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Overview

Florida has one of the highest numbers of licensed drivers in the country. With its beaches, colorful nightlife, and Disney World, the Sunshine State also stands out as a top tourist destination. What does that mean for Florida highways? It means they’re some of the most dangerous in the nation.

Many studies of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data have identified several of Florida’s primary highways and interstates as some of America’s deadliest. These include:

I-75 spans 471 miles from Miami to the border with Georgia. It experienced 47.2 fatal crashes per 100 miles, according to one analysis. Known for its congestion and high crash rates, a Florida Department of Transportation task force warned that sections of I-75 could fail by 2020 without intervention.

I-4 runs from Tampa to Daytona Beach. It was named the most dangerous highway in America in a 2016 report, with 1.41 fatalities per mile over a six-year period.

A study from the company Geotab named US-41, which runs through Tampa, as the second most dangerous highway in the country. There were 714 fatal crashes on US-41 over the past decade, resulting in 772 deaths.

Stretching for nearly 500 miles from Miami to the Georgia border, Geotab also named US-27 the third most dangerous highway in America, with 529 fatal crashes and 614 fatalities. Sadly, US-27 has earned the nickname “Bloody 27” for the number of deadly crashes caused along a narrow stretch of road near Lake Okeechobee. Officials have also noted speeding and distracted driving as a common cause of accidents on the highway.

Keep in mind that every research agency uses its own methods to compute and analyze fatal car accident data. For that reason, results can vary. The most meaningful takeaway is that studies consistently show that no matter what, Florida is home to heavily traveled roads with very high numbers of crashes.

The overall number of auto accidents on all of Florida’s roads demonstrates the severity of the problem even more. Consider these facts from the Florida Department of Highway Vehicles and Motor Safety’s crash data for 2018, the latest year for which data is available:

Crash Map

Click the year to show the number or crashes and the types of cars involved.

Most Common Causes of Florida Car Accidents

Car accidents occur for a wide variety of reasons. The most frequently cited violation in Florida is that a driver “operated a motor vehicle in a careless or negligent way.” This type of behavior takes many forms:

Distracted driving:
Florida is one of the worst states for distracted driving. To combat the problem, the state recently passed a law prohibiting drivers from texting, emailing, and instant messaging behind the wheel. Drivers also must go hands free in school crossings, school zones, and active construction zones.

Drunk or drugged driving:
Around 2 percent of Floridians admit to driving after drinking too much, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition, data shows that drugs and alcohol played a role in 1,020 traffic deaths in a recent year, as well as caused 748 incapacitating injuries and 1,281 non-incapacitating injuries to Florida motorists, pedestrians, and bicyclists.

Failure to yield the right of way:
Failure to yield means breaking the rules of who is allowed to go first in certain traffic situations. Common examples of violations include running a red light or stop sign, or making a left turn before waiting for oncoming traffic to pass.

Drowsy driving:
Fatigue was listed as a contributing factor in more than 16,500 Florida crashes over a three-year period, according to FHLSMV. Sleepiness dulls awareness and impairs reaction time. It can also cause periodic micro-sleeps, in which a driver nods off for just a few seconds. Drowsy driving is commonly associated with commercial truck accidents because truckers are behind the wheel for long shifts at a time. But it can happen to anyone, most commonly around 5 a.m. in Florida.

Tailgating:
Following too closely, or tailgating, occurs when a driver doesn’t leave enough space between his or her car and the vehicle in front of it. Tailgating is a leading cause of rear-end accidents because it doesn’t leave enough time for the driver in the rear to brake if the lead car stops suddenly. Liability in rear-end accidents typically falls on the driver of the following car.

Improper lane changes:
It’s illegal to change lanes when the path isn’t clear to do so safely. It typically happens when someone is driving aggressively, speeding, intoxicated, or simply negligent. Failing to use a turn signal or to check blind spots also contributes to unsafe lane change accidents on Florida highways.

Speeding:
Driving too fast for road conditions or violating the posted speed limit led to nearly 5,500 Florida accidents in a single year, killing 263 people and injuring at least 2,073 more. Another 2,667 possible injuries were recorded by law enforcement in speed-related crashes.

Improper backing:
Drivers are responsible for checking their surroundings carefully before backing out of driveways, parking lots, and alleys. Failure to do so can result in deadly backover accidents. Children are frequently the victims of back-up accidents, with thousands injured or killed every year. The elderly are also at high risk of injury in backover accidents, especially in parking lots.

Poor weather:
Florida may be known as the Sunshine State, but on average, it sees 59 inches of rainfall every year. According to the Farmers’ Almanac, eight of the 10 U.S. cities with the most thunderstorms are in Florida, with Fort Myers taking the No. 1 spot. Heavy rain causes poor visibility when driving, making it difficult for drivers to see other cars, lane separations, and traffic signs.

