Driving in Florida
First thoughts about driving in Florida are enough to send shivers down the spine of even the most confident UK driver. I know it did to me. I was dreading it. As it turned out it was a piece of cake. Once you have got used to the car and the automatic transmission it really is quite easy. I would go as far as to say that it is easier driving in Orlando or anywhere in Florida for that matter, I would rather drive there than in the UK. Especially around some of our cities. Things are more spread out in Florida, the roads are generally wider than ours. People seem to drive slower and can be more courteous than some of the UK drivers.
When you arrive at the car rental desk, whether it be Dollar, Alamo, Budget or any of the other companies, you will need to produce your driving licence, for all the drivers that are on your vehicle rental agreement. Recent changes mean that you will no longer have the paper counterpart as it is no longer valid. So you may need to go to the DVLA website and get a code that the rental car company go online and access your driving record. You will also need your rental voucher. You will have received this either with your travel documents if you have booked a package holiday or if you booked it direct from one of the many car rental suppliers on the net. Generally there is a queue/line here and you normally wait around 20 minutes. Sometimes if there are a group of people in your party it would pay you to get the driver/drivers to go straight to the rental desks whilst the rest of the group attend to the luggage. You will have to leave a credit card imprint at the desk and depending what type of reservation you have, you have to pay for a tank of fuel at inflated prices, meaning you can bring the vehicle back empty. They may try to talk you into upgrading your vehicle unless you really do want to don’t bother. It’s more expensive to do it that way and also you will probably get the vehicle they are trying to get you to upgrade to anyway as they have run out of your type of vehicle.
Dollar Car rental: They will allocate a car for you based on the voucher you have they more than likely will try to talk you into an upgrade.
Alamo Car Rental: They will allocate you a car based on your voucher and again will try to get you to upgrade. You then go to the garage and get to pick the car that you want from your category section of the garage. Nice if you don’t like Red cars for example!
Budget Car Rental: Much the same procedure as Dollar.
See the car rental size guide below for a guide to sizes. Remember US boots/trunks can be quite small even on larger cars.
This is probably the first time you have been outside since you landed and hopefully the warm/hot Florida air will greet you! Here at last!! Once you find your vehicle take a quick look around it and make sure there is no damage to it. Adjust the mirrors and seats (most are electric operated by a switch down the side of the seat). Turn the key in the ignition and start the engine, most cars run very quiet on tick over. If you have never driven an automatic before, put your foot on the brake pedal and select the gear, mostly the parking brake is not engaged but if it is release it. A lot of cars have a pedal that you push down to engage the parking brake and a pull out lever to release it just at the bottom of the dash, although one or two have a push on push off action. Once it is disengaged release your foot of the brake and the vehicle will move slowly back or forward whichever. Another thing for people new to automatics, forget about your left foot! It is surprising how many people try to use the left foot for braking.
You then head out of the garage car park, this is probably the worst part of the journey. Depending on where you are staying depends on which exit you need to take. Generally, if you are staying anywhere near Disney, Kissimmee, most of the villa communities or anywhere on the Hwy 192 then you would need the South Exit. If you are staying anywhere near International Drive, Universal or Sea World then you need the North Exit. The North exit leads to the Hwy 528 (Toll) (Beachline Expressway, used to be called the Beeline expressway)has the signs saying “Orlando West and Area Attractions and Tampa” The other one says “Cocoa Beach & Daytona” You need to take the West Exit. If you take the South Exit it leads to the 417 (Toll) This road takes you down to the Interstate 4 and ideal for those staying around the Disney 192 area.
- Things to remember, obviously drive on the right (seems more natural anyway).
- One good thing is that you can turn Right on a Red traffic light (Unless it says “No right turn on Red” above the lights.)
- Traffic lights tend to be over the centre of the junction rather than the start of it so remember to pull up shorter.
- Overtaking (Passing) you can pass on either side of vehicles on 3 lane highways but they do recommend you stay to the right unless passing slower traffic.
- If you come to a crossroads that has no clear priority vehicles proceed in the order that they arrive at the stop sign. This works surprisingly well. There are not too many of these though.
- All of the cars have Air conditioning and you need it too!! After the car being stood all day long at a theme park it resembles something like an oven. What I do is open the door and start the car, close the door and wait a couple of minutes while the air con blasts away to cool it down a bit.
- Fuel: This is a bit different to the UK. Some of the pumps work differently to the UK involving lifting the nozzle housing to start the fuel flow. Also many Gas Stations insist on pre payment of fuel. Gas prices are still higher than they were a few years ago but are still a lot cheaper than the UK.
- Road Signs: These tend to not give a lot of warning so keep your eyes peeled. Don’t worry if you miss your exit as most places have gaps where you can u-turn, except the interstate where you will just have to go to the next exit.
Vehicles get allocated to size of party if booked through a holiday company such as Virgin holidays etc. The thing to remember about US cars the boot/Trunk is normally quite small. the vehicles below are an example of the cars offered by Dollar.
Important Florida Highway Laws
- Florida’s Move Over Law protects law enforcement officers, emergency workers and tow truck drivers stopped along roadways while performing their jobs. On a two-lane roadway, you are required to slow to a speed that is 20 miles per hour less than the posted speed limit. If the speed limit is 20 miles per hour or less, you must slow down to five miles per hour. If you are driving on an interstate or roadway with multiple lanes of travel in the same direction, and you approach an emergency or law enforcement vehicle parked along the roadway, you must vacate the lane closest to that vehicle as soon as it is safe to do so. If you are not able to safely move over, you must slow down to a speed of 20 MPH below the posted speed limit unless directed otherwise by a law enforcement officer. Violators of the Move Over Law will be issued a citation!
- Drinking and Driving: Just don't do it, it's not worth the risk.
- Seat Belts: It is unlawful for any person to operate a vehicle in this state unless every passenger of the vehicle under the age of 18 is restrained by a safety belt or by a child restraint device, regardless of seating position.
- Florida “Standard” Speed Limits:
*The 55 MPH maximum speed limit is still in effect in Florida except where otherwise posted.
- Municipal Speed Areas = 30mph
- Business or Residential Area = 30mph
- Rural Interstate = 70mph*
- Limited Access Highways = 70mph
- All Other Roads and Highways = 55mph*
- School Zones = 20mph
- Stop Signs: As in other parts of the world stop signs mean just that. You must come to a complete stop, failure to do so will reslut in a ticket.
- Turn Right On Red: You may turn right on a red light, giving way to traffic unless there is a sign saying "NO Right Turn On Red."
- Passing a School Bus:If you are on a two laned road you must not pass a school bus in either direction when they are unloading passengers and have their hazzard warning lights flashing.
- If you are parking paralell to the kurb, you must face the direction of traffic flow.
*Speed limits are 70 MPH on some rural Interstate highways. Speed limits may be changed on other multi-lane highways and in areas where the conditions require lower speeds.