Strangest US driving laws – don’t get caught out this summer
Heading to America on holiday this summer? These are some of the stranger rules to look out for...
The summer holidays are at last upon us, and many lucky Brits will be heading to America for a fly-drive holiday.
And who could blame them? With a few notable exceptions, such as New York City or San Francisco, America is a fantastic place to drive, with wide open roads, much lower traffic levels compared with the UK, easy parking, and cheap petrol – and that’s before we’ve mentioned the amazing scenery on offer.
Before you go, though, you should be aware that its driving laws are different, and indeed those laws vary from state to state and from city to city.
Legislators regularly write new laws but some of the older ones aren’t repealed even as they become outdated; they are simply no longer enforced. And, the immense size of the US has led to oddball driving-related laws that make little sense outside of the region they were written for.
From the outdated to the plain strange, here are some of the weirdest driving-related laws in the US:
Slideshow story – click the right-hand arrow above to continue
1: Blindfolds in Alabama
Alabama lawmakers decided – wisely – that no one can operate a car with a blindfold on. To be fair, the law doesn’t stop at blindfolds. It also states drivers aren’t allowed to drive a car if they can’t see what’s in front or on the side of it. Which on balance, we’d also totally agree with.
2: Lanterns in Alabama
Driving the wrong way down a one-way road is illegal just about anywhere in the world. But in Alabama, it’s permissible if the driver attaches a lantern to the front of his or her car. We admittedly have a difficult time picturing a Chevrolet Suburban SUV with a lantern tied to the grille going against the flow of traffic.
3: Dogs in Alaska
Motorists driving in Anchorage, the capital of Alaska, are not allowed to carry their dog in the back of a pick-up truck without putting it in a carrier or using a tether. Drivers caught breaking the law can face a $1000 fine. Regulators aren’t worried about dogs getting cold; they’re worried about an Akita flying out during an accident.
4: Disturbing restaurants in Arkansas
It’s illegal to sound your car’s horn after 9pm “at any place where cold drinks and/or sandwiches are served” in Little Rock, Arkansas. This law is not as random as it might seem because it traces its roots to the time when motorists parked in front of a restaurant and honked for service.
This practice virtually disappeared after the rise of drive-throughs in the ‘50s but honking remains illegal in 2019.
5: Car dealerships in Colorado
Thank the government if you’ve ever been to a dealership on a Sunday to wander around and look at cars without having to talk to the sales staff.
Colorado law has prohibited car dealerships from opening on Sundays since 1952. Other states have followed this example.
6: Commercial vehicles in Florida
The city of Cape Coral, Florida, doesn’t allow commercial vehicles to be parked in residential areas. It defines a commercial vehicle as any motor vehicle with commercial lettering, which makes sense, but it notes “a pick-up truck from which the cargo box has been removed” falls under the definition.
While most motorists aren’t affected by this rule, business owners who live in Cape Coral need to either find another way to and from work or hide their vehicle out of sight.
7: Pick-up trucks in Hawaii
While Alaska doesn’t want to see flying dogs, Hawaii is less concerned. The state lets drivers transport passengers in the back of their pick-up truck when certain conditions are met.
The law states that the passengers riding in the cargo box need to be at least 12-years old and all of the seats in the cab need to be occupied. It’s a common – and controversial – practice in the state.
8: Screeching tires in Kansas
Only criminals do burnouts in Derby, Kansas. This town of about 25,000 people prohibits drivers from roasting their tyres on public roads, whether it’s by doing a burnout in a straight line or by drifting around a corner. Anyone found guilty of what the law calls “screeching tires” faces a fine of up to $500, a 30-day prison sentence, or both.
9: Donuts in Maine
Dunkin’ Donuts must be hugely popular in South Berwick, a small town in Maine. City officials specifically prohibit motorists from parking in front and 25ft south of the Dunkin’ Donuts store on Maine Street. Motorists who break the law to satisfy an urgent donut craving risk a parking ticket.
10: Cursing in Maryland
The city of Rockville, Maryland, wants to keep its streets family-friendly. It’s illegal for a person to curse “on or near any street, sidewalk or highway” within the hearing distance of someone else.
This means a police officer can ticket a motorist heard swearing in his or her car. Cursing is a misdemeanor so it’s not considered a serious offence.
