Packing up the car and making a road trip across the United States or to see as many landmarks as you can is a classic kind of vacation that has freedom as its centerpiece. You go where you want, when you want, and stop where you want. It's the stuff of novels and movies. If you're planning on driving through Florida, the most southeastern state in the U.S., you'll have a chance to see a plethora of beaches, popular Miami nightlife, Walt Disney World, and so much more. With so many beautiful and fun places to go, Florida attracts hordes of tourists around holidays and for spring break vacations every year.
In fact, the Sunshine State sometimes has some of the busiest roads in the country, so it's smart to know the rules of the road and some basic information prior to setting off on a journey that will be remembered for years to come. So before you load the family and all their luggage, snacks, and electronic devices into the car, get the needed details to make sure you reach your destination safely and with a minimum of unforeseen hassles.
Rules of the Road
Florida has some similarities with other states, but also some of its own special driving rules that may not be the same in other states. The Florida Department of Transportation provides helpful information on many topics from exit numbers to roundabouts to speed limits.
- Turning right on a red light: In Florida, it is perfectly legal to turn right at a red traffic light provided there is no traffic coming or a sign telling you otherwise, and as long as you make a complete stop. However, if there is a red arrow on the stoplight, you cannot turn right.
- Speed limits: The Florida speed limit is 70 miles/hour on Interstates, 65 miles/hour on a four-lane divided highway outside an urban area (with a population of 5,000 or more), and 60 miles/hour on other state highways.
- Driving too slowly: In Florida, you can be issued a ticket for not driving fast enough as it can cause accidents. Move within the posted speed limit and the flow of traffic, taking care not to block other vehicles traveling at normal, safe speeds.
- Bicyclists' rights: Cyclists and motorists must remember that in Florida a bicycle is legally considered a vehicle. Bicyclists on public roadways are considered operators of motor vehicles, and must abide by the traffic laws.
- Seat belts: The driver and front seat passenger must wear seat belts, and every passenger in the vehicle under the age of 18 must be restrained by a safety belt or by a child restraint device, regardless of seating position. All children 5 years of age or younger must be restrained in a proper child restraint system.
- Cell phones: Driving and talking on a cell phone is still legal in Florida but recommended against, since one of the biggest causes of accidents in the state is distracted drivers. If you urgently need to use the phone, pull over and stop your car as soon as you can.
- Toll roads: Florida’s Turnpike System has almost 500 miles of safe toll roads with access to major highways throughout the state. The SunPass program helps you move faster rather than wait in line at a tollbooth when traveling the state's toll roads. You attach a device to your windshield, and the tolls are automatically deducted from a prepaid account.
- Driving under the influence: Driving with a blood alcohol level of .08 percent or above is an offense under Florida law, as is driving under the influence of harmful chemical substances, or illegal controlled substances like marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin. Penalties for driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs are usually similar.
- The Move Over Act: According to this legislation, drivers must move over a lane when it's safe to do so—for stopped emergency, law enforcement, tow trucks or wreckers, sanitation, and utility service vehicles. If you can’t move over or are on a two-lane road, slow down to 20 miles/hour under the posted speed limit. When the posted speed limit is 20 miles/hour or less, reduce speed to 5 miles/hour.
- Wrong way drivers: When a driver has not observed posted traffic signs or pavement markings and is going in the wrong direction, call 911 immediately to report the driver. If you are being approached by someone driving in the incorrect direction, immediately reduce your speed and pull off the roadway.
- Aggressive drivers: If you cross paths with an aggressive driver who is speeding, cutting off cars, driving in trucks' blind spots, and the like, don’t engage with the driver as this can lead to road rage. Instead, pull over safely and create space between you and the impatient driver. Call *FHP (*347) or 911 from your cell phone if possible, providing the license plate and/or a brief description of the vehicle.
- Red light cameras: Keep an eye out at major dangerous intersections. These cameras take snapshots of red light runners, then unsuspecting people may receive citations in the mail.
- Rest stops and welcome centers: Make sure you drive safely and take breaks as needed. Find out the facilities available at each of these rest areas and welcome centers in Florida.
- In case of an emergency: If you have an emergency or witness one, call 911 or *FHP (347) from your cell phone. To report traffic crashes, drunk drivers, stranded or disabled motorists, or any suspicious incidents occurring on Florida roadways, call *FHP (347).
Weather and Road Conditions
Florida may be the Sunshine State, but it does have some diverse weather. It's also the thunderstorm capital of the U.S. with a known "lightning belt," and most weather-related deaths in the state are caused by lightning. Florida's natural disasters seem to be in the news regularly, ranging from tropical storms and tropical depressions to hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, and floods which regularly affect residents and visitors. Florida is not far from the currents of the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, and the climate is mainly affected by latitude and numerous inland lakes.
You can rest assured that despite weather variances and natural disasters, there are plenty of resources to make your trip go smoothly, like the Florida Highway Patrol—they promote safety on highways through enforcement and education. Dialing 511 will get you the scoop on traffic anywhere in Florida, or check online for current traffic conditions and detours, and to view everything from weather and road closure alerts to traffic cameras and creating personalized traffic profiles. You can set up mobile apps and text alerts to get up-to-date information.
To keep an eye on the climate, try the Weather on Wheels smartphone app; you'll have access to forecasts along your entire road trip route.
Parking in Florida
Always park on the right side of the road, unless it is a one-way street, and do not park more than one foot away from the curb. In Florida, you are not allowed to park on the roadway side of another parked vehicle (double parking), on crosswalks, sidewalks, in front of driveways, by curbs painted yellow or where "No Parking" signs are posted, within intersections, or in various other locations. State law requires that you remove your keys from your vehicle before leaving it.
Renting a Car
To rent a car in Florida, you will need a driver's license, passport, and a credit card, along with a driver who's at least 21. Some agencies will charge more for drivers under 25 years old. Though there is likely a fee, you can usually pick up your car in one place and drop it off in another, if renting from a major company. Ask if your rental car company has the TOLL-BY-PLATE electronic collection system if you would like tolls and other service fees to be automatically charged to the credit card on file.