What’s the difference between driving in Australia and the USA?

Reading time: 3 minutes

Everyone has seen a classic American road trip movie. From ‘Rain Man’ to ‘Almost Famous’, the appeal of the wide open spaces and straight highways of the US is obvious for travellers.

For Aussies looking to experience a slice of America via the road, there will be a lot of familiar surroundings, including long drives and friendly highway towns. Additionally, Aussie travellers will be able to enjoy the cheaper petrol prices – US ‘gas’ currently goes for a paltry $1.14 AUD a litre, compared to $1.45 AUD back home!

However, driving in the US can also be a very different experience than hitting the road Down Under. Let’s take a look at the challenges you may face on your American road trip.

Sorting your driving license

Most US states will accept an Australian driving license as proof of your ability. However, in certain locations you will also be required to hold an International Driver’s Permit.

What’s an International Driver’s Permit?

This is an international pass indicating your ability to drive your choice of vehicle when overseas. It’s important to note you can only get one if you hold a valid provisional or full Australian driver’s license.

How do I get an International Driver’s Permit?

They’re easy to get and you can apply for one in any state nationwide. They cost around $40 AUD and you need to bring a passport photo, plus your license, with the application.

Photo credit Getty/Joji

Do the right thing

Make sure you stick to the right hand side of the road in the States to avoid disaster. In addition, your steering wheel will be positioned on the left. This is an unfamiliar experience for many Aussies, so ensure you take it easy to begin with.

To add to this confusion, right hand turns are usually permitted at red lights in the US unless stated otherwise. This comes with the notable exception of New York City (but not the rest of the state), so it’s worth looking into the specific road rules of each state you expect to travel through so you don’t run into trouble!

Interstate differences

Many road rules in America are universal to every state – the US blood alcohol level is standard at 0.08 (higher than Australia’s 0.05), for example. However, many rules also differ from state-to-state.

One significant difference will be the speed limits on the various highways and roads around the country. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety offers a dedicated US map broken down by the maximum speed limit of each state.

Another difference is the tolls that apply on various roads around the country. While some toll stations take only cash payments, others allow you to pay by card, or an electronic system like E-ZPass. It’s also possible to arrange paying some of these fees through your rental car company – discuss the option with them before you set out to make things easier!

Photo credit Getty/Mint Images

Enlighten yourself before your trip

Just to cap off the world of differences, traffic lights in the US are a little bit different to back home.

  • A ‘Delayed Green’ sign indicates that the green light opposite changes first, to allow motorists to make a turn across your lane.
  • In suburban areas, flashing red lights warn motorists there are traffic lights ahead. Don’t stop at these lights, or slow down – they’re just to warn you what’s ahead.
  • Some junctions use flashing traffic lights instead of steady light at night, with flashing red meaning ‘Stop’ and flashing yellow meaning ‘Give Way’.

It’s also important to remember that not all American cars have orange indicator lights at the rear. Sometimes the turn signal is incorporated with the brake light, so be wary of that.


TID is an Australian online travel insurance company.


Family friendly hotels around the world

Looking for a hotel that the kids will love but give mum and dad some down time? Travel with Bender review the best ...



The best places to soak up the nightlife in Honolulu

Heading to Hawaii? Make sure you're clued up on what the capital city has to offer! Here's the best of the best of ...



The best of Singapore

  Spend a few days in this happening city and you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner. The question should ...