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Driving in Florida

So, you are flying to Florida for a "fly-drive" holiday - here are some things you need to know

Hello, my name is Dave Hunter. I'm a professional travel book author and have been writing about Florida for North Americans for fifteen years. But I'm also a British ex-pat so understand the challenges (and language differences) you will meet as you rent your car and set off into Florida's sunshine.

Several years ago, I wrote a Florida driving guide titled Along Florida's Expressways. It's the only motorway driving guide available for the Sunshine State. In its pages you will find 25 mile-per-page coloured strip maps covering all the State's 2,000 miles of motorways, local knowledge to keep you (and your rental car) out of trouble, special "Insider" and money saving tips, and mile-by-mile travelogues for all the routes, to inform and entertain you along the way.

Best of all, there is absolutely no advertising or commercial content within its pages. The book is completely editorial in its contents. Any recommendations I make have been tried and tested by my wife and myself on our many trips around Florida.

So, let's get started . . . Click on any of the links below to learn more about the differences between a driving holiday in Britain and a driving holiday in Florida.


Motoring Differences

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I bet you thought that the only difference between Americans and Brits is that Americans drive on the righthand side of the road, right? Well actually there are some other differences I must tell you about.

Traffic light Sequence
Unlike the British sequence of ... UK Traffic Light Sequence

Americans ran out of yellow bulbs, so the sequence is simply UK Traffic Light Sequence

Incidentally, ever wonder why we Brits have a red/amber combination just before green? It's to give us a moment to put our car (manual gearbox) into gear before we set off again.

Tip 1: While waiting for a red light to change, watch for the pedestrian signal controlling people crossing in front of you to start flashing. This means the lights will be changing shortly and it's the pedestrian's clue to get the heck out of the way because soon you will be jumping on the accelerator.

Tip 2: If driving in Miami, do not assume that a green light means that it is clear for you to proceed through the crossroad. Cross traffic does not always stop although they are supposed to. I've seen cross traffic "run" a red light as late as 10 seconds after we got a "green." Check carefully for cross traffic before entering the junction, to avoid what is known here as being "T-Boned."

Pedestrian Crossings ("crosswalk")             Pedestrian Crossing Sign

In Florida, pedestrians have the right-of-way ... period! (Oops, I meant "full stop"). Do not even think of not giving way to a pedestrian. Treat any crosswalk like a poorly marked Zebra Crossing!

These are just a few of the differences. There is so much more to help you in Along Florida's Expressways.

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Staying out of trouble

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What can possibly go wrong? You are on holiday and it's a time to relax. Well, over the years I've stood on the "sidelines" and watched many visitors have their day "spoiled" due to a misunderstanding of the "rules." But first the good news. There are no speed cams, wheel clamps or even congestion fees (yet)– and the use of a radar detector is perfectly legal.

But radar traps are very frequent ... in the wide and heavily treed central reservation areas between split carriageways, on motor cycle police units waiting on the hard shoulders in urban areas and of course, in mobile police units coming up from behind you and in the air with spotter planes communicating with ground patrol units.

We do not advocate speeding but it's useful knowing where the speeders are going to brake sharply (Amer.Eng. "throw on the binders") causing unsafe traffic conditions around you. All known locations are on our maps in "Along Florida's Expressways." Here are a few ways to stay out of trouble.

Radar Traps
Florida has lots of traffic radar locations. In fact, according to the American Automobile Association (AAA - similar to the AA and RAC), America's worst radar traps are right here, in Florida. Be very, very careful if driving on State Route 301 (a popular short-cut from Gainesville on I-75 to I-10 near Jacksonville) and passing through the towns of Waldo and Lawtey. The town folk do not pay local taxes - all money is raised from the speeding fines levied against visitors. It's so bad that the AAA has actually put up a billboard (photo in my book) warning motorists about these unethical traps.
Tip: Make sure your car has "cruise control" when you rent it. Use it on the motorways, sit in the right hand lane and set it for the legal speed limit.

Traffic Conditions - 511
In the last year or so, driving around Florida has become much easier with the free area traffic updates available by dialing 511 on your mobile, or even on a home phone. Reports are updated every few minutes. The service is available for motorways on a state-wide basis and are "around-the-clock." Check it out before you arrive by going on-line to www.FL511.com.

Emergency Roadside Services
Except in towns and cities, most Florida motorways are lined with emergency call boxes (yellow on a silver pole - see Along Florida's Expressways" for photos and "how to use"). Similar to the motorways, they are located on both sides of the motorway and about one mile apart. Each has an identity number and is in immediate contact with Florida's police Highway Patrol. Florida's free Road Ranger emergency service operates in major city areas.

