcohol for the evening.

How long does it take to drive across America?

The amount of time it’ll take to drive across the US depends on what you want to see. The Route 66 trip usually takes two weeks with time allowed for sightseeing. If you plan on driving down the West Coast, allow a similar amount of time. Due to its large size and the diversity of its cultures, slightly longer would be needed if you wanted to drive down and experience the East coast.

Driving distance between US cities

The US is a large country and you should plan ahead to make sure you can fit everything in. Even cities we think of being reasonably close by one another can take a long time to navigate between in a car. San Francisco and Los Angeles, for example are both major cities on the Californian West Coast of the USA, but if you want to travel between them by car it would take around six hours of non-stop driving.

Bear this in mind when booking your rental car. Choose something reliable, with plenty of space and a good fuel economy.

Car hire Insurance USA

The rules about car hire insurance are different in the USA when compared to Ireland and the rest of Europe.

There are three types of insurance that you need to be aware of when renting a car in the USA

Collision Damage Waiver (CDW): This provides cover in the event of a collision or damage to the vehicle.

Loss Damage Waiver (LDW): This’ll keep you covered if the car is stolen, or if it is damaged so badly it cannot be repaired.

Supplemental Liability Insurance (SLI): Basic third-party liability insurance has to be included when hiring a car in the USA, however, this is just the minimum statutory amount and is often very low. Most providers offer to “top up” the basic liability insurance with a supplemental policy, known as SLI (Supplemental Liability Insurance). Often, liability insurance is provided by travel insurance policies bought in Ireland, so check what cover you already have from existing policies before you buy at the desk.

Car hire excess insurance USA

If your rental car provider does not provide CDW or LDW, or their excesses are particularly high, you can shop around with external providers for a better deal.

iCarhireinsurance.ie provides a USA and Canada package that includes full collision and loss damage waiver up to €100,000 and excess fees up to €6,000.

If you follow this guidance you should be all set to set off on your trip of a life time across the USA.