Driving in Florida
Florida is world renowned for many things – like Disney World, citrus fruits, retirement communities, and bizarre news stories. Unfortunately, Florida also claims the dubious distinction of having the worst drivers in the United States.
This is not just the opinion of tourists navigating unfamiliar highways on their way to summer fun, nor simply the assessment of professional curmudgeon Dave Barry, who claims that Miami is the "proud home of the worst darned drivers in the world," despite his extensive experience driving in places as varied and dangerous as Italy, China, and Argentina.
No, in 2016 drivers in Florida were ranked the worst in the country based on data compiled from the Insurance Research Council, Federal Highway Administration, and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Floridians may feel an odd sense of pride about their ability to safely navigate their way through the country's worst drivers – which is a distinction that always applies to the other folks on the road, rather than oneself – but it is important for both Sunshine State natives and tourists to understand what to expect when driving in Florida.
Here is the good, the bad, and the ugly about getting behind the wheel in Florida:
Automobile Insurance in Florida
Florida requires every driver to carry a minimum of $10,000 in personal injury protection coverage, which covers you regardless of fault in an accident, and $10,000 in property damage liability coverage. If you have been in a crash or have been convicted of certain offenses, such as DUI, the Florida DMV can request that you purchase additional auto insurance coverage such as bodily injury liability coverage.
Despite having the second highest number of uninsured motorists in the nation, with 23.8 percent of motorists driving without insurance, Florida does not require you to carry uninsured motorist insurance. Insurance companies in Florida are required to offer you uninsured motorist coverage that is equal to your bodily injury liability coverage, but you are not required to purchase it.
Status and Fun: Understanding Florida Car Culture
The average Floridian driver will not have to contend with heavy snow or with the rust-inducing road salt that Northerners are used to dealing with during the winter. This means drivers in Florida often choose cars to reflect their personalities, since they do not have to worry as much about the practical concerns associated with snow and ice.
For instance, Jessica Garbarino who lives in the West Palm Beach area, has noticed a high number of status symbol cars in South Florida. "You have a lot of wealthy people along with people who are trying to appear wealthy driving luxury cars – more so than any of the other five states I've lived in." Teresa Mears, who lives in a suburb of Fort Lauderdale, concurs: "Until I moved to South Florida, I had never seen a Ferrari or a Bentley or a Jaguar on the road, and I hadn't seen very many BMWs or Mercedes. You do see clunkers in South Florida, but you'll also see a lot more luxury cars and sports cars."
Florida's warm weather is also one of the driving factors behind the "donk" car culture, which has its roots in Miami. Donks are any cars that have been modified to have enormous wheels – 30 inch rims are the most common – but classic Chevys from the 1970s are the most common type of vehicle made into donks.
In addition to the enormous wheels, donks also sport candy-colored or cartoon-inspired paint jobs. Donks have to be modified to accommodate their giant wheels – generally by jacking up the frame. Modifying these cars is all about having fun with them, particularly because they would not be driveable in areas of the country that get winter weather. 30 inch wheels would not easily survive a run-in with a pothole, which are much more common in areas with heavy snowfall, and trying to drive a donk on snow would be a non-starter. The width of the wheels would make them act like skis on snow, and there are not winter tires with chunky treads available for 30 inch rims.
Donks have appeared in everything from rap videos to the Oscar-winning film Moonlight, and they are a fixture of Florida car culture.
Miles Driven in Florida
Floridians put fewer miles on their cars than the average American driver. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the average American driver logged 13,476 miles per year as of 2014, the most recent year for which the data has been compiled.
Florida drivers, on the other hand, only drove an average of 11,836 miles in 2014. Spending less time on the road means that Floridians will generally spend less on regular maintenance (such as oil changes and new tires) and irregular maintenance needs (like brake pad, spark plug, and transmission fluid replacements).
The financial blog My Money Design calculates that the cost of such maintenance is approximately $0.26/mile. That means Floridians who drive the average of 11,836 miles per year can expect about $3,077 per year in maintenance costs. That's almost $500 in savings compared to the average U.S. cost of $3,503 per year for maintaining a car driven nearly 13,500 miles.
Although there are many factors that go into Floridians' relatively low yearly mileage, toll roads are one potential reason why Florida drivers don't drive as much as the rest of the country. There are 719 miles of toll roads in Florida, making it the national leader in toll roads. Although the high number of tollways have helped to pay for important road maintenance and highway infrastructure, they can be a driving deterrent for drivers on a budget.
