There are many traffic laws in the United States which may vary from one state to another, which residents of each state may have come to take for granted. Is there any sort of motorists' guide to these laws, and where and how they vary?

Here's some particular examples of items I'm looking for:

  • Right turn on red.
  • U-turn.
  • Passing in the right lane.
  • Non-passing usage of the left lane.
  • Left turn on red, from a one-way to a one-way.
  • Cell phone usage.
  • There are other things like whether insurance is mandatory, possibly what paperwork you must have with you, whether you must have license plates front and back. Possibly seatbelt laws, etc. Sep 6, 2011 at 19:26
  • 1
    @hippietrail - Usually, front/back license plate laws only apply for the state in which the vehicle is registered. So, that's not so much a concern for travelers. Seatbelt laws and personal/vehicle documentation availability could be important though.
    – Iszi
    Sep 6, 2011 at 19:51
  • I was just remembering the time in 1990 when I was driving through Illinois in a California registered car with only a rear plate and Mr police man mentioned that that must be OK in California but went easy on me, possibly due to being a foreigner with short hair at the time (-: Sep 6, 2011 at 20:08
  • I would also add Carseats and booster seats laws. Some states go by height, some by age the others by weight.
    – Vitalik
    Dec 18, 2013 at 20:46

3 Answers 3


Heh, there are some awesome ones, especially as the US was the first country I'd experienced where people drive on the right hand side. Anyway..

This site:


Covers a LOT of the differences - in regards to ages, permits, cellphone / handheld laws, and older driving restrictions.

http://www.novacarhire.com/blog/article/8-tips-for-driving-in-the-united-states.html is an interesting blog post on the matter, and mentions some of the speeding, seatbelt and drinking laws.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety covers even more : http://www.iihs.org/laws/

And finally, the ultimate resource:


has the driving and road code for every single state in the United States. Even Iowa ;)


Generally speaking the question is too broad. There is information on some of the issues available on Wikipedia:

  1. Right Turn on Red
  2. Left Turn on Red
  3. Pass on the Left and Right
  4. U-Turn

And so on. The common practice in most states is the following:

  • Right turn is permitted on Red unless specifically prohibited, Right turn arrow indicated or in New York City.
  • Left turn on Red one way to one way and otherwise is prohibited, unless seen as common practice by the locals.
  • U-Turn permitted where left turn is permitted unless specifically prohibited or crossing a solid double line.
  • Passing in the Right lane: Permitted on a multilane road
  • Left lane non-passing usage is permitted unless otherwise posted.
  • Cellphone usage. Varies widely from state to state from Fully Prohibiting usage of handheld devices such in New York, Connecticut to being a secondary offense, to not being an offense.

My general advise to you is watch the locals and follow what they do. Because aside from real laws there are Dumb Laws, which also include traffic laws such as required honking while passing a car in Virginia. Is that enforced? Probably not but law is still on the books.

  • "Left turn on Red one way to one way and otherwise is prohibited" Are you saying left turn on red one way to one way is prohibited? This is hardly the "common practice". According to the linked-to Wikipedia article, left turn on red from one way to one way is legal in 42 states. That's almost all of them.
    – user102008
    Dec 18, 2013 at 22:38

Other traffic/car laws that change quite a bit too between states:

  • The speed laws. This page summarizes some of the differences. E.g., some states don't gave a fine if driving slightly higher than the posted speed limit.
  • Radar detectors and radar jammers
  • Window tint laws.
  • Some states (e.g., WA) allow drivers to take a photo of their vehicle registration and store it on their cell phone, instead of keeping the physical vehicle registration card in the car.

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