How Well Do You Know American Rules of the Road?


By: Dyann Joyce

7 Min Quiz

Image: Shutterstock

About This Quiz

Are you up-to-date on your traffic rules? Take this HowStuffWorks 'rules of the road' quiz to find out if you know as much as you think you do.

We all know that Americans drive on the right, and the Brits drive on the left, but did you know that it is illegal to drive while blindfolded in Alabama, that it's illegal to tie your dog to your roof rack in Alaska, that it's illegal to transport a gorilla in Massachusetts, and that it's illegal to read a comic book while driving in Oklahoma? Ok, we get the reason for most of these, but why the hate for gorillas?

Now, we aren't going to ask you any of these questions on this quiz, but they might come in handy on your next family road trip. What we're more interested in for the sake of this quiz is how well you know some of the road rule basics. For instance, what to do when you encounter a school bus on the road (turn around and go the other way; that stuff is way too confusing), what is the overall policy on hitchhiking in the United States (really? you haven't watched horror movies?) and what to do if your turn signal isn't working (meh, most people don't use them anyway, right?).

Anyway, if you think you know the answer to these - and more - questions about American rules of the road, take this quiz!

What is a DUI?

DUI stands for Driving Under the Influence. Other acronyms include OUI, for Operating Under the Influence, and DWI, for Driving While Intoxicated. No matter the acronym, this is a dangerous practice and a serious offense.


When driving on a county road, there is often a yellow line or twin yellow lines in the center. Sometimes they are solid lines, sometimes they are broken lines. What do these lines mean?

It is true that the yellow lines in the center of the roadway divide the lanes for traffic moving in opposite directions. But they also serve a more important purpose: they are designed to indicate whether or not you may pass other cars on that particular section of road. A solid line on your side means no passing, and a broken line on your side means passing is okay if there's no oncoming traffic. If both of the lines are solid, or if there is only one solid line, it means no passing. If both lines are broken, or if there is only one broken line, it means both sides may pass when it's safe.


If the indicator lights fail on your car, what can you use instead?

If you are driving and your turn signals fail, there are established hand signals in the U.S that all drivers are required to know. It is illegal to drive without lights, so you should put on your flashers if they are working, then use hand signals to get home or to a mechanic. The hand signals are the same in all states.


What is America's policy on hitchhiking?

In some states, it is illegal to pick up hitchhikers. It can also be dangerous, and if the person is under age - no matter what they say or what happens - you could face charges. If the hitchhiker breaks the law while in your car, possessing an illegal substance, for example, you could be charged.


It is the law in the U.S. to use your turn signal when making a turn. If the turn signals on your car are broken, how would you indicate a turn?

If the turn signals on your car are broken and you wish to signal to make a turn (or if you are on an older motorcycle with no turn signals, or on a bicycle), simply use the old hand signals. To signal a right turn, extend your arm out the window, bent at the elbow and pointing up, with your palm flat and facing forward. To signal a left, put your arm out the window, straight out, with your palm facing forward. Finally, to signal a stop, extend your arm out the window, bent at the elbow and pointing down.


Besides helping everyone see in the dark, headlights can be used to signal other drivers. If you are at an intersection with another car and they flash their lights, what does that mean?

Occurring less and less every day, when a driver flashes their headlights at you at an intersection, they are giving you the right of way to turn before them. Headlight flashes at different times mean different things, however, so your location will put the meaning into context.


New laws require truckers to have electronic devices to keep track of their time. What did they do before that to keep track?

New American regulations have come out that require truckers and trucking companies to have each truck equipped with an electronic device, an ELD, to log the miles each day. As there are strict regulations for driving over the allotted amount of hours, due to dangers of sleep deprivation and reaction times, this regulation is a life-saver.


When driving on the interstate, it is often tempting to draft a semi truck (draft means following too close, also called tailgating) to better your gas mileage. What could happen if the police saw you driving too close to a truck?

If you are drafting behind a truck, the police can give you a ticket for following too closely or for reckless driving. The general rule for safe distances between cars on the interstate is the three-second rule. Focus on a landmark - when the car in front of you passes it, three seconds should go by before you pass it.


