Mr Brit’s Drivers Guide
Mr Brit’s Drivers Guide
If you want to drive in Florida, you need to be at least 25 years old to hire a car. I would not recommend ‘bottling out’ of driving in Florida. I drive every time I go to the USA except when in New York and definitely every time I travel to Orlando. It can be worrying at first but after a couple of hours driving you will settle right in and can be very enjoyable. The car you will be an automatic so no need to worry about changing gear with the wrong hand. If you have not drove an automatic before it is much easier than a manual.
Driving in Florida is easy for many reasons. The car park spaces are massive and you should be able to open both side doors fully, without touching the cars beside you. Back home you need to be a contortionist to get out of your car in some of our car parks. The lanes on roads are a lot wider than ours. Most roads are very straight so you won’t have many sharp bends to contend with.
Don’t drink on the plane if you are planning on driving in Florida. The drink driving law is strictly enforced and you will be charged if caught. You may spend a night in the cells. Not a good way to start the holiday! When you pick the car up from the rental company, drive around the car park for 10 minutes until you get confident with the controls and remember to drive on the right side of the car park lane.
Your first experience of driving in Florida will probably be from the Orlando or Sanford airport to your accommodation. If you don’t have a SatNav or use your phone maps, print detailed directions for this route before you leave the UK. Make sure you are well prepared and as relaxed as you can possibly be for your first trip driving on the ‘wrong side of the road’
The most obvious difference with driving in Florida is that they drive on the right hand side of the road. You will sit on the left hand side of the car. The parking brake could be a foot operated pedal on the far left of the wheel well. It could also be a lever setting on the dashboard.
The best tip I can give you for driving an automatic is to let your left leg ‘go to sleep’. In other words, keep it over to the left, away from the pedals and do not use it for anything. If you are quite flexible, hang your left leg out of the window. If you have a false left leg, throw it in the back. What I am trying to say is retire that left leg while driving and you will be fine. The right foot will move from the accelerator (right pedal) to the brake (left pedal) as needed. The left leg is not required.
Nominate a co-pilot…
…as your right hand man/woman (literally Right hand, remember you will be on the Left of the car). Ask them to keep checking that you are staying in the correct lane when turning corners as this is the manoeuvre that needs the most thought. Ask your co-pilot to concentrate as much as you especially when approaching junctions and slip roads.
After a few days you will be fine and your co-pilot can relax a bit more. It is always a good idea to have your co-pilot looking out for signs when approaching Disney World or Universal Orlando Resort because the roads in Orlando seem to be constantly changing. Your GPS or phone maps may not be 100% up to date. Roadworks around Disney have been ongoing for around 4 years at the moment. When you get near Disney World, concentrate more on the official road signs than your map system.
Don’t Get Road Rage in the USA
Losing your temper whilst driving in Florida is not a very good idea at the best of times. In the USA it could cost you your life. At last 1 in 4 people in America legally owns between 1 and 3 guns so it is quite likely you are arguing with a gun owner. I have published the below shocking story earlier on in the guide but I if you missed it, here it is again….
A few years back, an argument started between two women at the checkout of a Toys R Us store in Los Angeles. Their male partners joined in the argument and both produced hand guns and shot each other dead.
This is a really good example of how common it is for people to be carrying hand guns in America so remember to avoid confrontation at all times. In America some gun fanatics are trying to force Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort to allow people to take guns into their theme parks. So far they have not been successful.
Concentrate when roads are quiet
This may sound a bit daft at first but it is easier driving in Florida when the roads are busy. Imagine if the roads were deserted and you came to a junction. You would have to read all of the markings and concentrate much harder to drive into the correct lanes. When the roads are busy, there is usually another car in front of you that you can follow. The few times I have driven on the wrong side was when no cars were around.
Expecting a roundabout?
I have only seen one proper roundabout in America. It was on a private road outside of Sylvester Stallone’s house in Hollywood #NameDrop. You will struggle to find a roundabout when you are driving in Florida. Try not to make the mistake I made the first time I drove in the USA.
I headed out alone to a local Wal-Mart to buy a car seat for my baby. I missed the turn for the Wal-Mart Supermarket and decided to wait until I came across a roundabout. Being new to driving on the wrong side of the road, I was too nervous to pull over to the left lane as this is usually our fast lane. “I should come across one soon” I thought to myself. I got back to that Wal-Mart 2 hours later after realising there ain’t no roundabouts in Florida. Mrs Brit though I must have had an accident and was worried to death.
If you are driving down a normal road (not a freeway) and you miss your turn, you need to gradually get into the left hand lane and wait until the next left exit lane appears. The photo above shows two left turning lanes coming up. This is the best way to go back in the opposite direction. Even if there is a no u-turn sign, you can still pull into a car park or street on the left. Then just simply get back onto the road in the correct direction.
….because it could cost you a small fortune. Speeding or even ‘running a red light’ will not get you 3 points on your licence. It will be punished in the way of a fine of around $200. Prices change depending on the area that you commit an offence but it is expensive if you are caught. If there are roadworks present when you are caught speeding, your fine will be doubled.
Turning Right On A Red Light
The “Free Right at a Red Light” rule is great and we should have the “left” version in the UK. On most occasions you can turn right at a red light in Florida. You must first check the traffic from the left is clear then you can carry on around the right corner.
