Here are South Florida’s rules of the road: Never use your turn signals. Put on your makeup or eat breakfast as you drive. And honk your horn if the car in front of you hesitates for a millisecond.
These are typical South Florida driving behaviors, all of them wrong, but mostly not illegal. Combined with rampant speeding, daily traffic tie-ups and frequent incidents of road rage, driving in South Florida can be a stressful experience that baffles newcomers who are accustomed to polite motorists who pass on the left, give you the right of way and smile.
Drivers here gear up for their daily dose of stress.
“I risk my life every day while driving on I-95,” said Brianna McCall, an Oakland Park resident who works in Coral Springs. “I prepare myself for 40 minutes of anxiety every morning. It’s like people forget to use their brains while operating a moving vehicle.”
Julia Ventura, who moved to Coconut Creek from Michigan two years ago, said she has been having trouble adjusting to the South Florida driving mindset.
“I’m not a timid driver by any means, but 95 scares me,” she said. “I’m convinced that I’m more likely to die in a car accident here. My favorite part is when I’m getting yelled at or honked at for driving correctly.”
Lydia Begley, a veteran New York driver who lives in Deerfield Beach, agreed.
“NOTHING prepared me for driving on South Florida’s I-95 stretch from Boynton Beach to Miami,” she said. “It’s most similar to Mad Max’s Thunderdome: Cars basically levitate from one lane to another, no warning, no blinkers and last minute decisions without any regard for the people around them.”
It’s hard to avoid I-95 or motorists who become irritated with our traffic congestion and take it out on nearby cars.
Here’s what you need to know about driving in South Florida and how to maintain a modicum of safety amid the madness.
We rank high for accidents and distracted driving.
We don’t have the most accidents in the country, but we’re near the top. Florida placed third on the most dangerous U.S. states for driving list, with speeding the primary crash cause. Texas and California are ahead of us.
Our attention is easily diverted by our phones, our pets and our snacks. Florida ranks second only to Louisiana for distracted driving. The Florida Highway Patrol reports there are about five distracted driving accidents in Florida every hour.
You can be sure that I-95 is among the places where drivers get sidetracked. It’s the deadliest highway in the state, an almost lawless territory where a shrinking number of state troopers are writing fewer tickets as crashes spike.
“I’ve always wondered why police do not enforce speed on I-95,” said Melanie Lynne, who lives most of the year in Dearborn Heights, Mich. “People in Michigan don’t drive this way. You’ll get stopped and ticketed.”
I-95: Essential and deadly.
A 2020 South Florida Sun Sentinel investigation into the perils of driving on I-95 found there are fewer troopers covering the highway today than there were 20 years ago. Meanwhile, Florida produced more than a third of all fatal crashes on I-95 from Miami to Maine over five years, even though 80% of the highway lies outside Florida.
Some troopers say that parts of I-95 have gotten so dangerous they’re afraid to stop people. “I’m not going to risk my life to pull over someone speeding,” one trooper told the Sun Sentinel.
To get away from the chaos, some drivers use Florida’s Turnpike, another north-south artery. But speeding and congestion also plague that toll road, and South Florida turnpike users will soon have to deal with vexing road construction as the state begins widening some stretches from six to 10 lanes in Broward and Palm Beach counties.
Construction is a constant on almost every major South Florida thoroughfare. Right now, the Florida Department of Transportation is adding express toll lanes on I-95 from Deerfield Beach to Delray Beach, a six-mile stretch to be finished by the end of 2023. The express lanes first made their appearance in Miami-Dade in 2008 and have been making their way north.
Drivers use a SunPass transponder to pay to drive in the express lanes; the cost ranges from 50 cents to an estimated $10.50, depending on the time of day, the amount of traffic and distance traveled.
The express lanes are on the left. On the right, there are lanes that transition into exits, confusing new drivers.
“As a Northerner, it is still very odd to me how exit ramps/lanes are the travel lanes on 95,” said Boynton Beach resident Brandy Massie, who has lived in Delaware and Maryland. “I’ll be minding my own business driving in the slow lane and then BAM....it’s suddenly an exit! Up north an exit lane is created off of the slow lane about one mile before the exit ramp.”
Behavior: We’re annoyed, stressed and mean.
