How to Improve Your American Driving Skills

You've been in this country for a few years now, and you finally have your license. Maybe you had one at home, maybe not, but probably how we drive here is at least a little different from driving back home. Here are some ideas on understanding the American driving system so you can improve your driving.


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    Study the Driver's Handbook. You had to pass a test to get the license, and maybe your English wasn't very good. Go back and read it again, carefully. Memorize it if you have to.
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    OBSERVE HOW AMERICANS DRIVE. Everyone drives differently of course, but there are patterns and there are good drivers and bad ones. Pay attention and learn which ones are driving well.
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    Realize that there is a flow. We follow traffic laws here and that means traffic moves in a PREDICTABLE flow or pattern. People drive by assuming that all drivers know the pattern and follow it. When you drive counter to this assumption, you surprise people, and that makes you dangerous. This includes entering freeways, where you must get up to speed fast, not stop and wait.
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    Know when to brake. Of course, you must brake at a stop sign or light, or when traffic stops in front of you. But many drivers brake when they shouldn't, and that confuses other drivers around you. You should normally not brake
    • when driving at speed on a non-city road or freeway. This means look ahead to see how the cars in front of you are moving, and when there is a slow-down, you slow also before you have to suddenly brake. If you leave enough space between your car and the ones in front, you shouldn't brake at all.
    • in normal traffic when cars are flowing smoothly. Don't keep your foot on or above the brake pedal "just in case", because that makes the brake lights come on and now people wonder why you are stopping.
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    Know your limits. If you are afraid to drive as fast as people usually drive on a freeway, or on a mountainous curved road, don't do it. Don't slow other people down behind you because you are afraid to follow the normal speed and habits. Find another road.
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    Be defensive. Many Americans don't do this, and they cause and suffer accidents. They need to learn the same thing. Act as if every other driver near you is too stupid to drive correctly. Give them extra room and time. Decide what you would do if they suddenly got in your way. Have a way out; that is, where would you steer your car if you have to move out of the way fast.
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    Copy the best. Don't copy poor drivers to who speed, drive close behind other cars, drive through yellow traffic lights, etc.
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    Signal correctly. Signaling means you indicate where you will move BEFORE you do it, not while or after you do it. Signal for at least 5 blinks of the light before changing lanes, or turning a corner. Show people what you are doing so they don't get in your way. Two cars can't be in the same space at the same time.
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    Think like a driver. In this country, driving is NOT like riding a bicycle back home. If your country has small slow roads, lots of bicycles, carts, or walkers, animals, horses, etc. then you have to think differently. You can't suddenly realize you made a mistake and turn around like a bicycle can. You can't stop and decide what you're going to do on the road. You must be ready to drive before you get on the road.
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    Don't be an aggressive driver. In Europe you may be used to high speed driving on open motorways. We do have speed limits here, and we're not used to road racing, like in Monte Carlo (though some drivers fantasize about this). In fact, we seldom drive high performance cars and aren't used to tight turns and other racing techniques. Just because we have whole states of open freeways (think Nevada), this doesn't mean you are on a racecourse.


  • Don't change your mind too late. You CANNOT suddenly get off the freeway when you forget the exit. It's your fault. Go to the next exit and turn around. You cannot change lanes to make a turn at the last minute because you weren't paying attention.
  • Don't be an obstacle, a surprise, or confusing. This is what causes accidents.
  • Drive with Americans and ask them questions about their driving.
  • Remember it's not YOUR road. You have no rights, just privileges. That means you can't force other people to follow your way.
  • You cannot stop in the middle of traffic and figure things out. Get off the road to read a map, check a GPS, light your cigarette, scream at the kids, etc.
  • Don't be the first car into the intersection when the light turns green for you. You will be the first car someone hits who forgot about the red light.
  • Don't drive right next to another car, especially one that's on your left side, for a long ways. You may be in their "blind spot" and they can't see you with their mirror. They may turn or move right into you.

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