Around 3.8 million Brits visit the US each year, but many visitors are unfamiliar with the country’s laws - which vastly differ on a state level.
I recently attended the American Association of Justice (AAJ) convention in San Diego, California. Held annually, lawyers from across the world meet to discuss the latest developments in the legal industry and different areas of practice. The conference promotes an effective and fair application of justice within the United States and internationally. I regularly deal with UK holidaymakers who have had an accident while on holiday or in employment in the US and during my visit, I was appointed Secretary of the International Practice Section. Being a member of the AAJ enables me to access the more experienced and knowledgeable attorneys in the US for assistance.
To highlight how easy it is to get caught out by overseas laws when travelling abroad, just for fun, here are six humorous laws in effect today.
No rolling boulders in Boulder, Colorado
Unless it’s your job, no person is permitted to roll, throw, or otherwise move any rocks or boulders on any public property. Just in case you were tempted. Source: City of Boulder Charter
Don’t use the petrol pump to fill up your car in New Jersey
It’s illegal to fill your own tank in this state, so make sure you let the attendant take care of this for you. This might a hard one for Brits abroad to fathom, but even in the middle of the night, you can’t use the petrol pump yourself…. So, you might as well sit back and enjoy the service. Source: New Jersey Retail Gasoline Dispensing Safety Act and Regulations
No drunkenness on trains in Michigan
Travelling by train in Michigan? Make sure you aren’t intoxicated! In this state it’s illegal to be a drunk train passenger. Plan an alternative means of transport or go easy on the holiday cocktails. Source: Michigan Legislature - Drunkenness on trains or interurban cars
Say no to midnight car snacks in Fenwick Island, Delaware
It’s unlawful to tailgate from a vehicle or picnic within the Town of Fenwick Island between 12 midnight and 6am. This means sitting and eating or drinking in your car during these hours is a big no-no, so try to resist any late-night cravings. Source: Town of Fenwick Island - Regulations regarding camping, beaches, parks and vehicles
No swearing or cursing when driving in Maryland
In Maryland it’s a misdemeanour to profanely curse and swear upon or near any street, sidewalk or highway within the hearing of persons passing by. Missed your turning? Use your inside voice if you swear. Source: Rockville, Maryland Code of Ordinances - Profanity
No horse speed testing in Rhode Island
If you enjoy horse-riding while you’re on holiday and fancy a race on a public highway or just want to prove how fast you are on four legs, it’s time to reconsider. In Rhode Island, this type of activity could leave you facing a fine of $20 or imprisonment for up to ten days. Source:
Tips for planning US Travel
Although the above pokes fun at some of the unusual and quirky laws found in the US, it also highlights the fact that different laws apply in other countries. We always recommend familiarising yourself with the local laws and customs of a holiday destination prior to a trip.
If you’re heading to the US for business or leisure and planning to hire a rental car, here are some important things to consider and steps to take ahead of your visit:
- Different road rules apply in the US. Hiring a car offers freedom to get around but if it’s your first time driving in the US, it’s important you prepare for a new way of driving. Three of the most notable differences are:
- Most cars in the US are automatic not manual
- Motorists drive on the right-hand side of the road and have different rules re rights of way. For example, you can turn right on a red.
- No roundabouts!
We recommend familiarising yourself with the rules of the road such as speed limits etc. and the vehicle itself. It’s important to note US travel rules change from state to state, so if you are picking up your car in one state but driving through another, make sure you are familiar with that state’s rules too.
- Not everyone has comprehensive motor cover with unlimited indemnity. Many states have maximum levels of cover and this could be as little as $10,000. This means if someone is injured in a road accident, they could be grossly undercompensated.
- To protect yourself against being involved in an accident with an uninsured or underinsured driver, we strongly advise you take out uninsured and underinsured motor insurance. Ask your car hire company about this or buy this insurance in advance, online.
- Check the insurance limits on your hire vehicle – make sure you are covered for third party liability in the event an accident is your fault as some policies are limited liability. If you have inadequate cover, you could end up with a hefty bill for damage and/or injuries – as the US doesn’t have the NHS, this is especially relevant. Different types of cover include CDW (Collision Damage Waiver), LDW (Loss Damage Waiver) and SLI (Supplemental Liability Insurance). Consider taking top up policies on all.
- Always take out travel insurance as well as car insurance. This is important as they don’t cover the same thing e.g. without travel insurance, repatriation and emergency medical bills won’t be covered.
- The emergency number is 911 not 999
Mike Doyle, attorney at Doyle LLP, Houston in Texas, shares his advice for UK holidaymakers who plan to drive in the US:
“Unlike the unlimited insurance protections automatically in place for United Kingdom drivers and passengers, each state in the United States has various minimum limits for drivers that provide barely any compensation for road traffic accidents, especially in the most serious circumstances. Many states require drivers to carry no more than $15,000 USD liability coverages, and even in those states, many drivers fail to even have those coverages in place.
That is why my experience acting for overseas visitors over many years has too many times led to sad discussions explaining the laughable compensation available for terrible injuries where no or minimal insurance is available. That is also why most Americans buy underinsured/uninsured cover from their own insurer, and it is highly recommended that before venturing onto American roads, overseas visitors consider purchasing travel insurance that protects them in the event of a road traffic accident at any severity.”