If Miami drivers’ blood pressure could be measured through contact with the steering wheel and displayed on the dashboard next to engine temperature, the needle would constantly push the edge of the red zone.
Diagnosis: Sharing the road with drivers who neglect or refuse to use turn signals can be hazardous to your mental — as well as physical — health.
The reaction to this chronic, annoying, dangerous misbehavior, documented in a Miami Herald story, has been spirited, to the say the least. Also apoplectic.
“We live in an ‘I don’t care’ society,” wrote Glen Topping, cutting to the heart of the issue. “There is no driving etiquette and no courtesy. They drive like they are the only ones on the road.”
Failure to use a blinker when making a turn or changing lanes is against the law and leads to two million collisions per year in the U.S., according to a Society for Automotive Engineers study. Yet in South Florida, more often than not, drivers don’t bother to touch that lever.
“In the era of DWD (Driving While Distracted), most drivers think stoplights, stop signs, yield signs, turn signals and speed limits are optional,” wrote R.B. Quinn. “Most drivers lack driving skills and have very little common sense.”
Not using turn signals is a metaphor for dysfunctional South Florida, where life can be as fissured as sun-damaged skin. The heat, humidity and high cost of living take a toll. Miami’s melting pot of cultures doesn’t always blend. People take out their frustration in the car, behind a metal shield and tinted windows.
I can’t tell you how many times I have signaled for a lane change and had the driver in the next lane speed up and block me or, alternately, continue to ride three feet off my rear bumper and act totally surprised when, after lengthy blinking, I then change lanes.
Larry Means, on drivers’ failure to use turn signals
The “terrible thing about Miami is the traffic and rude people you encounter everywhere. People are stressed out and take it out on each other,” wrote one reader, echoing a common opinion. “I was born and raised here and will leave as soon as I can. People are consumed with work to try to stay afloat, leaving no time to enjoy life.”
Theories abound as to why drivers don’t indicate when they’re going to turn or change lanes. Lack of knowledge. Lack of acknowledgment of others, which we call Miami obliviousness. A test that makes it ridiculously easy to obtain a driver’s license. A demographic mix unlike elsewhere that includes elderly drivers and tourists and immigrants unfamiliar with local habits.
Aggressiveness — unwillingness to share the road or a compulsion to command it — was cited as the No. 1 reason.
“I can’t tell you how many times I have signaled for a lane change and had the driver in the next lane speed up and block me or, alternately, continue to ride three feet off my rear bumper and act totally surprised when, after lengthy blinking, I then change lanes,” said Larry Means. He logs 20,000 miles per year on South Florida roads. Brutal.
Many drivers regard turn signals as an affront. So be cagey, go mano a mano, and do not use your turn signal, advised some readers.
“If you signal that you are going to turn or change lanes, the car behind you is going to block you,” wrote another reader. “If you don’t signal, he will be caught by surprise and won’t be able to block you.”
Numerous readers complained that police officers set a bad example by not using signals.
“I drive by the Metro-Dade police department on Southwest 211th Street in Cutler Bay almost daily,” said Carolann Tramutola. “Obviously, the police cars are NOT equipped with turn signals. They should lead by example!”
Francisco Jimenez of Kendall concurs that “one of the biggest offenders are the police. I see almost daily police cars changing lanes and turning without using signals and they are not in a hurry because no flashing light or siren is on. The rest of the population follows suit.”
One reader described Miami drivers as “animalistic.” Another thinks that drivers forget to use turn signals because they’re too busy applying makeup and talking on the phone. Another said that lack of use is done purposely as a scam so that drivers involved in crashes can collect insurance. He had a promising idea: Installing live video cameras on the dash and rear to record what really happens.
“I have lived all over the country and traveled all over the world and Miami drivers are the absolute worst,” was a refrain
“You saved me a trip to the psychiatrist with your wonderful article,” wrote Ed Radosh, a Weston resident. “The lack of usage really drives me ballistic when you are leaving a shopping center. You are turning right onto a busy street. A car is coming, sees you at the stop sign, and then suddenly turns right into the center. It makes me want to give them the finger, which is pretty disgusting since I am 76 years old.”
Not disgusting at all, Ed. We’ve been reduced to retaliatory behavior. A psychiatrist could base an entire practice on how to cope with Miami drivers.
Harold Blake III has lived in Coral Gables for one year and nearly been hit three times while on foot by drivers making left turns, not signaling and not yielding to him. If you’re a pedestrian, runner or cyclist you know exactly what he’s talking about.
Partly thanks to his urging the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority displayed signs reminding drivers that using turn signals is required by law. He’s working on an initiative called “Drive Better, Miami!”
Only one person said flicking the blinker is laborious and called it “distracting, time-consuming and too slow” while suggesting auto makers add voice-controlled signals – which would be problematic if you’re talking on the phone.
The word that cropped up most often: rude.
Peter Schmitt concludes “that my hometown is one of the rudest places on earth.” He also submitted a clever, touching poem, entitled “Goodbye Apostrophe” about things — and people — disappearing from our lives, such as proper punctuation, incandescent light bulbs and blinkers. Here’s one section:
“Goodbye, turn signal —
hiding behind the steering wheel,
whatever indestructible composite you’re made of,
no one in this town
seems to need you anymore —
I don’t know which way to go