Florida Guide > Miscellaneous
When you arrive in Florida for the first time, the prospect of driving in a foreign country can be really daunting. Don’t Panic. Once you’ve got used to it, the open roads, comfortable and easy to drive cars, and holiday vibe make driving the fun experience that we’ve forgotten in the UK with our constant road works and rush hour traffic jams. Driving stateside is part of the holiday adventure.
Most of us Brits are used to our manual gearboxes, roundabouts, small roads and fast speed limits. The subtle differences of driving in Florida can sometimes catch you out, but don’t fear as you will acclimatise after a day or so and then you’ll feel right at home.
I can still remember my first trip to Florida, fumbling around for quarters at the tolls, getting lost (a lot), wondering how to get back to where I thought I was heading, seeing the junctions I needed too late, and making some “unorthodox” manoeuvres.
Don’t worry though, Floridians are used to tourists, and Florida is a forgiving place to drive as long as you’re pre-armed with a few basics.
Vive La Difference
Driving in the USA has some key differences to the UK and at first they seem a little bizarre, but after a while you start to realise a lot of them make more sense.
When you first collect your car, unless you’ve driven an automatic before, this might seem a little scary to have to drive in a foreign country AND relearn how to drive a car!
Actually it couldn’t be simpler. You don’t have a clutch to worry about and you barely touch your gear stick. All you have to worry about is steering, accelerating and braking.
Whilst you have other options with your gear settings, you only really need to worry about 3 settings, Drive, Reverse and Park. That’s all there is to it.
Start up, select drive, release your brake and away you go. You won’t need to touch your gear stick again unless you want to park up or reverse.
Even when you stop at traffic lights you can just leave your car in Drive and your footbrake will hold you until you’re ready to set off. Then when you switch from brake to accelerator, you just ease away. You do have the option here to put the car in neutral and apply the hand break, which is sensible, if you are waiting a long time. Easier than driving a dodgem car. No gear changes and it’s just about impossible to stall. Shouldn’t all cars be made this way?
Some cars have their gearshifts on the steering column, rather than by your side, but this is just as easy. You’ll get the hang of it before you even leave the airport.
When it comes to parking up, just put the gear stick into Park and apply the hand break. That’s it.
Yes it’s true. Despite having these great roads and powerful cars, much of the time you’ll be restricted to 55 mph. You occasionally get up to 65 or 70 at best.
So keep it slow. You’re on holiday after all, and keeping the speed down helps you to deal with one of the biggest problems of driving over there, which is…….
There are two main problems with road signs in America. Firstly you don’t seem to get as much warning for junctions as you get back home, and secondly, there are just so many of them.
Roads are just an excuse to advertise in America, so you’ll be distracted by lots of adverts for shops, restaurants and theme parks. Adverts are everywhere and the road signs are intermingled with them. Keeps the kids entertained though as the ads often feature some of the great rides in the theme parks so they can look out for Spiderman, The Hulk or scary dinosaurs!
Also, as you will initially be unfamiliar with the geography, you often need to decide quickly between one direction or another.
Keeping your speed low will give you more time to spot the signs and react to them, not to mention staying on the right side of the County Sheriffs & State Troopers!
Plan Your Journeys
The best way to avoid getting lost is to get a good map – you usually get a good one from your car rental company – and to plan your journey before you go so you know which roads you are looking for and which exits you should take. It’s plain sailing after that. Useful to have a good navigator too.
Four Way Stop Junctions
Occasionally you’ll come to a four way cross junction which has no traffic lights.
The convention is a first come first served endeavour. Initially you should stop. Drivers cross the junction in the strict order of which you arrived. So if someone was waiting when you got there, they have the right to cross the junction before you. You must go in turn.
As these sort of junctions don’t tend to be in busy places, it’s usually very easy to decide who got there first, and in the end, this works surprisingly well.
Turning Right On Red
One of the great rules in America is that you can go through a red light if you are turning RIGHT at a junction AND there is no oncoming traffic. This is a great idea and really helps to stop congestion at traffic lights. So if you’re in a right turning lane at a red light and the driver behind is honking at you, it’s probably because you should be going through and you’re holding everyone up. So remember this one.
Beware though. This does NOT apply to going straight over or turning left across the flow of traffic where you must wait for the green light. Also you must not turn right on red if you see a sign next to the traffic light that says “NO TURN ON RED”. When you see this you must wait until green.
It seems to be acceptable practice here to overtake on both sides in multi-lane traffic, so don’t be alarmed by this. You should still stick to the right hand lane unless you are overtaking, but keep an eye out on both sides when you are changing lanes as you never know who is flying up on the inside of you.
Cars in the US only have a number plate at the rear of the car so you must drive forward into a parking space and not reverse in. This is so your plate is always on display.
The final bit of advice I can give you is;
You will get lost. You will take wrong turns and miss junctions. But you’re not in a hurry to get anywhere fast so there’s no need to make any hasty decisions. If you get lost there are lots of places by the roadside to stop and ask directions and everyone is really friendly and helpful.
Driving really is fun again when you have all that space and nobody does radio to drive to like the Americans, so enjoy the great weather and the great music and take your time. You get to see more that way. And you never know what you’ll discover on one of these wrong turns – we’ve often found short cuts, great restaurants or new places to visit purely by accident. That’s what exploring is all about.
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Page added on: 14 June 2005
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