Driving Around Miami: The Rules Are Different Down Here
While every city brags about their insane traffic and bad drivers, no city has quite the unique combo that we do
From the Miami Relocation Guide.
While every city loves to brag about its insane traffic and bad drivers, no city has quite the unique combination of residents that we do here in South Florida. And this makes for especially unbearable motor transportation.
As I have mentioned previously in this relocation guide, there may be one or two people in Miami who learned to drive in another country. Throw in transplants form such capitals of polite driving as New York, Boston and Philadelphia, and a complete lack of strategic planning on the part of the county, and you have one Hell of a driving experience.
Stop signs are summarily ignored on a regular basis. People double park in the middle of a busy thoroughfare. Turn signals on most cars are used less often than the airbags. That guy in the far right hand lane? Don’t be surprised when he makes a left turn across four lanes right in front of you. And don’t even get me started on people swerving over medians to get to freeway exits. While I will go into more detail about some of the more common violations that are considered commonplace, most minor traffic laws here are more or less suggestions. Unless you live in Pinecrest.
THE MIAMI LEFT
In most normal cities, it is generally understood that when a light turns red, it means “stop.” In Miami, however, it means “Three More Cars.” Sometimes four, depending on traffic. This, however, only applies to cars turning left. So say you are creeping out into the intersection to try and make a left, no less than two cars will inch up directly behind you waiting for the light to change so they go thorugh too. When you approach any intersection, you should pull out as far as possible so as to allow as many cars as can fit to tailgate behind you through the red. This is what passes as common courtesy in Miami.
This law does NOT, however, apply to motorists attempting to go straight through an intersection. Yes, we are much more lenient here about barely making yellows than they are in, oh, say, Fairfax County, Virginia, but those cars turning left on the red cannot make it through if cars are still going straight. If you do not follow this unwritten law of Miami driving you will be honked at, cursed in Spanish, and generally disliked by everyone else who lives here. Not that that wouldn’t have happened anyway.
A WORD ON RED LIGHT CAMERAS…...
In the past few years, the City has installed those wonderful Red Light cameras to try and deter the blatant use of the Miami Left. But since most Miamians take traffic violation notifications about as seriously as they take traffic laws themselves, it hasn’t curbed the practice. If you are, however, the type of sucker who actually pays red light camera tickets a) you really are not going to fit in here and b) make sure to take note of which intersections have them and which do not. The bright flash following the changing of light color is generally a good indication. As these cameras do not exist at every intersection.
USE YOUR FREAKING HORN!
It is not at all an uncommon sight down here to see someone driving down an empty street and honking their horn for no reason. One might think they were doing it to show off, but I doubt anyone on earth drives down the street honking so as to say “Hey, look at me! I’m in a 9 year-old Astrovan with no A/C and worn out paint job!” Occasionally it is to attract the attention of a lady or group of ladies walking down the street, as apparently the car horn is the most naturally arousing sound to the human female. You may often also see people in parades of cars, waving flags and honking horns loudly for no apparent reason. On a Tuesday. These people are most likely celebrating a win in a major international soccer tournament or the overthrowing of a government. Occasionally both.
Horn use in Miami is acceptable if the person in front of you has sat at a green light for over a quarter of a second, if someone has failed to go three cars through a red, if someone is moving too slow in front of you, if someone is moving too fast in front of you, if someone cuts you off in traffic, if you see a friend in the next car, if your hand slips off the wheel, if you feel like listening to the sound of your own car horn, if “Tainted Love’ comes on the radio and you want to honk along, or pretty much whenever you damn well feel like it. You paid for the horn, you may as well use it. Now if only people would apply that logic to turn signals.
I’M NOT SAYING GO OUT AND DO IT…
Between murder, cocaine trafficking, voter fraud, street crime and immigration, the local police have a lot to worry about. And, for better or for worse, drunk driving is not one of them. It is not uncommon to stumble out of a pizza place frequented by cops at 3 a.m., get in your car, and drive off right in front of them with little more than a passing glace. The only people I know who’ve gotten DUIs in Miami got into accidents, and even the most responsible, law-abiding people here drink and drive regularly. It is part of the culture if nothing else. You may take this fact one of two ways:
WHEN YOUR PREMIUMS ARE MORE THAN YOUR PAYMENT
If you are relocating here, you have no doubt looked into insuring your car in South Florida. Upon doing this, I’m sure your reaction was somewhere between “Did my computer misplace that decimal point?” and “Well, so much for retirement.” Yes, folks, sadly Miami-Dade County has some of the highest insurance premiums in the nation. Aside from insurance companies’ general love of raping the ever-loving soul from people who live down here, the companies actually have some fairly valid reasons for these exorbitant premiums.
First, as stated above, drivers here pretty much do whatever they want and so accidents happen a lot. I see an average of four a day just driving around, and I don’t even go out during rush hour.
Secondly, a lot of people in Miami don’t to buy insurance, so those who do have to make up the cost.
Does Florida have laws requiring insurance? Of course we do. We also have laws against marijuana use, underage drinking and not wearing a seat belt. And the penalty if you are caught without insurance? About $85. If you do the math, you could get a ticket a month for an entire year and as long as you weren’t in an accident you’d still come out about $1000 ahead. If you are a good, law-abiding citizen and like things like “insurance,” I highly recommend you get uninsured motorist coverage. Because when you get hit by an ’85 Camry with three tones of paint, even if the driver miraculously sticks around after he hits you, odds are he’s not gonna have the means to fix the front end of your Range Rover.
Aside from the natural inclination a South Floridian has to do absolutely nothing on the up and up, many people here come from countries where insurance is a luxury item up there with running water and electricity. So most newcomers don’t bother buying the stuff unless they have to, such as when buying a car. But your typical Miamian will buy a policy to get the car off the lot, make one payment, and then let it lapse.
SPEED BUMPS WITH A PULSE
As many new transplants seem to come from New York or California, I must inform you all of a little cultural difference here in Florida. You know how wherever it is you live pedestrians have the right-of-way? Well, legally that may be the case down here but in reality pedestrians are second-class road citizens and only a smidge above that lowest peon of South Florida traffic, the bicyclist. Do not ever expect a motorist to acknowledge your presence, much less stop for you when you are crossing the street, lest you end up on the wrong end of a set of Uniroyals.
Thanks to our old, foreign and less-than insured drivers, Miami may be a tough city to drive in, but it will prepare you to drive anywhere in the world. If you can master the antics of the Miami Left, the utter lack of turn signals, and the even more utter lack of respect for traffic laws, you will be well-prepared for anything that may come your way on the road. Just make sure you know the local customs and courtesies, and soon you too will be enraged when the guy in front of you has the unmitigated gall to stop at a red light. And assume, correctly, that he must be a tourist.
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