Houston - Driving tips
Visitors from abroad need only a valid driver's license from their home country to drive in the United States. An international driver's license is not necessary. If you are driving a non-rental car, third-party insurance is mandatory.
Drive is on the right in the United States. Distances are always measured in miles. Front-seat passengers are required to wear seatbelts in Texas; children under 5 must be in an approved passenger restraint anywhere in the vehicle. Ages 2-4 should use a safety belt and children under age 2 must ride in child-safety seats.
The speed limit is usually 30 mph (50 kph) on urban roads and 55 mph (90 kph) or 65 mph (105 kph) on highways. Distances are always measured in miles.
MoveOver Law - Forty three states have passed “Move Over” laws, which require motorists to “Move Over” and change lanes to give safe clearance to law enforcement officers on roadsides. When a car is pulled over by a police car you are required to leave a lane between you and the vehicles on the side of the road, failing the possibility to do that you are to slow down to 20 miles an hour. The fine is hefty (triple digit and three points off the driving licence) so remember. If you wish to have more information go to: http://www.moveoveramerica.com/
One peculiarity of traffic lights is that they are overhanging the roads and placed at the END of the junction, not before it, so beware when calculating the stopping line.
At traffic lights, it's legal to make a right turn even when the light is red - unless specifically state otherwise (no right turn on red) - provided that you come to a full stop first and no traffic is incoming. When in doubt, always wait until the light turns green to make a right turn.
At four-way intersections controlled by red stop signs, it's first-come first-go; when in doubt, yield to the right. Finally, use extreme caution when approaching or following a school bus, which is usually bright yellow. If a school bus has stopped to drop off or pick up children, you are required by law to stop until it moves off and has switched off the alert lights.
NEVER pass a stopped school bus when its ‘stop’ lights are flashing, whether approaching it from the front or rear, even if the two way traffic road is separated by a median - you can be arrested.
In school zones during certain times (usually posted at the individual schools) a strictly enforced 20 mph speed limit is imposed.
Within designated rush-hours, all the major freeways run an HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle, meaning a vehicle carrying a driver with at least one passenger, some time is at least two passengers) lane. HOV lanes are closely monitored with a reporting system for offenders so stick to the requirements.
On the highways, always keep a good watch through all your rear view mirrors to watch for cars coming up behind you at incredible speed and weaving in and out of all lanes. Overtaking happens in ALL lanes, not just in the "fastest" lane as in most countries with stricter traffic rules. So watch out and drive defensively.
Houstonian driving habits are pretty bad - especially during the traffic hours (7:00 a.m. -9:00 a.m., 4:30 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.).
Watch out for flying items from pick-up trucks as they carry all sort of things in their trucks without securing them.
Be careful not to leave valuables in a car, even if it is locked, as car theft and break-in are common, as in most major cities.
For up-to-date information on Houston's road conditions, call
Tel: + 1 713 869 4571 or 1 800 452 9292
For regional up-dates, call the
Texas State Road Conditions and Wildflower Line
Tel: + 1 713 869 4571 or 1 800 452 9292
Gas stations are open late or 24 hours a day. Many are self-service, meaning that you have to pump the gas yourself. The U.S. gallon is slightly smaller than the Imperial gallon. Approximately 4 liters equals a gallon.
Houston has a huge metropolitan area, and despite efforts to encourage the use of public transportation and car-pools, traffic is extremely heavy.
Visitors will be confused as many of the major roads have at least two names, and some have even more.
I-45, for instance, is called North Freeway (north of downtown), Gulf Freeway (south of downtown), and Pierce Elevated (going through downtown).
If you intend to drive in Houston, it is a good idea to get a key map(a local big book map) or a car equipped with a navigator. Be prepared to ask for directions.
Highway 45 & 59
These highways run North - South. They cross each other in the Downtown area, which can cause confusion for many drivers. Pay special attention when you arrive there.