Some auto accidents are unavoidable. But the plain truth is that most crashes are preventable. Motorists have a duty to drive responsibly during every trip. When they fail to do so and someone is hurt in a collision, they can be held accountable through a Florida personal injury or wrongful death claim.

Does Tourism Cause More Crashes in Florida?

Florida has long been known as a vacation hotspot, and its tourism numbers are at record highs. The Florida Department of Transportation reported an estimated 130 million visitors to the state last year. While “the more, the merrier” rule generally applies, the seasonal influx of tourists does mean that roads become more congested and that the risk of car accidents increases sharply.

Tourists don’t necessarily cause more car accidents than Florida residents. Florida is home to several highly urbanized areas that are already overcrowded. But tourists simply don’t know Florida roads the way locals do. It’s likely that they will be consulting their GPS devices more frequently, driving more slowly, or making sudden or erratic moves in traffic to avoid missing exits or turns.

Florida’s population is also projected to increase by 6.4 million people by 2030. That growth, combined with the state’s increasing tourist numbers, will contribute to more car accidents in the Sunshine State, making the need for safe driving more important than ever.

Staying Safe

Drivers, motorcyclists, pedestrians, and bicyclists are all expected to exercise caution on Florida roads. Here are some tips:

For Drivers:

  • Review the Official Florida Driver License Handbook from the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles if unsure of what to do in certain traffic scenarios
  • Avoid distracted driving on Florida highways by stopping at one of the 64 designated Safe Phone Zones. These are located at rest stops, welcome centers, and Turnpike service plazas throughout the state. Here’s a map of all the safe zones.
  • Drivers are expected to do everything in their power to avoid pedestrians. Bicyclists and skateboarders count as pedestrians in driveways and crosswalks.
  • Make smart choices. It’s common sense not to drive while impaired or sleepy. Don’t speed, tailgate, or roll through stop signs. Even though Florida is a no-fault insurance state, drivers can be held liable for severe injuries or death in accidents caused by negligence.

For Pedestrians

  • Pedestrians must take all reasonable steps to avoid a collision with a car, motorcycle, moped, or bicyclist. That means always using sidewalks and crosswalks when available. Obey all traffic signals at intersections.
  • Don’t follow the old saying that “pedestrians always have the right of way.” When crossing in any place where there is not a marked or unmarked crosswalk, pedestrians must yield to oncoming vehicles.
  • Be safe after drinking. Florida, especially south Florida, is known for hard partying. Be careful when walking down sidewalks to avoid stumbling into traffic. Never drive after drinking too much. Choose a designated driver or call a rideshare or taxi to get home safely.
  • Look left, then right, then left before crossing a road.
  • Never enter a road from between two parked cars.

For Motorcyclists and Moped Riders

  • Bikers must take a mandatory motorcycle safety course and get an official endorsement on their drivers’ licenses.
  • Obey age restrictions. Florida prohibits people under the age of 16 from operating motorcycles and/or mopeds.
  • Helmets are required for those under 21. But it’s smart for all motorcyclists to ride with a helmet. They are shown to cut down the risk of traumatic brain injury by 45 percent and death by 50 percent.
  • Avoid drunk driving or riding while under the influence of drugs. Even prescription medications can lead to impairment if motorcyclists drive before seeing how the drugs affect them.

For Bicyclists

  • Under Florida law, bikes are considered vehicles and have the same rights and responsibilities as other cars and trucks. That means all of the same traffic rules apply to drivers and cyclists alike. Stop at red lights. Don’t change lanes without signaling. Use bike lanes when available.
  • Maintain your bike. The Florida Department of Transportation recommends having brakes that can stop 25 feet from a speed of 10 miles per hour. Make sure it is equipped with a white headlight in front and a red taillight at the rear. Always wear a bike helmet. Visit the Florida Bicycling Association website for details on Florida bike laws and tips for safe riding in the state.
  • Never ride while impaired.

Driving Tips for Senior Motorists

Many Americans move to Florida after retirement. As we age, our bodies aren’t as quick or sharp as they used to be. For that reason, Florida’s seniors should take extra precautions to be sure they’re being safe, such as:

  • Getting regular eye exams. In Florida, and a vision test or doctor’s note must confirm that a driver’s vision is adequate for operating a motor vehicle.
  • Seniors over 80 must renew their drivers’ licenses every six years rather than every eight years.
  • Take the CarFit educational program for older drivers to see how well your car is adapted for your needs. Find a program in Florida here.
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