While we have the four-way stop here in the United States, what do they use in European countries instead?

In European countries, roundabouts are more common than the four-way stops we use here in the United States. Studies have shown that the roundabout is a more efficient means of moving traffic through an intersection than a four-way stop, but for some reason we don’t install them very often.


When parallel parking, what is the proper way to leave your vehicle parked at the curb?

The proper way to leave your car parked at the cub is to have your tires no more than 12 inches from the curb, turn your front wheels all the way to the right, and make sure the parking brake is on. There are some new models of cars that actually parallel park automatically!


When you're at an intersection and your light is red, can you make any turns?

In most cases, if you are at an intersection and the light is red you can make a right-hand turn. In some areas, like my home town, you can make a left-hand turn against a red light IF the left turn arrow is flashing yellow and the way is clear of any oncoming traffic.


What is the mandatory color order, top to bottom (or left to right) on traffic lights?

Traffic light colors are uniformly positioned to aid drivers with reduced color vision. There are also specific guidelines for arrow lights and pedestrian signals. Remember - the yellow light doesn't mean "floor it"!


What side of the road is the American driver to drive on?

Traffic always drives on the right-hand side in the U.S., any day of the week. It never changes. some people visiting or new to America may be confused and find it strange. American rules always dictate to look left when pulling out of one-way streets, junctions or roundabouts, or just crossing the road.


What can happen to you if you pass a school bus with flashing red lights?

Yes, all of these can happen, plus a hefty fine. It is very serious. If the bus is stopped, you should stop also, even without red flashing lights. Don't move until the bus turns off its flashing lights, and even then, use caution. Children should pass in front of the bus, but there may be a wheelchair lift or special ramp elsewhere.


What can you do if you are in a turn lane that says "right lane must turn right," but you need to turn left?

If you are too close to the turn when in a lane that has an indicator sign saying you must turn right, you must turn right and then find a way to double back further up ahead. It is dangerous and illegal to turn any other way at the turn.


What does a black "X" with "RR" in a yellow circle mean?

The black "X" in a yellow circle with an accompanying "RR" means a railroad grade or level crossing is coming up. There may not be a barrier or flashing lights to indicate when the road is clear, so always stop and check when approaching a railroad crossing. Trains usually whistle or blow their horns when approaching a crossing, but be sure to check for yourself. Never try to outrun a train!


When coming to a four-way stop intersection, which car gets to go first, then next, etc.?

The way they are supposed to work is that the first car to reach the intersection has the right of way, then the remaining cars take turns in a counterclockwise order. The problem is that no one follows the rules at four-way intersections, so it’s generally best to try to avoid them if possible. No, seriously. One-third of all intersection crashes in the U.S. take place at intersections with stop signs.


If you are driving on Interstate 65 in the United States, what are the two possible directions you can travel, and why?

I-65 runs north and south, because all odd-numbered interstates run north and south. Even-numbered interstates run east and west.


When do pedestrians NOT have the right of way?

The last answer is correct. Even if a person is darting between cars, not using appropriate crosswalks, or jaywalking, drivers are obligated to do all they can to avoid hitting a pedestrian, but that doesn't mean pedestrians have no obligation to use care or follow the law. The driver or the pedestrian - or both - may be ticketed, sued, or both, if things go wrong.


If you go out with your friends on Friday night and have 3 or 4 drinks in about 4 or 5 hours, is it legal for you to drive home if you are feeling okay?

Generally states have a limit where you are considered “drunk”, or under the influence. In most states, if you blow a .08 or higher on a breathalyzer, you are going to jail for drunk driving. People often have the misconception that if you blow less than the .08 that the police will just let you go, but they are wrong. You can still be arrested for driving under the influence, even if you blow less than the .08, if you seem intoxicated.


What is a beltway?

Beltways connect interstates with major roads in urban areas. Beltways have three-digit numbers: the first digit is an even-numbered prefix and the last two digits are the number of the main route or interstate. In St. Louis, for example, the beltway is called 270, reflecting the fact that it connects with Interstate 70.


What is another name for "intermittent explosive disorder" when driving?

