There is a general opinion in Europe that driving in the US is to challenge your life, that the traffic is as close as you can get to suicide. Wrong. It is the opposite way around.
In Europe, in all countries from south to north, all and everyone are driving like mad men. There is an aggressive attitude to driving; we have a selfish way of making our way through the traffic. One big reason is, in the US there is no status in driving in that way, you are not a better man if you can prevent or block another driver in the traffic. The car traffic was more or less “invented” in the US. This also means the Americans have a more mature relation to the traffic. In the US they know it will not work if you are not co-operating in the traffic. In the US the traffic has a smooth flow and a respect for that you are not alone out there. It is a joy to drive in the US!
DUI: Zero Tolerance for Drivers under 21
Florida has a Zero Tolerance law for drivers under 21. This means that any driver under 21 that is stopped by law enforcement and has a blood alcohol level of .02 or higher will automatically have their Florida drivers’ license suspended for 6 months. The .02 limit really means that you cannot have a single drink and drive. And that’s the idea. For drivers over 21 the legal limit in Florida is .08. Regardless of your age be aware that drinking and driving is considered a serious offense.
Driving license in the US
You can drive in US on your European driving license. And there is no reason you shouldn´t do that. To apply for a US driving license is not complicated as to the procedures: one theoretical test (on computer) and one driving test. In Europe, these tests are far more extensive. But be careful – there are a number of different regulations in the US traffic law, which we don´t have in Europe. So read the information carefully!
For ourselves, we have had US driving licenses for a number of years. Not so much for the driving, there is another reason too. If you go to a Bank or to any type of service where you have to identify yourself, there are always problems for the nice people on the other side of the counter to interpret and understand a non-US driving license. You can of course bring your passport, but that is not what you like to carry around. On an American driving license there are more information about your resident address in the state and they recognize it right away (see picture). So for short time visitors, don´t bother. To make things easier for the police, you can obtain an International Driving Permit (IDP). But that is something you have to apply for in your home country.
Some hints about the traffic in the US
- At a two-way crossing with traffic lights, on red you are allowed to turn right after first have come to a total stop to check out for traffic coming from the left. This may seem strange for us in Europe, but it works just fine and it really eases up the traffic flow.
- At road works and especially outside schools, if you are caught for speeding, the fines are double! This is something which should be introduced in Europe as well!
- Outside schools, you often have a flashing light which indicates when you must reduce your speed to a prescribed level at that road section. If the flashing light is not on (during lesson time, before or after school time) you can drive with the general locally prescribed speed, regardless the speed signs at the school. This is another good system. The flash light indicates you can expect children and pupils coming out in the traffic. This system makes the drivers more motivated to respect the speed limits, when they are really needed.
- If you are approaching one of these well known yellow school buses from behind which has stopped at the road side with the STOP-sign on the left side activated, you MUST stop behind the bus – you are NOT allowed to pass the bus in any left lane. If this is a four-lane road without center divider between the lanes in opposite directions, the oncoming traffic has to stop too. Not until the bus driver deactivates the STOP-sign, you are allowed to pass. Should it however be a four lane road with center divider, the oncoming traffic on the other side don´t have to stop.
- Driving and talking on a cell phone is perfectly legal in Florida. That does not mean that drivers should ignore the fact that using their phone on the road can lead to serious accidents. In fact, distracted drivers are one of the biggest causes of accidents.
- In the US – as opposed to many countries in Europe – they allow a lot more area for the width of lanes, for the lay-out of crossings, for exit- and entrance lanes to the interstates. And that is of course good. But sometimes it has a drawback. It is unfortunately rather common that a driver takes an exit lane from an interstate as an entrance lane to the same interstate. This means you are coming in to the interstate in the wrong direction and meeting high speed traffic. Especially at night and if you are not familiar with the area, it can happen that you make a mistake. And the result is too often fatal. Most of these accidents are involving either DUI-drivers or elderly drivers. Our advice: if you are unsure, don´t jump to conclusions, stop at the road side and check things out!