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The Pleasure of Driving in Florida - Orlando / Florida Guide

Florida Guide > Travelling

Yes, Florida has become busier over the years and yes, like everywhere else, the world’s drivers have become a little more impatient, but there is absolutely no question that driving in Florida is one of the highlights of my trips – a real pleasure when compared to driving in the UK.

Many first time holidaymakers from the UK have worries about the driving experience, particularly with the steering wheel being on the left hand side of the car. In reality, however, I find that as soon as I take position in the driving seat my whole mind set automatically thinks opposites. (As my wife tells herself - as the driver you are always in the middle of the road – never alongside the pavement or sidewalks!!)

As you make yourself comfortable and get your luggage and family in the car, it may dawn on you that this vehicle feels very large. But in the US everything is scaled to fit. You may already notice that the parking space you have just collected your car from is larger than anything in the UK and indeed this is the case for every part of your future motoring in Florida. From the moment you move the transmission into ‘D’ – Drive (yes, just about all vehicles are automatic so gear changing requires no thought) everything you come across will be bigger and wider. The highways, streets, parking lots, driveways in villa homes, just about everything will be equally scaled up accordingly. Therefore driving your newly acquired vehicle amongst the many other large vehicles, particularly 4 x 4s and MPVs, will not seem so daunting after all and within hours the car may even begin to feel smaller and comfortable!

For most holidaymakers, myself included, the most difficult drive is probably the one from point of arrival in Florida to the villa home. This probably has more to do with tiredness, the time of day (usually late afternoon) the long flight and the initial customisation. My best advice for this first journey is to ensure you are comfortable, do not rush or be rushed, know how to work lights etc on the car and know where you are going before you leave the car rental area. A refreshingly cold (non-alcoholic) drink before you set off can work wonders!

You soon notice driving around that Florida has no roundabouts. Indeed, most roads are fairly straight, consist between one and six lanes, dependent on the type of road, for example, highway versus interstate. Almost all turns and changes of direction in Florida will be controlled through intersections and slip roads. Signage is generally exceptionally good and every intersection will have its name and number hanging across the street, usually alongside the highly visible traffic signals. Similarly on highways and interstates, signage will often provide slip information for several exits coming up ahead. The most important aspect of your driving ability when navigating entry and exits from highways and Interstates is good lane discipline helped by reading signage and using maps (or better still a satellite navigation system – these can be rented via this website).

One of the great advantages in Florida (unlike the UK) is that there is no fast lane as such. This means that (within reason) you are able to choose the right lane ahead of making your turn, without the vehicle behind you pressurising you to move over. Do not be surprised by vehicles passing you on both the inside and outside lanes as this is perfectly normal and accepted in most of Florida. (Unless displayed otherwise). Should you find yourself in the wrong lane, with little distance to go to your exist, never be tempted to veer across several lanes unless completely clear or with large gaps – it is much simpler and safer to continue to the next turning and find your way back.
Another delight and something which seems so sensible and obvious, is the ability to take a right hand turn on a red traffic signal at intersections. Priority must always be given to through traffic and pedestrians. Unless specifically prohibited at an intersection this is a general rule that applies across Florida and is so useful to traffic flow. Do make sure however that you bring the vehicle to a partial stop before making this manoeuvre. Roads with stop signs similarly require all vehicles to stop but this form of control is extremely courteous and you will soon notice that most drivers will use ‘a round robin’ approach to letting vehicles continue.

Leaving the best to last, the best feature of all, in my opinion, must be the availability of parking (car parks are known as parking lots in the US). Whether it is a trip to Wal-Mart, local restaurants, or shopping malls, parking is always plentiful and best of all free of charge (when you’ve holidayed in the UK, have you ever totalled up your Pay and Display charges?).

After a week or two driving around Florida with plenty of powerful, air-conditioned comfort and cheap fuel prices (yes its still cheap compared to the UK), the rigours of UK driving comes as a shock to the system on your return.

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Page added on: 4 September 2006
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