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Driving in Washington

Traffic drives on the right in the US. The speed limit is usually 55mph (89kph) on motorways, but varies from state to state. Speed limits are clearly indicated along highways and are strictly enforced, with heavy fines imposed. Note that it is illegal to pass a school bus that has stopped to unload its passengers (using indicators and warning lights) and all vehicles must stop until the bus has moved back into the traffic stream. It is illegal for drivers not to have their licences immediately to hand. If stopped, do not attempt to pay a driving fine on the spot (unless it is demanded), as it may be interpreted as an attempt to bribe. There are extremely tough laws against drinking and driving throughout the US. These laws are strictly enforced.

On the whole, driving in the US is a breeze. Road signs are clear and street names are posted up high, with the name of the street going in the same direction as the road itself.

In the US, driving licences are issued by the individual states for their residents. Required for operating motor vehicles, driving licences are also used as a primary form of photo identification in the US, particularly in many non-driving situations where proof of identity or age is required, such as for boarding airline flights, for cashing checks and for purchasing alcoholic beverages. Many states issue identification cards to assist people who do not drive but would still like a state-issued identification (ID) card. The requirements for these ID cards are different from driving licences, but they may be issued from the same department and locations.

Specific requirements and procedures for driving licences vary from state to state – some states may allow students and temporary residents to use the driving licence from their home countries until the licence expires. For specific details, applicants should contact their appropriate state office, usually called the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

The general guidelines of getting a US driving licence are:

• Determine the type or class of licence needed, depending on the vehicle you will be driving. Most people are interested in passenger vehicle licences. However, you may need a different class of licence if you want to operate vehicles such as motorcycles, trucks, mopeds and other vehicles. Typically, passenger car drivers must be at least 16 years old (the minimum licence age for many states);

• Be prepared to provide two forms of identification (known as primary and secondary forms) to prove identity and birth date. Each state's requirements vary but most request document originals or certified copies;

• Become familiar with driver testing procedures. Most driving licence offices have free handbooks available for drivers to prepare for the test(s) in advance. Be aware that there are minimum test scores required, which vary from state to state. Examples of driver licence test(s) may include: written, driving, vision and hearing. For the driving or road test, applicant must provide the vehicle and will be accompanied by the driving licence examiner who will determine the driver's ability to operate the vehicle and obey traffic laws. All driving licences issued in the US require that the applicant pass an eye examination. If you need to wear eyeglasses to pass this exam, you will be required to wear them while you drive. This requirement, usually printed as 'corrective lenses' will be identified on your licence.

In addition to documentation and testing, applicants can expect the following during driving licence application:

• a picture to be taken;
• submission of licence from another jurisdiction, or completion of appropriate courses;
• completion of application form;
• completion of parental consent form (for drivers under age 18);
• payment of application fee.

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