Credit Cards at Florida's petrol pumps
Virtually all petrol stations in Florida are self-service with credit card readers and receipt printers installed at the pumps. Although credit cards such as Visa and MasterCard are widely accepted, you may not be able to use yours since many Florida petrol stations now require that you also key in the 5 digit American zip code (PostCode) of the card's billing address. Of course, you do not have one and the alternatives are not very helpful:

We are advised by petrol station attendants that the answer is for you to surrender your card to the clerk inside the shop who will then turn on the pump for you (the clerk is honest–you are not?). However, this practice makes your card’s account vulnerable to "identity theft" and illegal "swiping" while it is out of your sight. It may also violate the agreement (and “built-in” fraud protection) between yourself and the Bank or Building Society issuing the card.

Alternatively, you can go inside the shop and have your card charged for a specific dollar amount of petrol before you fill. But most travellers want to “fill up” and it is very difficult to pre-calculate the cost of the petrol you need. Also, be aware that many petrol bar clerks cannot credit back any of the amount you have charged and have not use.

Both “solutions” offered to we visitors (consumers) by the American gas companies are also inconvenient since they require two trips to the shop counter, often requiring us to queue up.

Our answer? Look for the gas companies which will still honour the use of your credit card at the pumps. Some still do provide this service to visitors from other countries.

There is so much more to help you in Along Florida's Expressways.

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Real English vs. American English

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Who said Americans speak English? Ironically, what you hear in the USA (especially in the southeast) is closer to the English spoken in Shakespeare's time than the English spoken in the UK today ... but that's another story.

In the following sections, I've given you some UK English driving terms, with an American English translation.    (with thanks to my editor/proof reader cousins, Malcolm & Mandy Pannett)

If you would like to go to the American English list, click here.

AA (equivalent) - American Automobile Association, commonly known as the "AAA" In the USA, "AA" is normally recognized as the "Alcoholics Anoynmous" organization.

Accelerator (car part) - Gas Pedal.

Anti-Clockwise - counter clockwise.

Bonnet (car part) - Hood.

Boot (car part) - Trunk.

Carriageway - pavement (the road's running surface).

City Centre - Downtown area. Note, Americans spell "centre" as "center."

Coach (vehicle) - a private bus or a Motorhome (type "A").

Congestion Charges - not in Florida ... yet!

Coupe - Convertible style vehicle.

Cross Road - Intersection.

Dip Switch - Dimmer Switch.

Diversion - Detour.

Dual Carriageway - Divided Highway - that is, a multi-lane highway with the traffic flow divided by a median strip or barrier.

Electronic Message Board - known as a Virtual Message Sign, or VMS, these signs (often suspended across a dual carriageway) provide information about traffic conditions ahead. They may also display the current speed limit, which may change due to road conditions ahead. These signs may also be used for an "Amber Alert" - see US English section below.

Estate Car (car type) - Station Wagon.

Filter Arrow - Don't often see these because unless otherwise signposted, it's legal to make a right turn after stopping on a red light, as long as the road is clear. Some cities do use them in city centres and if installed, they over-rule the "turn on red" law.

Flyover - Overpass.

Gatso - no speed cams here, but check the reference to radar.

Gearbox (car part) - Transmission.

Give way - Yield (which means, give way!). Incidentally, in North America, the car to your right has the Right-of-Way in normal traffic situations. For example, when two cars arrive at a cross road with stop signs, at the same time.

Glove Box (car part) - Glove Compartment.

Hard Shoulder - Soft Shoulder (from the days when the side of the road was gravel or worst still, swamp.

Headlamp (car part) - Head Light.

Hood (car part) - the folding roof of a coupe (or convertible).

Jump Leads - Jumper Cables.

Jet Wash - Car wash (coin or automatic). If coin, make sure you have lots of quarters in your pocket.

Junction (Motorway) - An exit. All exits in Florida are numbered according to the closest roadside mile marker. This is very helpful since if you are driving past mile marker 25 and want to leave the interstate (motorway) at exit 10, then you know you only have 15 miles to go.

Junction (local road) - an Intersection.

Lay By - Rest Area.

Learner Sign - There is no such a thing as a "learner" on American roads. All drivers on the road are "experts" and those around them are "idiots." The "L" sign is not used in America except on licenced "driver instructor" vehicles. The kid speeding alongside you could easily be having his first lesson. The only proviso is that he or she must have a "provisional" licence and must be accompanied by a fully-licensed adult driver.

Level Crossing - Railroad Crossing, often abbreviated "RR" on signs.

Lorry - Truck, if long and articulated also known as an "18 wheeler."

Marker Post - Mile marker.

Mile Post - Mile Marker.

MOT Certificate - Car Ownership Certificate. Make sure a photocopy of this is in your car before you leave the car rental lot. It's required by law.

Motorway - Expressway, which can be an Interstate, freeway or toll route.

Orbital Road - a Bypass Road.

