When I visited Florida with my family as a child, I remember my father cursing the native drivers. I believe he called Floridian drivers "crackers". I wasn't sure what it meant, but I made a point to observe the cars drive by us, passing in both lanes, as I became closer to the age of acquiring my driver's license.
On a visit to Florida in the mid-1990s, my grandfather picked me up at the airport. I was uncomfortable with his ability to manage the busy highways and I was less comforted with his explanation that he only drove 50 miles per hour in the middle lane to ensure his safety. The problem with that thought process was that we were traveling on a three-lane expressway and the speed limit was 65 miles per hour.
This past week, I drove with my girlfriend and her two teenagers throughout much of the southern two-thirds of the state of Florida with a rental car. I had flashbacks to those days riding in the back of the family station wagon as I maneuvered through the traffic on major thoroughfares. It became apparent to me that drivers in Florida, like in many states, are of all ages and come from varied backgrounds.
Drivers in Florida are so easily identified: They are either teenagers, elderly, foreigners and/or tourists. Although I fit into the last category, I wasn't like so many other travelers who gawked at the sights - whether it be in a large city like Orlando, a bustling tourist destination like the Florida Keys or in the remote portions of the Everglades. I didn't dare take my eyes off the road for fear that someone else may not be paying attention and cause an accident.
I grew up 50 miles from Milwaukee and Chicago and often traveled the interstate and dealt with toll roads and the potential distraction of skylines, tourism attractions and busy roadways. So I'm fairly accustomed to driving in metro areas. But being among drivers in Florida is something that must be experienced to be properly explained.
It is ironic, though, that the only accident I encountered while on vacation last week was when I backed the rental car into a pilon while exiting a parking garage. Fortunately, my girlfriend was smart enough to purchase the necessary insurance coverage so I did not take a financial hit for my mistake.
On the other hand, I'm glad that it was only a small dent to the rear of the rental car that I caused myself. Because even the best and most alert drivers would be challenged living in Florida and avoiding the daily potential for disaster.