Rural vs. Urban Driving
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the rate of car crash deaths per 100 million miles traveled is 2.4 times lower in urban areas than in rural areas. This is borne out by Florida's traffic fatality record: even though only 18 percent of vehicle miles traveled are on rural roads in the Sunshine State, rural roads accounted for 40 percent of all traffic deaths in 2013. However, although the percentage of traffic fatalities on rural roads is larger than the number of miles driven on them, urban roads pose some serious dangers for Floridians, partially because the majority of your time behind the wheel is spent in urban areas.
In addition, poor driving habits also help to explain the relative danger Florida drivers experience on urban roads. According to Bobbi Kronenberg, who recently moved back to the Orlando area after living in Europe for more than eight years, "driving in Florida was a rude awakening after living in Germany. Drivers are extremely aggressive here. They pass on the right, block the left lane, and won't allow cars to merge, among other issues. " Teresa Mears has also observed other dangerous driving trends: "Florida drivers are also more likely to make quick moves, and not signal turns."
The Cost of a Fill-Up in Florida
As of April 5, 2017, the national average cost of a gallon of regular unleaded gas was $2.349. Florida gas prices trend at almost exactly the national average – $2.347 per gallon – and have trended at the national average price for the last year.
Gas prices across the state do vary somewhat, however, with the highest prices being $2.491 per gallon in the West Palm Beach area, and the lowest being $2.279 per gallon in the Tampa area.
Since Florida drivers can expect to pay about the average cost of a gallon of unleaded, gas generally tends to be relatively affordable. But it's important to remember that lower gas prices encourage people to drive more – and the more people on the road, the greater likelihood there will be an accident.
The Unemployment Rate
As of February 2017, the national unemployment rate was 4.7 percent. Florida's unemployment is a little bit higher at 5.0 percent. Though they probably seem unrelated, the employment rate of a state affects its driving rate. As the employment rate increases, so does the number of commuters. Commutes in Florida are relatively long, at nearly 26 minutes each way, according to the 2014 Census Bureau American Community Survey.
Relatively high employment is also related to an improved economy, which means more people have money to spend on discretionary purchases. When unemployment is low, more people drive to spend money on dining out, night life, and sporting events, not to mention longer road trips. In addition, the more people who are employed, the more there are who can afford big-ticket items, such as cars.
Distracted driving – when a driver is paying close attention to something (such as a cell phone) other than the road – is a major problem in Florida. In 2015, there were more than 45,000 distracted driving-related crashes, resulting in 214 fatalities.
Florida is not alone in the problem of distracted driving. According to Distraction.gov, 3,179 people were killed and another 431,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers nationally in 2014.
To fight the problem of distracted driving, the state of Florida has banned texting while driving. However, the texting ban is a secondary offense, meaning police must stop motorists for another offense before ticketing them for violating the texting ban. One in seven Florida drivers admitted to texting while driving, and nearly half of 16- to 24-year-olds admit to the practice. Unfortunately, there are no specific distracted driving provisions that apply to teenagers.
Texting while driving is not the only problem that can lead to distracted driving. Making or receiving a phone call while driving makes you four times as likely to get into an accident than you would without the distraction. Although hands-free devices have not shown a significant improvement in safety, many states have implemented hands-free phone requirements for driving. Florida does not have such a requirement, so Florida drivers can hold and talk on their cell phone while driving.
Teen Drivers Behind the Wheel
Considering how prevalent teen texting-and-driving behavior is, it is no wonder that teenagers are among the most dangerous drivers on the road. According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, “distraction was a factor in nearly 6 out of 10 moderate-to-severe teen crashes." In addition, teen drivers are also new to their driving skills. All of this supports Florida's decision to enforce graduated driver licensing requirements for teens.
At age 15, Florida teens may apply for a learner's permit, provided they have completed the Traffic Law and Substance Abuse Education course and passed a Class E Knowledge Test. When driving, they must always be accompanied by a licensed driver over the age of 21, and they can only drive during daylight hours during the first three months. After that point, drivers with a learner's permit may be on the road until 10 p.m.
To move on to the provisional license, teen drivers must complete 50 hours of practice driving, 10 of which needs to be at night. The teen must also be at least 16 years old and have held the learner's permit for 12 months. Teens must also pass the Driving Skills Test and have no moving violations to receive their provisional licenses.
16-year-olds are not permitted to drive between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. and 17-year-olds must not drive between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. To keep the provisional license in good standing, teens must be in compliance with school attendance. Any driver under the age of 21 who is found to have a blood alcohol level of 0.02 percent or more will have their license immediately suspended for 6 months.
As of age 18, teens qualify for a full unrestricted driver's license.
The State of Driving in Florida
Driving in Florida offers unique challenges and hazards to anyone who gets behind the wheel. Understanding exactly what to expect from the sunny highways of Florida can help you make safe decisions on the road.