Defensive Driving – An Essential Skill In Florida

The last time I checked, getting a driver’s license still required passing an eye exam. But if my experience driving back from Key West the other night is any indication, the bulk of drivers traveling Florida highways are either driving without licenses or they paid off the examiners.

At the end of the 100-mile long Alligator Alley that carried me across the state, Interstate 75 turned to the north. Almost immediately signs appeared, informing drivers of construction for the next 31 miles. Orange and white striped ‘trash cans’ lined the shoulders on both sides of the two-lane highway. The 70 MPH speed limit was reduced to 60 MPH and more signs appeared, stating that speeding fines are doubled when workers are present. At this point workers appeared in the median, complete with high intensity overhead spotlights, road graders, and paving equipment.

Not long afterward I saw the first lane closure sign: “Left Lane Closed One Mile Ahead.” It was one of those portable, digital signs with large yellow illuminated letters; the message was impossible to miss. At least I thought it was impossible to miss. I moved into the right lane immediately. Everyone else in the left lane stayed right where they were. A bit further along, another digital display – this one flashing. Again, no one else moved over. Several more signs that broadcast: “Left lane ends, merge right” made no apparent impression. As I neared the one mile mark, I could see more flashing lights; one last digital sign displayed a giant yellow arrow pointing to the right. It blinked off and on, off an on, an unmistakable message to drivers to merge to the right. Just beyond the flashing arrow sat a squad car with its visibar flashing red and blue – yet another warning that the lane was about to end. STILL no one moved over.

On the roadway’s surface, reflective white arrows pointed to the right as the lane began to narrow. Finally, with the roadway disappearing before their very eyes, each of the drivers in the left lane desperately attempted to merge right at the last dying moment. The single lane lasted for only about a mile before the highway again widened to two lanes, but almost immediately a sign said, “Right Lane Closed, One Mile Ahead.” I dutifully moved into the left lane, and the entire process repeated itself. This happened at least four times in the 31 mile stretch of construction.

Frankly, I was astonished. I could perhaps understand how someone could miss a sign or two, but, come on folks – bright yellow digital signs, giant blinking arrows, and police cars with their lights flashing – how on earth do you NOT SEE THESE? Are people really that unconscious when they drive? Maybe I could even accept that they were totally unconscious once….but FOUR TIMES?

What possible explanation could there be? Hmmm, maybe the occupants were deep in conversation and missed the first couple of warnings. I can hear it now:

“Hey Martha, look at that big yellow arrow. There must be some special attraction at the next exit.”

“Yeah, how about that? Look Bob, there’s even a cop car with his lights flashing – must be a pretty big shindig for all that effort.”

“Maybe we should get off up ahead and check it out.”

“OK by me….uh, Bob, I think you might need to get over here….”

“Yeah, well, I’ll have to get in the right lane if we’re gonna exit.”

“Uh, no. I mean, look, there’s big white arrows on the pavement pointing to the right.”

“Man, they really went to some trouble to get people to check out this fair, or whatever it is.”

“No really Bob, I think this lane is…..”

“Good God Martha, what happened to the road? Gotta get over. Do I have room to merge? Just gotta chance it…running out of road…” Screech.

“Wow! That was a close one. Now keep an eye out for the exit; I want to see what this big event is all about.”

God help us all.

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