Florida Keys

Yes, Florida Keys’ holiday traffic really is that bad

Now that visitors have packed the Florida Keys for the New Year’s holiday, many must head home this weekend.

“It’s probably a good idea to leave really, really early,” Florida Highway Patrol Lt. Kathleen McKinney said Tuesday.

“Anyone who can see U.S. 1 out their window knows how busy traffic has been,” McKinney said. “We ask people to be patient and plan accordingly.”

After a fatal accident Sunday that killed a Washington state bicyclist in the Lower Keys, the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office responded to a series of relatively minor crashes Monday and Tuesday along the length of U.S. 1.

“When traffic is this heavy, the accidents tend to be less serious because nobody’s going that fast,” Deputy Becky Herrin said Monday.

“The traffic has been headed south but expect slowdowns when heading north this weekend,” Herrin said. “The road can hold only so many vehicles.”

Law officers keep a special watch for impaired drivers – and boat operators – during this celebratory season.

“We’re looking out for that,” McKinney said.

In a six-day period from Dec. 23 through Monday, Keys officers arrested nine people, all of whom listed Monroe County addresses, on charges of driving under the influence.

Offshore New Year’s fireworks displays at midnight in Key Largo and Islamorada typically draw large fleets of spectator boats.

“Make sure your boat’s lights work, have the required safety gear and have a designated boat operator who isn’t drinking,” said Officer Bobby Dube of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

“A good rule is that if you’re not a very experienced boat operator during daylight,” Dube said, “you should not be operating a boat at night – especially in crowded water near fireworks.”