Is this your first time behind the wheel in Florida?
It can be somewhat nerve-wracking or intimidating whenever you drive for the first time in a new country, however good a driver you are. This is especially the case when you arrive in Florida for the first time because unless you are staying at a theme park resort, driving is usually a pretty essential part of getting around on your holidays.
There’s no shortage of shops, restaurants, bars and entertainment in any of the major resorts but in a large proportion of cases you’ll generally find that you need to have use of a car to access the things you want to do most. And if you’re holiday is in Orlando then this is particularly true; everywhere is a drive and most of the roads you need to take are three or four lanes wide (maybe more) and often very busy.
OK, all that being said, I feel I should point out that (and this is a personal opinion) once you’ve got the handle on the road system, driving around Florida (Orlando included) can actually feel easier and less stressful than trying to negotiate some of the motorways and main roads in the UK.
So, if you are about to embark on your debut driving experience in Florida then here’s a few pointers to get you started:
Driver’s Licence & Insurance Documents
Ok, important point number 1. In the USA it is LAW that you have your licence and other relevant documents such as insurance with you AT ALL TIMES when you are driving. Don’t leave it in the apartment, hotel or villa when you head out to the shops or restaurant. If you get stopped for any reason and you don’t have them on you, it is an offence and you could be prosecuted.
They Drive on the ‘Other’ Side of the Road
We’ve all seen the films where an American in the UK or a Brit abroad pulls away into the road to be confronted by oncoming traffic. Well, try not to be that person. In the USA they drive on the right hand of the road and the steering wheel is on the left side of the car. It might be good for a joke in a film or sitcom but you need to get your head around it, particularly at junctions. LOOK BOTH WAYS.
Turning Right on a Red Light
In most instances at junctions with traffic lights, if you are turning right and there is no traffic coming then you are allowed to turn right even if the light is red. Again, you need to be confident that you can turn without a car bearing down on you, caution and common sense is needed when you drive in any country. Only turn right on a red if you’re absolutely sure that the coast is clear. You also HAVE to stop at the lights completely before you make the turn. ALSO, be aware that it is not always permitted so pay attention to the road signs.
The Lights are Above You
Talking of traffic lights, please note as well that the position of the traffic lights in Florida are ABOVE the street, suspended on bars or cables, as opposed to the traditional UK style of adjacent to the junction.
Speed On The Freeways (Motorways)
Pay attention to the speed limits on the freeways; they can vary from 50 to 70 mph and are generally pretty strictly enforced. Also, you will note that in many stretches of freeway and Interstate they also have MINIMUM speed limits, so don’t go too slowly either.
Undertaking on Freeways / Interstates
Good driving practice deems that you stick to the inside lane and pass in the outer lanes, as per in the UK – although bear in mind that the inside lane is on the RIGHT and the outer lanes to the LEFT.
However, it is NOT illegal to ‘undertake’, that is, pass a vehicle via the inside lane and you might find that this is a very common occurrence. So don’t be alarmed or enraged if you’ve got cars going by you on either side – it happens.
Try to Work Your Route Out Beforehand
Common sense really when in a new location. But try to get an idea of your route before you take the wheel. If you’ve got SatNav / GPS then that will help, otherwise use a map and pay attention to the road signs. If possible, have another passenger in the party act as navigator for you.
Careful Driving Near Road Works
Local authorities are pretty robust in enforcing driving laws in areas where roadworks exist. Pay close attention to speed limits in these areas because, if you are stopped, the fines are very often DOUBLED.