Parking, on local streets - unlike the common practice at home, you must park in the same direction as the traffic flow, and only where parking on the road is legal (look for signs close by). The USA does not use the "yellow line" system.

Parking Lights - Not needed when parking on the road.

Pavement - Sidewalk - where pedestrains are supposed to walk.

Petrol - Gasoline (or Gas). There are usually three grades (all unleaded) available at the pump. Most cars take the "Regular" unleaded. Many gas outlets also have diesel pumps.

Petrol Purchases at the pump - Please be aware that many Florida gas stations will not let you use your Visa or MasterCard to purchase petrol at the pump - that is, using the pump's card reader. For further information about this, please click here.

Queue - traffic back-up.

RAC (equivalent) - American Automobile Association, commonly known as the "AAA" In the USA, "AA" is normally recognized as the "Alcoholics Anoynmous" organization.

Radar Detectors - are legal in Florida, and often work on the same frequencies as British units.

Ring Road - a Bypass Road.

Road Works - Construction Area (or Zone).

Roundabout - Rotary. Before entering, don't forget to check over your left shoulder and drive around it in an anti-clockwise direction.

Service Area - Rest Area. Unless you are on Florida's Turnpike (the FTP), Florida's Rest Areas only have minimal services - toilets, drink and coffee vending machines, newspaper boxes and at night time, armed security guards. The FTP has full-service plazas.

Side Indicators (car part) - Side turn lights. This European standard is not required in the USA. Very few cars have them.

Slip Road - Expressway "on" or "off" ramp - also called an "exit."

Spanner - Wrench.

Speed Cams - not used in Florida.

Tailback - a traffic backup.

Throttle (car part) - Gas Pedal.

Verge - the "shoulder" or edge of the road.

Wheel Clamp - None of these either.

Wind Screen (car part) - Wind Shield.

Wing (car part) - Fender.

Zebra Crossing - treat all Florida pedestrian crossings as if they are Zebra Crossings. Pedestrains always have the right of way, even when they throw themselves under your car!

4x4 or UAV (car type) - SUV.

There is so much more to help you in Along Florida's Expressways.

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U.S. Highway Terms, with UK Equivalents.

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Below you will find American English highway terms, with their UK English equivalents.

Click here to return to the UK English terms..

Amber Alert - a law-enforcement agency message to activate an urgent bulletin alerting the public to a serious (and usually local) child-abduction case. Using highway electronic signs (or other electronic media), the message usually contains information about the abductor's car and police contact information. Named after 9-year-old Amber Hagerman who was kidnapped in Texas, 1996. The first Amber Alerts were issued over local radio stations but have now become national in scope.

American Automobile Association (commonly known as the "AAA"). US equivalent to the AA or RAC.

Back-up (traffic) - Queue, Tailback.

Bypass Road - a Ring Road or Orbital.

Car Ownership (certificate) - MOT Certificate. If renting a car, make sure a photocopy of this (and the Insurance certificate) is in the glove box of the car before you leave the car rental lot. A copy of each is required to be in the vehicle, by law. These, and your driving licence, are the first documents requested by the police at an accident scene.

Car wash (coin or automatic) - Jet Wash. If coin, make sure you have lots of quarters in your pocket.

Coach - somebody who helps a football team win (or lose) games.

Construction Area or Zone - Road Works. Construction zones are often marked with temporary speed limit signs. Be very careful of your speed while driving through such an area since there is often a police car parked at the end of the zone ... and speeding fines (tickets, citations) are often doubled.

Convetible (car type) - a Coupe.

Counter-Clockwise - Anti-clockwise.

Dimmer Switch - Dip Switch.

Detour - Diversion.

Divided Highway - Dual Carriageway.

Downtown - City Center.

Exit (Expressway) - Junction (Motorway) - A word about exit numbering. Unlike UK motorways where junctions are numbered sequentially, all exits in Florida are numbered according to the closest roadside mile marker. This is very helpful since if you are driving past mile marker 25 and want to leave the interstate (motorway) at exit 10, then you know you only have 15 miles to go.

Expressway - Motorway, which can be an Interstate, freeway or toll route.

Fender - Wing (car part).

Gasoline (or Gas)- Petrol. There are usually three grades (all unleaded) available at the pump, plus diesel at many stations. Incidentally, a number of gas stations in Florida will not accept non-US credit cards at the pump. You must take it inside the shop and leave it while you fill up.

Gas Pedal - Accelerator, throttle (car part).

Glove Compartment - Glove Box (car part).

Green Arrow - Filter Arrow. Don't often see these because unless otherwise signposted. It's legal to make a right turn after stopping on a red light, as long as the road is clear. Some cities do use them in city centres and if installed, they over-rule the "turn on red" law.

Head Light (car part) - a Head Lamp.

Hood - Bonnet (car part). Also slang for a crook.

Intersection - Junction or Crossroad.

Jumper Cables - Jump Leads.