11: Dirty tyres in Minnesota
Make sure to pressure-wash your tires if you go off-roading in the city of Delano, Minnesota. Section 801.01 of the city codes and ordinances outlines that “a truck or other vehicle whose wheels or tires deposit mud, dirt, sticky substances, litter or other material on any street or highway” is a public nuisance.
12: Camels in Nevada
Though camels aren’t native to Nevada, the arid desert climate might allow them to survive and even thrive. Someone must have tried because an old Nevada law made it illegal to ride a camel on the highway. The law was, however, repealed in 1900, so you're good to do so now if you so please.
13: Taxi dress code in Ohio
Taxi drivers in Cincinnati, Ohio, need to abide by four pages’ worth of rules while picking up and dropping off passengers. They are notably only allowed to wear shorts between May 16 and Labor Day, which falls on the first Monday of September. They are legally required to wear chinos or jeans the rest of the year.
14: Minors in Oregon
In Oregon, it’s illegal to drive while carrying a minor on an external part of a car.
Odds are the law was written to prevent motorists from driving around with their kids in the back of their truck but it also specifies that someone younger than 18 is not allowed to travel on the bonnet, the wings or the running boards of a car. Anyone caught breaking the law faces a traffic violation.
15: Pumping fuel in Oregon
For decades, motorists in Oregon weren’t allowed to fill up their own car; they had to wait for an employee. This law kept fuel station attendants in business for much longer than in most other American states. There was no way around the law, either, even if you weren’t from Oregon.
In January 2018, Oregon regulators relaxed the law by allowing fuel stations located in counties with a population of under 40,000 to install self-service pumps. Many did but some decided not to stray far from tradition. Filling your own tank remains illegal in more urban areas places like Portland, although electric car owners are presumably allowed to plug their car in themselves.
As of 2019, New Jersey is the only state in the US that completely bans motorists from filling up their own car, a curio you may encounter when visiting the New York City area.
16: Riding in a boat in Pennsylvania
Riding in a boat, a mobile home or a house trailer while it’s being towed on a public road is illegal in Pennsylvania. It’s a serious offence lumped in the same category as driving on the sidewalk and leaving an unattended child in a car.
17: Honking in Rhode Island
In Rhode Island, motorists need to give “a timely, audible signal” before passing another car. Most private cars don’t have sirens (or passing alarms) so that simply means honking a majority of the time.
After hearing the signal, drivers getting passed are not allowed to increase their speed until the overtaking car is back in its lane.
18: Roller skates in Tennessee
The city of Nashville, Tennessee, prohibits people from hooking up a scooter, in-line skates, roller skates or a skateboard to a moving vehicle. This practice is only illegal on public roads so thrill-seekers curious to find out what 75mph on roller skates feel like need to find suitable private property.
19: Dune buggies in Texas
Texas legislators took steps towards making dune buggies illegal in 2017. Citing safety concerns, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV – the equivalent to our DVLA) began asking dune buggy owners to turn in their car’s title but it backpedaled several months later.
Regulators still haven’t finalised the law as of 2019 but the dune buggy’s future in Texas is far from bright.
20: Snowmobiles in Vermont
Snowmobiles and cars are not allowed to shares the road in Vermont, but their paths sometimes cross. While operating a snowmobile on a public road is usually illegal, state law permits rides to cross directly across a road if it has five lanes or less.
The law warns snowmobile riders do not have the right-of-way; they need to stop and make sure the road is clear before riding across.
21: Danger in West Virginia
In West Virginia, billboard ads are not allowed to contain the words "danger" and "stop" or to "imply the need or requirement of stopping or the existence of danger". Regulators worry that motorists cruising along the highway will slam on the brakes if they believe the ad is an instruction to stop.
22: Non-human primates anywhere in the US
We suggest investing in a sturdy cage if you need to carry a monkey. It’s illegal to transport what the US government refers to as a “non-human primate” if it’s not in an enclosure such as a cage, a crate or a separate compartment in the vehicle. In other words: don’t put your chimp on the passenger seat.
This law likely sparked the rumour claiming it’s illegal to drive with a gorilla in the back seat in Massachusetts. There’s no evidence that the state specifically banned gorillas at any point in time.