Foreign Driver Rating: ! easy-peasy
The United States was built for the automobile: expressways run through the middle of every major city; the lanes are wide enough for your Ford Excessive sport-utility vehicle; and the cities have car-friendly grid layouts (except Boston).
That said there are a few annoyances. First, the Department of Justice in a fit of stupidity allowed the six major US car rental companies to merge with each other. As a result, US car rental rates are among the highest in the world, especially at airports. (My proposed solution: every time the Department of Justice does something stupid like this, its employees should compensate you for the resulting higher prices out of their paychecks.)
There is really no good way around this problem. You can use one of the major chains (Enterprise, Budget) at an off-airport location, and Uber from the airport to that location. You can pre-pay on a site like holidayautos.com or rentalcars.com. You can use one of the off-brand companies (Advantage), but most offer terrible service, long bus rides to the facility, long waits in line, and then try to force you to buy various insurance covers you don’t need, usually by lying. Indeed, the only good off-brand company I know of is in Los Angeles, Midway Car Rental. (Check the ratings on Google Maps of the place you’re proposing to rent from, to see what you’re getting into.)
The other major annoyance is expressway driving. There are two hazards here. The first is the fuzz: American cops are required to raise revenues by handing people tickets. What’s the best way to give people a ticket? Wait to catch them in a spot where the speed limit is obviously too low, so everyone speeds. Hence: if you want to drive 80mph on the New York City freeways that are marked at 50mph, it’s no problem. Pretty much everyone does. But if you’re in the middle of Ohio, where there is no one else on the road and road conditions are perfect, you can go 80 much more safely but Smokey will be there waiting for you. Usually you can drive 10 miles over the speed limit without getting picked up. However in about 20 years of driving I’ve received two speeding tickets – both in the US, and both for driving 10 miles over or less. So eventually they will get you.
The second hazard of US expressway driving is that Americans dislike slowing down for other cars. If you signal that you are going to move into their lane, drivers in that lane will often speed up towards you in an effort to intimidate you into not changing lanes.
Hence slowing down in order to change lanes – which is a natural reaction, especially if you are trying to exit the expressway, and especially if you are in an unfamiliar foreign driving environment – can get you into trouble. I have seen many a sad driver marooned in the middle lane, trying to reach their exit, their turn-signal blinking haplessly, cars flashing their lights and honking at them not to try it.
What this means is it is generally best to speed up to exit the expressway, counterintuitively. So put on a burst of speed, signal, and lane change. You can slam on the brakes once you get into the exit lane.
Long story short: it’s often easier to maneuver on US expressways if you are going as fast or a bit faster than traffic.
Gary, Indiana. The US is a driving paradise, but be sure to keep your speed up when changing lanes. Photo by the author.