Unless you are actually staying at one of the in-house hotels at Walt Disney World, or at one of the hotels on International Drive, the likelihood is that you are going to need a car. European holiday destinations tend to be resort based where it is entirely possible to do all the things you want to do without ever jumping in a car. This is not the case in Florida, at least not for most people. The majority of visitors see their Florida holiday as being a mix of visiting theme parks, shopping and, at least occasionally dining out. While it is possible to do all of these things using taxis and courtesy buses, you are going against the grain of the way America in general and Florida in particular are set up. Florida is a very car-centric society, with much of its recent development being focused on tourism, and all of the tourist attractions are located off the motorway network. The following are a few tips about driving in Florida compared to the UK.
Hiring a Car
Although cars can be hired from a multitude of places in Florida, for those arriving from the UK, arranging for car hire from the airport makes sense. If you are doing so make sure that you do not consume alcohol excessively on the flight as Florida’s drink-driving rules are as tight as they are in the UK. Just about all cars are automatics and it is important to make sure that you hire one large enough for your needs. It is not much good hiring a vehicle with just enough room for everyone in your party, but not enough room for their luggage as well!
Rules of the Road
While most of the driving rules in Florida are common to those in the UK, there are some key differences, and the main ones are highlighted below;
- Driving on the Right - As is common with many parts of the world, Americans drive on the right side of the road, and this is the most striking difference when driving in Florida. All cars are set up accordingly, with left-hand drive.
- Turning Right on Red – Another noticeable difference from the UK is that you are allowed to turn right on a red light, providing it is safe to do so, and there is no specific indication that you are not allowed to. You must not just sail through the red light, you should come to a temporary halt first.
- Lane Discipline – you should always indicate if you are changing lanes, but under-taking is permissible so be alert to the possibility that someone is under-taking you when changing lanes.
- Speed Limits – these are clearly shown and should be followed. As mentioned above, drink-driving rules are strictly enforced and the limit is lower than in the UK. You are not allowed to have open containers of alcohol in the car at any time. If you get pulled over by the police, wait in your car until told to get out a police officer. Carry documentation with you at all times, including your driving licence and any rental agreement.
- School Buses – If you encounter one that is stationary and its lights are flashing (they are hard to miss as they are bright yellow), do not overtake. This applies even if they are on the opposite carriageway.
- Poor visibility – always have your headlights on during poor visibility, particularly if it is raining.
- Wider Roads – lanes are wider than in the UK, which makes driving a little easier (unless you are passing between two large trucks, when they don’t seem very wide at all!). Similarly, parking spaces are bigger to accommodate the generally larger American car.