How to Drive In South Florida
| June 26, 2016 |
Growing up in New York, I thought I’ve seen the worst drivers in the country. It turns out that New Yorkers are just aggressive drivers, with the basic understanding of traffic rules and regulations. In contrast, a large percentage of South Floridians appeared to be law-avoiding drivers. I was constantly impressed with some stunts drivers were able to pull off, and am incredibly impressed I left South Florida without any vehicular damage. Here’s why.
Blinkers: Underused and Ignored.
Driving to work every day required a great deal of vigilance and strategization. I was on the constant lookout for oblivious drivers on side roads AND major highways such as the Sawgrass Expressway, 595, and 75. Lane changing was seriously scary business. I’m not sure if car dealerships in South Florida have removed the lights from all blinkers, or signaling lane changes is simply socially unacceptable.
Giving Up: Loss of faith in the blinker.
One may think using a blinker in Florida is not required by law, but it is! Yet, when people actually follow this law, I noticed the driver signaling their intention is avoided and ignored by other drivers. People don’t wave you on, but instead aggressively speed around you. There’s no yielding to someone who needs to change lanes. Maybe it’s because a lot of people with their blinkers on keep them on for a little too long. We are supposed to signal 100 feet before our intended change in direction, but I saw people drive with blinkers on for miles (pet peeve alert!). Sometimes a blinker also signaled the individual needed to merge not one, but two (maybe three) lanes as it wasn’t uncommon to see a driver quickly take a right exit… from the left lane. EEK!
Constant Fear: Blind spots and beyond.
This reluctance to use blinkers and ignorance of other drivers made me quite fearful to change lanes 99% of the time. Though I usually signaled my intention (okay, I slowly started slipping due to its uselessness), I was fearful my signal would go unnoticed – especially in three-lane traffic! I swear this fear is not illogical. It’s legitimate and valid. How ’bout an example, eh? When merging from the right to center lane, I not only had to worry about drivers in the middle lane, but also the left lane. Why? If I decided to head into the center lane, and someone parallel/behind me in the left lane also wanted to merge into the center. The oblivious lefty driver could decide to merge simultaneously, and we’d collide in the middle. This almost happened an uncountable amount of times, and I’m thankful I avoided collisions despite these truths. AH!
The “snowbirds” are real, but the majority of driving patterns are actually NOT the source of elderly, slow drivers (*gasp!*). In fact, in my eastern coast of residence, I didn’t even notice a large population of snowbirds. Most of them end up on the west coast around Clearwater and Tampa as they’re slower-paced cities. On any given road in South Florida, however, there was a lovely mix of speedy teens with de-muffled mufflers blaring to attract attention, and people driving significantly below the speed limit (or general traffic patter). I found I was either in awe of the high speeds of other drivers, or frustrated by a 40-mph-driver in the left lane of the highway. I also noted the slower, second group usually were on their phones. GOSH so many phone users and abusers! Which brings me to…
Cell Phone Laws (or lack there of).
Unfortunately, there’s NOT a first-offense law for texting and driving in Florida. You can only get a ticket if you’re doing something ELSE illegal (i.e. not using a blinker, speeding), and is thus considered a second offense (see this chart, updated June 2016). Also, there’s no regulations on handheld devices. I saw people with a phone to their ear changing lanes without looking.
Trucks Don’t Know Their Size.
I think truckers in South Florida forget they’re driving MASSIVE wheeled metal weapons that could easily plow over any vehicle. A lot of highways do not have lane restrictions on truckers, so 18-wheelers in the left lane is fair game. Oh, they also don’t love the blinker, and really love joining you in your lane – ready or not! I was also impressed with how fast and aggressively they were driving. They seemed a bit too confident in their driving skills, and I kind of avoided them when I could. Unlike in New York, there aren’t any parkways (that I know of) where you could entirely avoid truck drivers, so all roads were free game for them. Not my favorite.
Driving (Stopping) in the Rain.
It’s hilarious how South Floridians forget to how to drive in the rain, despite the frequency of downfalls and sporadic rainstorms. Drivers love using their hazard lights when it starts raining (highways alert drivers not to, but do you think they listen?). I would have thought they had enough practice in the rain, but they seemed to lose their bearings when rain fell. This never ceased to amaze me.
Traffic Lights: The Kiss of Death.
I would like to address what I believe is the source of a LOT of driving issues in South Florida. THE TRAFFIC LIGHTS ARE FOREVER. LITERALLY. I had two traffic lights on my daily commute to work that required a ton of strategy to save anywhere from 5-15 minutes (yes, for real).
When turning left toward work in the mornings, I had approximately 0.5 miles to make a critical decision to either: (A) attempt the left turn lane, or (B) make a right turn at the light? If the left turn lane was backed up past a certain point, I KNEW I would not make the turn signal when it changed, and I’d have to sit for one to two more light cycles (easily costing 10 minutes). Thus, I would opt to turn right at the light, proceed to the next traffic light, and U-turn in order to pass the intersection. Here’s a fun little visual I made (fine, call me a nerd) to help you understand this better:
Lengthy traffic lights like these cause: merging into turn lanes when the light turns green (rude!), running through red lights, aggressive merging, and all kinds of frustrated drivers. When I sat at red lights, I felt like I could get so much done, and sometimes heard a full 1-2 songs. It was absolute insanity.
My Return to New York.
Driving in Long Island, New York has been impressively pleasant since leaving South Florida. Although people are a little too aggressive, at least I can merge lanes without fear of simultaneous merging. People also use their blinkers (thank you, thank you). Despite the rudeness of some drivers, and the insane traffic everywhere, it’s been a relief to be back in NY after fearful driving in South Florida…!
Disclaimer: I love South Florida, and this was written all in good fun! (And because I was seriously scared driving… sometimes.)