I 10 runs East - West and with the recent completion of the hov (high occupancy lanes) is now less congested than it used to be.
Highway loops around Houston
Highway 610 (small loop, or simply referred to as "the loop") and Beltway 8 (big loop).
HW 610 covers most of the active part of Houston. Do discover and utilize it.
Beltway 8 is a pay toll highway. Depending on the distance, you pay from 25 cents to 1 dollar when you exit. Normally it has less traffic jams or chances of running into an accident, compared to Highway 45 or 59. Therefore it could be a safer choice, nevertheless, it could get bad during the rush hour. Also without the EZ tag you have to stop and pay at the booths, make sure you have a lot of quarters (25 cents coins).
To avoid a line up when wanting to pay the toll, you can get the "EZ tag": you pay 30 dollars in advance and get an electronic tag on your windshield, which allows you to drive straight through the toll without stopping (mostly there is no traffic on that lane). The EZ tag office will notify you, when your 30 dollars are about to expire. Besides the convenience, you save 25 cents on the 1 dollar toll.
HOV lanes - Freeway 59 and Interstate 10
When travelling with more than two persons (59) or three persons (I10) during the rush hours. Outside of the rush hours, the I10 HOV lane will allow two persons in the car. Please read signs carefully before entering the HOV lane. The HOV lane is the very left lane of the highway ; look for the big sign to enter. It has few and limited entrances and exits to and from Downtown. The HOV lane is onedirectional, i.e. it runs IN to town in the morning and OUT of town in the evening.
The Opening hours are indicated at the entrance.
The HOV lane is only open during weekends if there is a major event downtown which will cause rush hour like conditions on the highways.
Metro - Park & Ride
There is Metro Express bus station close by each HOV lane entrance, where you can "Park and Ride". You can buy a monthly pass or pay each time you enter the bus. There is a collection box as you step up the bus, the driver does not carry any change. Buses go to long distance destinations with limited stops and run on limited hours in the early morning and late afternoon.
There are city Metro buses, but they run on very limited areas in Houston.
When in downtown, there is a Metro line that runs around the areas during lunch hour for a small charge.
There is a red trolly that runs in downtown during lunch hours - free of charge.
You may find taxi services in front of hotels and airports. Normally you need to call in advance for the service, you don't catch them on the street.
- You must learn to pronounce the city name. It is Hugh-stun not Howstun.
- Forget the traffic rules you learned elsewhere. Houston has its own version of traffic rules....Hold on and pray. There is no such thing as a dangerous high-speed chase in Houston. They all drive like that.
- All directions start with, "Go down to Loop 610... which has no beginning and no end.
- The Chamber of Commerce calls getting through traffic a "scenic drive."
- The morning rush hour is from 6:00 to 10:00. The evening rush hour is from 3:00 to 7:00. Friday's rush hour starts Thursday morning. (Seems to me these hours are a little optimistic.)
- If you actually stop at a yellow light, you will be rear ended, cussed out and possibly shot. When you are the first one on the starting line, count to five when the light turns green before going to avoid getting into any cross-traffic's way.
- Kuykendahl Road can only be pronounced by a native.
- Construction on I-10, I-45, US 59, Loop 610 is a way of life and a permanent form of entertainment.
- All unexplained sights are explained by the phrase, "Oh, we must be in Pasadena!!"
- If someone actually has their turn signal on, it is probably a factory defect.
- All old ladies with blue hair in pink Cadillacs have total right of way.
- The minimum acceptable speed on Loop 610 is 85. Anything less is considered downright sissy.
- The wrought iron on windows in east Houston is not ornamental.
- Never stare at the driver of the car with the bumper sticker that says, "Keep honking. I'm reloading." In fact, don't honk at anyone.
- If you are in the left lane, and only going 70 in a 60 mph zone ... people are not waving when they go by.
- The Sam Houston Toll road is our daily version of NASCAR.
- If it's 100 degrees, Thanksgiving must be next weekend.