It's summertime, and the living is easy. You're ready to load up the car and take off on that road trip you've always dreamed of. You're too smart not to know that driving laws can change in an instant as you cross state lines. Here are some key considerations to get you safely and sanely where you want to go.
Your West Coast road trip
You'll spend most of your time in California if you plan to drive up the West Coast - the state covers approximately 900 miles from bottom to top. The good news is that it boasts about 50,000 miles of easy-driving highways and freeways, and the speed limit is pretty consistently 65 mph on any roadway with more than two lanes. Texting behind the wheel is against the law here, and if you want to talk on your cellphone you must do so hands-free. This rule remains the same as you travel into Oregon and Washington.
If you drive the Pacific Coast Highway, fill the gas tank and load up on water as you approach Carmel from the south and Washington's Olympic Peninsula. You'll find particularly isolated roadways in these regions for stretches up to 90 miles. Keep that beer in the cooler until you stop for the night - California conducts more than 2,500 sobriety checkpoints at year.
Traveling the southern states
Start with Florida and take a tour through the Everglades if you plan to travel the southern states, but keep in mind that the Everglades is a national park. Check locally before you enter any national park or reservation because driving laws can differ slightly from those of the states.
Florida has some serious aggressive driving laws, so take care when changing lanes or following another car closely. Cellphone use is OK here, as well as in Alabama and Mississippi - there's no handheld ban, although you can't text while driving. You can stop worrying about your cell for a while when you reach Louisiana. This state only has a handheld device ban for learner and intermediate driving permits regardless of the age of the driver. There's no ban against handheld cellphones in Texas, but this changes again as you enter New Mexico if your vehicle bears New Mexico plates. The state acknowledges that travelers may not be aware of the law against cellphones and doesn't penalize visitors, though you still can't text behind the wheel, however. Arizona has neither a handheld ban nor a texting ban, so if you need to get in touch with folks, do it here.
Speed limits on rural Louisiana interstates are up to 75 mph, but slow down to 70 mph when you pass through urban areas. You can travel as fast as 85 mph on designated areas of Texas interstates and 75 mph on certain other limited-access roadways.
Traveling the northern states
If you're headed back east through Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, and Iowa, you're perfectly OK to hold your cellphone while you talk. You won't hit a handheld-devices ban until you reach Illinois.
The speed limits on rural interstates in these states are typically 75 mph, but if you're feeling nostalgic and want to travel northeast on Route 66, you'll find reduced speeds, since technically, Route 66 is no longer a designated highway. Road signs guide you to stay on the historic route, but this takes you on modern-day interstates in some places, like Interstate 55 south of Chicago, which brings the speed limit down to 55 mph as you approach the city.
Sobriety checkpoints are illegal under state law in Idaho and Wyoming, although it's never a good idea to drink and drive. On the other hand, Illinois conducts hundreds of sobriety checkpoints a year.
Your East Coast road trip
If you decide to head north from Florida rather than travel west, you'll pass through a long string of states that take drivers' responsibilities seriously. Sobriety checkpoints are conducted weekly in areas of Georgia, and the state allows red light cameras, so come to a complete stop or you might find a ticket waiting for you when you get home. You'll also encounter red light cameras as you pass through North Carolina and some Virginia localities. Also, Virginia law includes statutes addressing road rage as well as aggressive driving, so hold your temper.
None of these states have handheld cellphone bans. You won't encounter this provision in the law until you reach Maryland, but then it prevails all the way north until you reach Rhode Island.
These are just some highlights of what you might encounter on a cross-country road trip. After you plan your route, check the Governors Highway Safety Association website for precise information about what you can expect in every state.