Florida has a mixed-bag of drivers. With an average of 1,000 people relocating to the Sunshine State daily, as in every single day, all bringing their out-of-state driving habits with them, the roads can be a bit chaotic. Adding to the mix are the millions of annual tourists from all points in the world paying more attention to Siri than to the traffic around them. Another nail-biter is the immense number of senior citizens who should maybe consider using other forms of transportation yet refuse to admit they aren’t quite as alert as they once were.
You might be considered an ace driver in Boise, but Florida has a whole different set of rules, some written, some not. Here are some them to help you out in your journeys.
1 Drive on the Right / Keep to the Right
This may seem like it goes without saying but some out-of-country visitors aren’t accustomed to driving on what’s the wrong side of the road to them. As a result, they have a habit of getting confused at times, just as Americans do when they drive in Great Britain.
Especially if you will be driving in the Tampa area, be extra cautious of road construction. There have been numerous incidents of drivers entering the highway going the wrong direction. Some of these have proven fatal.
Florida highways can get congested, especially during peak tourist times. Always remember, no matter how fast you may choose to drive, there is always another driver who wants to go faster. Sticking to the far right-hand lane is always advisable when possible, and it’s the law. Let those other cars and trucks blow right past you.
There is a strip of I-65 between Gainesville and Ocala where extra caution should be used, especially on weekends. Between the University of Florida students, truckers wanting to get where they’re going, out-of-staters, and normal traffic between the two cities, it can sometimes be a crazy ride.
2 Windshield Wipers/Headlights
Florida law says headlights must be on from dusk until dawn, but it’s advisable to leave them on all of the time. If you’re driving a newer car, just set them to automatic so they’ll turn off when the ignition is switched off. They also must be on when it’s raining. If you have never experienced a torrential Florida downpour, you’ll understand why when you do. Visibility can be almost non-existent at times. If you’ll be driving your own vehicle to Florida, make sure your blades are in good shape.
Florida has lots and lots of toll booths. There is no escaping them. Whether you’ll be driving around Orlando, across Alligator Alley, or taking the Bee Line Expressway, prepare to stop rather frequently. When it’s raining, the toll booth workers really appreciate drivers turning off their windshield wipers as a matter of courtesy. They don’t want to spend their day getting drenched and they might give you “what-for” if you don’t.
3 Law Enforcement
When you’re whizzing down the highway and spot a state trooper in the breakdown lane either issuing a citation or assisting a motorist, Florida law requires you to move to the furthest away lane as possible. It’s not just a good idea; it’s the law.
If for any reason you can’t make it over there, you’ll need to slow it down to 20 mph below the posted speed limit until you pass the police cars. This is a result of the “Move Over Act” of 2002. And, although it’s not required, it’s the smart and courteous thing to do whenever there’s anyone in the breakdown lane – emergency vehicle or not.
4 Toll Booths
Most turnpikes and expressways offer electronic payment lanes where those with a pass do not need to slow down, and they don’t, for any reason. Do not mistakenly jump into one of these lanes if you will be using coins or paper money. You will cause an accident.
Most rental car agencies offer an automatic toll by plate option. You will be charged a fee of about $5 each day that you rack up tolls plus the tolls themselves. This is added to your bill.
Don’t have an ePass or cash? Most toll plazas have at least one manned booth and it’s possible the attendant will have mercy on you. Otherwise, you can go through and you’ll get a notice in the mail via the Toll by Plate program – with an additional service fee, of course.
5 Cell Phones
Use common sense and put safety first. Texting while driving is against the law. Period. Video screens and DVDs are meant for kids in the back seat.
However, unlike in many states, you are not prohibited from talking on the phone nor does it have to be “hands free.” Still not a good idea, especially as you’re trying to navigate unfamiliar roads with a car full of kids over-excited about going to Disney World. That call or text can wait. Most phones have a driving setting that will respond to texts letting the sender know that you’re on the road and will catch up with them later. If it’s something you simply can’t ignore, pull off the road to take care of it.
6 Seat Belts
As is the law elsewhere, all front seat passengers must be securely strapped in, so this should be a no-brainer. Rear seat passengers over the age of 18 do not require seat belts, but everyone under 18 MUST be strapped in. All children under the age of four or weighing 40-pounds or less must be seated in an approved car seat. While not mandated, it’s advisable that all children under 12 ride in the back seat as air bag deployment can be dangerous and even deadly for little ones.
The driver is responsible for the seat belt and restraint requirements for himself and all passengers under 18. Fines can be well over $100, depending on the county. Seat belt laws are considered a primary enforcement offense, meaning you can be pulled over solely for the seat belt infraction.
Almost all rental car agencies have car seats available but it would be wise to check with them prior to your arrival in case one must be reserved in advance. If not, you may be stuck in the rental lot.
7 More Tips for Driving in Florida
- If you’re planning on flying into Florida and renting a car, consider springing for the extra insurance. With road construction everywhere, large numbers of out-of-towners and your own newbie status, it may be worth the peace of mind to not risk ruining your vacation with a big repair bill.
- All any driver need do on any Florida highway in case of an emergency is dial *FHP on their mobile and the state police will be dispatched.
- If you will be visiting Florida from another country and will be climbing behind a steering wheel, an international drivers license is not required. Your current license from your home country will suffice.
- You are allowed to turn right after stopping at a red light unless otherwise posted. A full stop. Red light cameras are everywhere and you WILL be ticketed.
- As is the law in every other state in the country, do not drive while impaired. Be forewarned. Florida has some of the toughest DUI laws in the nation. Uber and Lyft are available just about everywhere.
- In Florida, it is permissible to go through a light as long as you enter the intersection on the yellow. In practical terms, this means that many drivers are going to be hitting the gas instead of the brakes as the light turns yellow. If you are stopped at a red light, wait a moment and take a look before proceeding when the light changes to green.
- Florida is very car-centric and, unfortunately, pedestrians are not afforded the right-of-way as often as they should be. If you choose to walk to a nearby store or restaurant, stick to sidewalks and well-marked, lighted crosswalks. Even then, be extremely cautious when crossing. Unlike most civilized places, drivers do not automatically stop for those on foot, even though it is the law.
- If you run through a red light or try a rolling stop on a right-hand turn, there’s a good chance you’ll be receiving a citation in the mail. It’ll even include a photo of your car’s license plate and often even a link to a short video of the infraction so there can be no disputing your guilt. These tickets can be quite expensive.
- If you are planning on driving around the entire state, buy a SunPass. It’s a prepaid electronic toll program that allows motorists to breeze past toll booths. It’s cheaper than paying daily rates to your rental car company, you get slightly reduced tolls on some roads, and you’ll save a whole lot of time by not having to stop. You can pick one up at any Publix Super Market or CVS pharmacy or Walgreens.
- The Florida Turnpike is 450-miles and consist of the Veterans Expressway, Polk Parkway, Suncoast Parkway, Western Beltway, and the Seminole Expressway. There are service plazas, emergency call boxes. road rangers, and traffic management centers. Most of the service plazas offer an array of cuisine and they are kept very clean.
There’s a lot of territory to explore in Florida. Whether you’re hitting the Central Florida theme parks, heading to the beaches, embarking on a cruise or relaxing in the Florida Keys, chances are you’re going to hit the road. The key to having a non-incident kind of time when driving in Florida is to simply do what you always do. Use the same common sense and good judgment you use at home. Now, go have some fun. Florida’s a blast!