Learner - There isn't such a thing. All drivers on the road are "experts" and those around them are "idiots." The "L" sign is not used in America except on licenced "driver instructor" vehicles. The kid speeding alongside you could easily be having his first lesson. The only proviso is that he or she must have a "provisional" (beginners) license and must be accompanied by a fully-licensed adult driver.

Mile marker - Marker or Mile Post.

Overpass - a Flyover.

Parking Lights - Not needed when parking on the road. Incidentally, unlike common practice in the UK, you must park in the same direction as the traffic flow, and only where parking on the road is legal (look for signs close by).

Pavement - Carriageway (the road's running surface).

Pedestrian Crossing - similar to a Zebra Crossing - treat all Florida pedestrian crossings as if they are Zebra Crossings. Pedestrians always have the right of way in Florida, even when they try to throw themselves under your car!

Radar Detectors - are legal in Florida, and often work on the same frequencies as British units.

Railroad Crossing - Level Crossing, often abbreviated "RR" on signs.

Ramp ("on" or "off") - Slip Road.

Rest Area - Can be a Lay By or Service Area. Unless you are on Florida's Turnpike (the FTP), Florida's Rest Areas only have minimal services - toilets, drink and coffee vending machines, newspaper boxes and at night time, armed security guards. The FTP has full-service plazas, but you will not find shops like Marks & Spencers.

Right Turn on Red - the equivalent of a green filter arrow signal. Unless signed otherwise, vehicles may make a right turn after coming to a halt on a red light, as long as the way is clear.

Rotary - Roundabout. There are not many of these in the USA. A word of caution, before entering, don't forget to check over your left shoulder and drive around it in an anti-clockwise direction.

Side turn lights (car part) - Side Indicators (car part). This European standard is not required in the USA. Very few cars have them.

Sidewalk - Pavement. Where pedestrians are supposed to walk.

Soft Shoulder - Hard Shoulder. "Soft Shoulder" is derived from the days when the side of the road was gravel or worst still, swamp.

Speed Camera - not used in Florida!

Speed Cams - There aren't any - but lots of radar traps.

Station Wagon - Estate Car. Not used much since the advent of the SUV.

SUV (car type) - a 4x4 or UAV.

Transmission - Gearbox (car part).

Truck - Lorry. If long and articulated, also known as an "18 wheeler".

Trunk - Boot (car part).

Virtual Message Board (VMS) - an Electronic Message Board, above or beside the carriageway, providing traffic or speed limit information, and in some cases, an "Amber Alert." See "Amber Alerts" under "A" above.

Wheel Clamp - Not used in Florida.

Wind Shield - Wind Screen (car part).

Wrench - Spanner.

Yield (inverted triangular sign - Give Way. In North America, the car to your right has the Right-of-Way in normal traffic situations. For example, when two cars arrive at a cross road with stop signs, at the same time.

18 Wheeler - an articulated, heavy goods lorry.

There is so much more to help you in Along Florida's Expressways.

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Walt Disney bound?

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So you've just landed at Orlando International Airport, retrieved your luggage in one piece, picked up your rental car and are off to see Walt Disney's "Mouse." What could possible go wrong on such a bright sunny day?

Where's the Beeline Expressway?
The main motorway from Orlando International Airport (MCO) to the Walt Disney World (WDW) area has been renamed. Formerly the Beeline Expressway, it is now the Beachline Expressway. It was an unpopular political decision so many local people still use the earlier name when giving directions. Now that is confusing; your holiday is about to go pear-shaped.

Disney is at Orlando so I'll just follow the "Orlando" signs
Your directions to WDW are packed in your luggage but you know it is in Orlando so you will just follow the road signs. After all, you're a bloke and blokes never ask for directions, Right? Wrong – WDW is in the opposite direction to Orlando! It's sixteen miles southwest of Orlando at Lake Buena Vista.

The road signs have disappeared!
Remember, Florida has a (very) windy season. From August to September, it's often called the "hurricane season." Sometimes, road signs are blown away and it can take weeks for the authorities to replace them. So ... once you have your rental car, head to State Route 528 – the "Beachline Expressway" (ask for directions at the car rental lot), and turn left to head southwest. If you miss your WDW exit (number 3) from the Beachline and reach Interstate-4, go north on I-4 and take exit number 62 to WDW. Say "hello" to the Mouse for me.

Help, I'm stuck at an unattended toll gate and the machine won't take my watch!
Make sure you have some US quarters (25¢ coins) in your change before you leave the airport's car rental lot. There are many toll roads in the Orlando area and some of the exits are unattended. You need quarters to feed the coin machine, to leave the motorway. Also, you'll miss out on the National Sport ... the fun of leaning out of your car window and tossing quarters into the basket at unattended toll barriers, so you can escape.

There is so much more to help you in Along Florida's Expressways.

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