Do people in other states drive the way Floridians do? This is a subject of debate. Almost daily, we see cars not stopping for emergency vehicles or funeral processions or school busses. The consensus is that Florida drivers are impatient, inconsiderate and nasty.
“They’re quick to honk if you don’t take off the moment your light turns green, they’ll cut right in front of you, make up their own rules of the road, show no courtesy, tailgate, recklessly speed...horrible!” said Deborah Wegman Tabor of Boynton Beach, who has lived in North Carolina, West Virginia and South Carolina.
“Speed limits seem like a suggestion and not law. If you’re not going 80 to 90 mph on I-95 you’re getting passed, flipped off, honked at,” said Delray Beach resident Lesley Morely Thompson, who moved to Florida from Tennessee in 2010.
Blood pressure increases as we see drivers ignore basic safety laws, such as passing on the left and stopping before making a right turn at a red light.
“I’ve noticed people never want to wait that split second when the light changes or when you are making a right hand turn when traffic is coming from the other side,” said Tina Wickham-Walters, a DoorDash driver from Coconut Creek. “It’s absolutely crazy how so many people are so impatient on the road and they are always in a rush. And forget about merging. God forbid someone should let you in.”
Then there are those who make their own rules.
“We frequently observe something that we’ve dubbed ‘the Florida turn,’ " said Terry Warnke Mayhew of Boynton Beach. “It’s when a light changes to green and the person in the far right lane cuts across two or three lanes to make a left turn.”
And forget about drivers using their turn signals.
When Laura Zinn moved to Coral Springs, “I was frustrated because nobody seemed to be using their turn signals,” said Zinn, a yoga teacher who grew up in Clearwater. “I very quickly found out why. If you use a turn signal people actually speed up so that you can’t get over. None of my family that visits will ever drive in this area. It’s just that bad.”
Get to know Florida’s driving laws.
Here are some Florida driving laws that may differ from other states.
There are no mandatory vehicle inspections or emissions testing: The Florida Legislature ended compulsory inspections in 2000, saying they were too expensive and Florida had met clean-air standards. That’s why you often hear deafening mufflers and cars leaving a smoky trail of exhaust.
Hazard lights: Although it used to be illegal, Florida drivers can now use their hazard lights to drive in heavy rain and fog, but only on highways. The law reversed years of messaging by state traffic officials, who had been telling drivers not to use those lights in the rain.
Move over: If you’re approaching a stopped emergency vehicle, sanitation or tow truck, wrecker or construction vehicle with warning lights on, you have to move over a lane to give them extra space. Motorists who don’t change lanes can receive a $165 ticket.
Headlights on: Your headlights must be on if you find yourself in rain, smoke or fog, no matter what time of day it is.
Texting and driving: You cannot text or email while driving, but you can when stopped at a light. Florida law allows drivers to talk on handheld devices, but it’s illegal to use a handheld device in a school or construction zone while workers are present.
Red light cameras: Cameras that film your car as you go through a red light have been controversial in Florida, but the Florida Supreme Court ruled in 2018 that they are legal. Several cities use them, including Pembroke Pines and Boynton Beach. Tickets are $158.
How to be a safe Florida driver
Here are some ways to drive defensively amid the insanity, courtesy of Florida’s Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles:
Don’t engage with a driver who is suffering from road rage. If you’re able, get his license plate and call 911 or Florida Highway Patrol at *347. Pull over to get out of his way if you can.
Stay out of the blind spot of trucks.
Don’t cut off nearby vehicles.
Leave room when changing lanes.
Know the speed limit and obey it.
Take a deep breath, show some humility and be patient in traffic and changing weather conditions.
There’s no question that driving in South Florida will test your fortitude. After the stress of driving in South Florida for eight months, Fatih Akici said he was thrilled to move back to Dallas recently.
“I want to hug every driver now, because they stop at stop signs, use their turn indicators, yield when one tries to join the road, and say thanks when someone does something considerate like that,” said Akici, who lived in Boca Raton and Boynton Beach. “In South Florida, I was fearsome of traffic, and avoided my wife driving when I wasn’t present, because of the high likelihood of her getting hurt and me not being there. South Florida needs more police presence on the roads, inspection/registration process just like most other states, and more strict scrutiny of drivers.”