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No Standing? A Look at Driving Laws Across America

November 12, 2010 | Permalink

If you’re driving in an unfamiliar region and are pulled over, the old “But I just didn’t know” (accompanied by wide, innocent eyes and pathetic smile) probably won’t hold up. And given that the issue at heart is about saving lives, strict traffic enforcement makes sense and keeps all of us safer. But this means that if you’re planning on driving much beyond your own state, it’s wise to familiarize yourself with other state- and even city-specific vehicular laws. In fact, even as an innocent passenger, there are certain ordinances that can trip you up.

Everyone knows speeding is both dangerous and illegal, but did you know that the reverse also can be ticket worthy? Driving too slowly can also cause accidents, and many states including Florida, Virginia, Massachusetts and Illinois post minimum speed limits on highways. Many other states such as California and Arizona don’t have such signs, but their motor vehicle code allows ticketing of a driver deemed to be impeding traffic, as does the Uniform Vehicle Code. Other states have variations in their codes, often termed “keep right” laws, mandating that on multi-lane roads, cars driving in the left lane must be going faster than those in the right lane.

Use of seatbelts and child safety restraints are another of the key safety-related regulations that vary from state to state. All states but New Hampshire do require seatbelt use by some of the adult passengers in the vehicle, though the states vary in terms of whether both front seat and rear seat passengers must be belted in. In terms of ticketing, in 31 states an officer may issue a ticket upon observing lack of required seatbelt use. But in the other states, an officer can only issue a seatbelt ticket in conjunction with the officer observing another infraction.

As you would expect, based on research that shows how properly-fitted child safety seats save lives, every state plus the District of Columbia require babies and young children to be restrained in car seats. However, the age and size requirements do vary, so this, again, is something you should check on when crossing state lines. Because of the serious risk posed by not buckling in a child, tickets for these infractions are generally much higher than other seat belt violations, and often cost insurance points.

There are many other driving laws that have state-by-state variations, such as when you can or must have headlights on (in some states, for example, lamps must be on if windshield wipers are in use), use of the car’s horn (prohibited in some municipal areas) and turn signal use. Regarding the latter, who hasn’t been aggravated to the point of perhaps muttering (or worse) unkind words at that driver who neglected to use a turn signal? Well, in many states it’s considered more than just a discourtesy. In Virginia, you can be cited for reckless driving if you forget to use a turn signal, and in many other states failure to use signals can garner you a ticket.

On a lighter note, one ticketable offense that probably won’t surprise any East Coast reader but may utterly confuse a westerner (except one from Nevada) is the “No Standing” sign. Sounds like it’s an ordinance prohibiting loitering, right? The term is actually a variant of “No Parking” and is especially popular in New York City, so for heaven’s sake don’t transgress, or you’ll be out a hefty sum.

The moral of this story? The vast majority of traffic laws concern serious safety issues, and so travelers should acquaint themselves with the specifics for each state and municipality they visit. And even when faced with seemingly quirky regulations, travelers should call up the most basic rules of the road: safety and courtesy.

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