In recent years, road rage has been taken more seriously. It is now considered a very serious act of aggression, with lawful measures being meted out to protect other drivers. It is now seen as public endangerment. intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED) is now recognized as a mental disorder in the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders" (DSM).


In the U.S. what is the law regarding motorcycle helmets?

In most places, there are laws stating that you must wear a seat belt while traveling in an automobile (where you are surrounded by steel). On the other hand, in some states you can zoom around on a motorcycle going 75 mph without a helmet on.


If you are driving on a highway and have your regular low beams on, then a car coming from the other direction flashes their lights, what does it mean?

Generally, when an oncoming vehicle flashes their headlights at you, it is an indication to use caution ahead. More often than not, it is another motorist warning you of the presence of a police car ahead of you, maybe a speed trap. If you are caught warning another driver that police are nearby, you can be charged with obstruction in some jurisdictions.


When driving your motorcycle, your lane position should _________?

Each lane actually gives a motorcyclist three paths to travel in. The main goals when choosing a lane position should be to increase your visibility, avoid others' blind spots and protect your lane from other drivers. There is no single best position for motorcycle riders, but leaving a space cushion around yourself is generally a good practice.


What is prohibited from use in some places at certain times, but can be a useful tool for avoiding accidents?

General advice is to use your horn sparingly, but honking may be prohibited in certain towns, or during certain hours. In general, it's appropriate to honk to avoid a collision, but not to vent frustration or say "hello."


As of 2016, what was the average cost for a traffic citation?

As of 2016, the average fine per traffic citation was $152. Some people use apps to game the system, but this strategy is ethically questionable and potentially dangerous.


In most states, if you are driving on a two-lane county road in a rural area and there is no posted speed limit, what is the speed limit?

While most interstates have a speed limit of 70 mph, some, like in Texas, are higher, and some maintain a 65 mph speed limit. County roads, however, generally have a 55 mph speed limit in rural areas. Very often there will be no speed limit sign posted unless the limit drops due to a populated area coming up, then after the populated area a 55 mph sign will be posted, then you won’t see a posted speed again until you hit another populated area.


What is the official name of the U.S. interstate highway system?

The Dwight D. Eisenhower System of Interstate and Defense Highways began in the 1930s. The first uniform standards for lane width, speed limits and more were introduced in 1956.


If you are driving on an interstate and you see no posted speed limit, what is the speed limit?

If you are on the interstate and there are no posted speed limit signs, then the speed limit is the maximum interstate speed limit in your state. For example, in my state the maximum speed limit on the interstates is 70 mph, so by default, if there is no speed limit posted, then the speed limit is 70 mph.


Is a seat belt violation a primary or secondary offense?

One hotbed of debate is seat belts and their use. In some states, the driver can only be ticketed for a seat belt violation if he is first pulled over for something else - thus, it's a secondary offense. In other states, a driver can be pulled over for the seat belt violation alone - meaning it's a primary offense. Laws vary, regarding the use of seat belts by passengers.


As of 2016, which three U.S. states issued the most traffic tickets?

The three states that issued the most traffic tickets in 2016 are Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. Rounding out the top ten are California, Texas, Georgia, Virginia, North Carolina, Massachusetts and Connecticut. If you're a resident of one of these states, it's up to you to decide whether this is good news or bad.


As of 2016, what percentage of face-to-face encounters between individuals and officers involved a traffic violation?

As of 2016, 44% of the contact between citizens and police involved a traffic violation. A ticket was issued about half of the time. If you're involved in one of the remaining 56% of encounters, best of luck!


If a school bus has flashing red lights, how long must you stay stopped?

By law, all traffic traveling the same direction as the school bus must stop when the bus has its red flashing lights on. Opposing traffic is not required to stop if there is a median or if there are three or more total lanes. Even if you see no lights, it is good practice to use caution when a school bus stops. It could be having equipment failure or an emergency and there may still be children coming out to cross the road.


For motorcycles, what is the suggested rule for following another vehicle?

To avoid crashes, don't follow other vehicles too closely. In traffic, motorcycles should maintain a four-second following distance, to allow time to stop or swerve if necessary. If the road is slippery, leave a bigger cushion of space for safety.


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