Since traffic laws are not regulated at the federal level, each state is responsible for determining what is legal, and what is not. Basic laws such as the use of turn signals, stopping at a red light, and not driving while intoxicated are common across the board, but there are some often intricate differences out of state drivers passing through may not be aware of.
In addition to their traffic laws, some states have certain quirks that are just good to know about. For instance, the use of radar detectors is illegal in California except in a school zone. If 85% of the traffic is traveling at 100 mph, it’s okay for everyone else to drive at the same rate of speed. They refer to this as “keeping up with traffic.” But if the flow of cars gets passed by someone doing 120 mph, that driver will get a ticket. If a driver is going too slow, they may get pulled over for obstructing traffic.
If you’re planning on an exciting cross-country trip, it’s good to know in advance what could get you innocently in trouble because of a particular state doing things differently than they are done in your home state. Typically the differences in laws are minor, but they are still enough to ruin a good day should you get caught breaking one of them.
Buckle up for Safety
Especially when traveling with small children, it’s important to know the differing requirements of each state before strapping them in. Obviously, every state has child restraining laws, but they disagree on the best and proper way to accomplish this. New Hampshire has no safety belt requirements whatsoever for adults, but kids are required to be firmly locked in place.
There are 34 states in which seatbelt laws are considered primary, meaning the police can pull a car over if they spot someone not wearing one or if a child is not restrained properly. In other states, restraining laws are considered secondary, meaning the police have to pull someone over for an unrelated issue but can still issue a ticket for not being properly strapped in once they do so.
All states require a child to ride in an approved child restraint or a booster, but the age requirements for using them differs. Some have approved the use of adult seat belts for older kids, while other states prefer they get stuffed into a car seat until they can no longer fit. In Nebraska, seatbelt laws are considered secondary except for children who should be in a car seat. In Ohio, restraining laws are secondary for children ages four through 14, but primary up to the age of four. In Arkansas and Alabama, children 15-years-old or less must ride in the back seat. In Oklahoma, kids age nine or older who are not at least 4 feet 9 inches tall, cannot ride up front. It all gets very confusing.
The absolute best thing anyone can do is to use common sense. Keep everyone in the vehicle safely strapped in at all times, and as long as they will still fit, put the kids in a restraining device of some sort. States also differ on whether a car seat should be installed facing forward or backward but this is a minor detail. As long as they are secured and safe, no one should have any trouble.
Running Yellow Lights
We’ve all at times had to quickly reach a decision of whether to stop for a yellow light or keep going. Some states, like Louisiana, require you to be able to clear the intersection before the light turns red. Others, including Florida, say, “go for it.” As long as you enter on the yellow, you’re good.
Sometimes we are too close to the intersection to stop without slamming on the breaks and skidding to a halt. But in some states, leaving half your tires on the road from stopping so quickly will also keep you from getting a ticket. Other states prefer the drivers barrel on through provided there are no pedestrians to worry about, which includes Washington D.C., but if the same thing is done in other places, a mounted camera will snap a picture of the cars license plate and they’ll receive a surprise traffic ticket in the mail, and there is no getting out of it.
The biggest problem comes from drivers not being aware they are supposed to go on through the yellow light until the driver behind them, who is aware of the state and local law, rear ends them and ruins their entire vacation.
If you are not certain of the law, check your rearview mirror prior to making a quick stop. If another vehicle with a crazed looking driver is riding your bumper when the light turns yellow, the heck with whatever the law says, it’s either get smacked into or keep going. If there is plenty of room to stop safely, always do so. Don’t take any chances if you aren’t certain.
Some states will issue a fine if a driver is caught talking on their cell phone, while others won’t. In West Virginia, it’ll cost a guilty party $100 for their first offense. Fifteen states plus the District of Columbia are okay with a driver using their phone provided they have a hands-free device. Though it should go without saying, never text and drive no matter what state you’re traveling through. They’ll all get you for that one.
Traffic Laws 101
Never be the driver who hogs the highway’s left lane and refuses to move over. Not only is this frustrating to other drivers who want to pass, it’s illegal in almost every state. Your moral outrage about speeders won’t keep you from getting a ticket.
There are only a couple of states that don’t care which lane someone travels in, but rather than worrying about which states those are, stay in the right-hand lane unless you need to pass a slow-moving semi and you’ll have nothing to be concerned about. Besides. It’s just the polite thing to do and you may prevent yourself from experiencing someone else’s road rage.
There is absolutely no state that does not require a driver to move over for emergency vehicles. There are only a couple of states which include road maintenance vehicles on their list of emergency vehicles so to be on the safe side, yield when you see emergency flashing lights of any type. Again, simple courtesy says to slow down and/or move over. You’ll be rewarded by avoiding a hefty ticket.
The biggest rule of thumb is to be as safe as you can by exercising every driving precaution that simply makes good sense. By doing so you should have an excellent trip without incident, and a ticket-free adventure.