Op-Ed

A crash course in driver’s ed

MCT

Let’s see, we moved here less than a month ago, and I guess it’s appropriate to say we’ve received a crash course in drivers’ education — Florida style.

Thus far, my wife’s car was rear-ended by a texting teenager; an old lady cut me off without so much as a glance at my best impression of Edvard Munch’s Scream; and riding my bike along the beach, to calm my nerves, I became a target for the parked motorist, phone stuck to his ear, who suddenly flung his car door in my path like a matador’s cape — toro!

Subsequent to these near-death scenarios, I have witnessed several red-light runners and green-light stoppers performing a veritable cha-cha along the streets; and in a traffic version of Dancing with the Stars, speeders executing hairpin weaves around veritable, vehicular pylons whose drivers appear either bedazzled by the sun or mesmerized by Siri. Meanwhile the police and tow trucks provide a moveable light show in their vain attempt to create some semblance of law and order.

Do I exaggerate? The insurance appraiser who gave my wife an estimate on the damage to her car confided that he didn’t know why his company bothered doing business in the state. He had worked in the Northeast and the Midwest, but declared Florida drivers the worst state he’d ever insured. And if all of this sounds too anecdotal, there have been more than 1,000 accidents this year on Florida’s I-95. When I transferred my insurance within the same company from Connecticut to Florida, the cost doubled. Actuary tables don’t lie.

It seems that just as its ocean, gulf and tropical weather are a recipe for powerful hurricanes, they seem to brew a perfect storm of bad drivers.

In fairness to Florida, many of its careless drivers are imported from other states. Every winter, mild weather attracts swarms of tourists who descend on Florida’s highways and streets like so many locusts leaving devastation in their path.

I’m not sure what has gotten into these visitors — maybe spending a lot of money on a vacation makes them feel entitled to a lion’s share of the road. Or maybe, suddenly sun-drunk, they are rendered incapable of staying in their own lane or using a turn signal. It could be the sight of so much exposed pale skin that blinds them. In any case, they seem to drive the streets like mall browsers: clueless, rudderless and self-absorbed.

However, tourists are but one ingredient in this driving bouillabaisse. Florida is also the destination of many retirees like myself. This population, I’ll admit, is very bad news for driving. Among the things that don’t work as well as they once did: our vision, hearing, reflexes, flexibility, coordination, memory, and — that’s about as far as I’m comfortable sharing.

Some of my peers drive so slowly, I get the impression they may drop anchor any moment to build a condo in the right lane. In addition, old people tend to grow stubborn, ornery, and grouchy when others complain about our driving. As for myself, I’m an excellent driver, as long as everyone gets out of my way.

Now, if we add workaday Floridians to the mix of seniors, tourists and texting teens, we have a toxic soup — not so much Floridians as Floridiots. While tourists might feel entitled to careless driving because they spend vacation money here, some native Floridians feel entitled to hog the road because they, you know, live here. This is their taxed turf.

Since they know the streets and highways like the back of their hands, they drive like it, often not bothering to signal their intentions because everyone else should by now know their daily itineraries. Some cruise the streets and highways not so much changing lanes as drifting between them. My horn has gotten a healthy workout since I arrived, alerting landscaping trucks, pool-cleaning trucks, air-conditioning vans and a host of other service vehicles of my puny, impudent existence.

However, unlike the Northeast — where anger, coffee and adrenaline are the premium fuels of drivers coursing through its traffic arteries — it seems Florida drivers operate under the influence of a milder blend of narcissism, borderline dementia and indifference. I haven’t seen the dirty looks, flashing digits or screaming faces to which I had grown accustomed up north. Maybe that’s because here bad driving seems both expected and accepted.

Or maybe it’s just the tinted windows.

Thomas Cangelosi now lives in Delray Beach.

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