This state in the southeastern region is, for obvious reasons, called the Sunshine State but the potential for baking hot temperatures is reduced by the fact so much of the land is a panhandle peninsula which separates the Atlantic Ocean from the Gulf of Mexico. This extensive coastline holds the climate at the level of subtropical with only the rarest days of frost and snow during the winter months. Unfortunately, there are fairly frequent incidents of extreme weather. The state is actually named the Lighting Capital, with routine thunderstorms and the largest number of tornadoes per area in the US (waterspouts also routinely appear in the seas). It also holds the record for the largest number of hurricanes per year.
Despite this weather paradox, it has the fourth highest America population at 19.5 million, having grown at the fastest rate of any state 2012 through 2013. But the actual number of people staying in the state increases when the snowbirds and other visitors arrive from the colder states. Tourism is a particularly important part of the state’s economy with an estimated 60 million people coming to visit or stay for longer periods. As a curious fact, the state’s landmass has also grown. In 2000, it was 53,927 square miles and ranked 26th. The latest measurement gives it 65,755 square miles which raises it to 22nd in the ranking.
With tourism so important, there’s an excellent network of roads providing access from all the surrounding states to the beaches and resorts. In total, there are 116,649 miles of public roads with 1,471 miles of Interstate. There are also 1,895 miles of Class 1 railroad track run by Amtrack, with plans to build a high-speed intercity rail link. But, so far, the state has refused funding for this infrastructure project. Given its status as a holiday destination, perhaps we should not be surprised there are also more than 840,000 boats registered for private use. Despite the recreational boats, the roads are the main means of getting about the state.
Given a resident population of 19.5 million, it should not surprise us to see a total of 15.65 million vehicles registered (http://www.floridatransportationindicators.org/index.php?chart=3a). This includes all private, commercial and publicly-owned vehicles. This means there’s almost one vehicle available for 80% of the population. But given the high number of buses, most of the population has the ability to get around. When it comes to commuting, 79% of journeys are by individuals in their own vehicles; 12% share or pool vehicle use. Public transport which includes the use of taxis, moves 2%, a further 2% walk while the remainder work at home.
The state actively monitors the level of vehicle use on the road system to ensure it remains adequate for both residents and visitors. One of the main problems is the sprawl in urban development. With people preferring to live near the Atlantic or Gulf coasts, there has been significant land reclamation and building. This has forced the development of more access roads and a greater dependence on private transport to get to work or into the cities. But the seasonal cycle of visitor arrivals and departures makes it difficult to produce consistently reliable statistics on the adequacy of road provision and providing ways to keep congestion within reasonable bounds at peak periods.
Pleasingly, there has been a steady decline in the number of people killed on Florida’s roads. In 2005, 3,500 died but, in 2012, the number had fallen below 2,500 (http://www.floridatransportationindicators.org/index.php?chart=15a). For the record, in 2012, there were 281k crashes with 198k drivers and passengers injured (http://www.floridatransportationindicators.org/index.php?chart=15d). Given the number of visitors on holiday who may drink and drive, this is a tribute to the quality of the roads and the new safety features built into modern vehicles.
According to the DMV, the most popular car in Florida is the Toyota Camry. This was completely redesigned in 2012 to provide better fuel efficiency and more power which explains why this make and model has consistently outsold all other models across the US. Local residents seem to prefer Japanese models because the second and third placed cars are the Nissan Altima and Toyota Corolla.
Florida allows drivers to turn right at all red lights so long as no traffic is coming and there’s a sign telling you not to. The pictures from all red light cameras are reviewed regularly and tickets issued by email. Not because accidents are expected, but both the driver and front seat passengers must wear seat belts. All other passengers must wear belts if they are under the age of eighteen. All children under the age of five must sit in a chair with appropriate restraints. Finally, you should beware the DUI/DWI laws which are among the toughest in America. Tourists and residents equally are encouraged not to drive at all if they have had even one drink. The administrative and criminal penalties are quite severe for those convicted.
Do You Know that…
1. The state is the Lighting Capital of America and has suffered more hurricanes than any other state.
2. The state has a unique panhandle peninsula which separates the Atlantic Ocean from the Gulf of Mexico.
3. The most popular vehicle for people to buy is the Toyota Camry.
4. The state has one of the toughest sets of laws in America on drink and drugged driving.
5. The state is one of the twelve US states with a no-fault insurance scheme.
6. Florida suffers heavily from the level of car insurance fraud.
7. All new drivers, regardless of their age, must go through a Drug, Alcohol, Traffic Awareness (DATA) course.
8. The Florida State Bar website offers a service for people seeking legal representation.
9. If you are a repeat DUI/DWI offender, you are likely to be charged with a felony, particularly if someone is injured.
10. Drivers under the age of 21 with a BAC of more than 0.02 will lose their driving privileges for one year.