If you are in the right hand lane at a red light and you hear beep beep, don’t worry your bumper has fallen off. It is probably the driver behind you prompting you to turn right. This rule allows the traffic to clear a lot quicker and it is a great rule. The photo above shows the red car turning right at the red light. This is fine as long as there is no traffic coming from the left or from ahead.
Tips for turning right at a red light
Move away smoothly and purposefully. Once you start, don’t stop halfway through – you shouldn’t have gone if it wasn’t clear to do so. If you are worried about doing this in Orlando just don’t do it. Let the people honk their horn and ignore it. I love the Yanks but they all do seem to love the sound of their own horn.
Once you have seen other drivers turn at a red light you will gain confidence. In some areas you cannot turn right at a red light but there will be a sign saying something like “No Turn On Red”. Look out for this before you just decide to turn right at every opportunity.
When driving in Florida you will see a lot of STOP signs. When you approach a junction that has stop signs from all directions, you need to stop and focus. Whoever arrives at the stop sign first gets right of way. If two cars arrived at the same time, the car furthest to the right has right of way. If three cars all arrived at the same time, the car which is furthest to the left must wait until the other two cars have departed.
When two cars arrive at the stop sign at the same time and are facing each other, both cars must indicate if turning. If one car is planning to go straight ahead, they have right of way. If both cars are turning into the same road, the car turning right has right of way.
It usually works without incident but just drive out slowly so the other cars know you are moving. Even if there are no cars around, you must stop at a stop sign. It seems silly but it is the law.
Turning Left at a Traffic Signal
Turning Left at a Traffic Light (Signal) can be a little scary the first few times. Most major road junctions will have a left turn lane controlled by a left turn light. It is usually up in the air, dangling from a wire. If the road you are turning into is a dual or triple carriageway, proceed into the correct lane after the turn. That’s all the way across the first set of lanes on your left and the dividing section in the middle of the road.
If you are not concentrating, there may be a tendency to go left round the kerb, like back at home. This will end up with you facing a line of cars coming towards you. Pay even more attention if you are the car at the front of the lane, You won’t have a car to follow into the correct lane. If you are directly behind a car that is also turning left, the move will be a doddle as you just follow their move (unless they are a first-time British driver)
The street signs…
…that hang from the wires or posts above the street are the names of the street that crosses over the street you are on. They are NOT the name of the street you are on. In the photo above I was driving down a street that crossed International Drive. I was not driving down International Drive.
Freeway Driving (Motorway Driving)
Most Brits are scared of freeways in the US until they gain confidence. You can’t ‘build up’ to driving on freeways as your first drive will probably be from the airport.
Undertaking on freeways
Things are very different in America and seeing cars weaving in and out of lanes is very common. It’s not illegal in the USA to overtake on the ‘inside’ which is the right hand side or the slow lane as we would call it. If someone undertakes you, do not get stressed or lose your temper because it will affect your driving. They are allowed to do it. Keep looking in your mirrors and don’t let the experienced locals intimidate you. Until you gain full confidence, try to stay in the right hand lane (slow lane) and stick to a speed that is comfortable enough for you. This way you will not be bothered by ‘undertakers’ and you’ll get the hang of driving better.
If you’re driving in the right hand lane, keep your eye out for these yellow ‘exit only’ signs. Once the slip road appears and you are in that lane, you must turn off. If this isn’t your exit, you need to spot these signs earlier and move out of that lane. As you can see by this picture, if you were in the very right hand lane you would have to exit off right. The blue car can carry on forward because he has both options.
After a few days driving in Florida you will gain a lot of confidence. You will be comfortable overtaking in the faster left hand lanes but there is no rush to do it. You will only get to the theme parks 2 minutes earlier anyway. Take your time until you are happy with the workings of the US roads.
The Toll Booths
There will be at least 2 or 3 of these tolls when you are travelling to or away from the airports using toll roads. You need to make sure that you are approaching the Toll Plaza in the right hand lanes. You are not allowed to drive through the left hand Prepaid Tolls lanes unless you purchased the full pass. At most tolls you actually need to take a slip road off the main motorway to pay your toll. This isn’t a great design because you think you are leaving the motorway. Once you pay the toll you slip back onto the main motorway again.
If you accidently drive through the Prepaid Tolls lanes your car will be photographed for avoiding the tolls. You will receive a bill when you return to the UK. The fee can differ depending on who you hired the car from. You can read how some car hire companies are worse than others in my Car Hire section.
When you reach the tolls you will usually need to pay between 75 cents and $2 to pass through the toll. You do not need the exact change so you can use notes to pay. Using change is a great way to get rid of all your ‘shrapnel’ and the attendants very rarely count it anyway. You can also throw your change into a bucket in the Exact Change lane.
Filling up with Gas (Putting petrol in)
The pumps don’t work like they do in the UK. You have to go into the store and pay to activate the pump (trusting lot our American friends are). Don’t pay for $50 worth of fuel because you have a large car and you are thinking in UK prices. Even some big cars may not fit $40 in even when empty. If you are running on almost empty, pay for around $20 of fuel and see how that fills the car up. After that you will be able to estimate better for your next visit to the gas station.
On the last day when you are heading back to the airport, give the attendant more than you need. You can then fully fill the car up and go back for your change when finished.
To help you understand how to fill up in Florida, here is how my recent trip to the gas station went…..
…..I parked beside a pump and went into the gas station kiosk. $20 of fuel would easily fit in so I paid this to the cashier and requested pump number 9. I then went back to my car and popped open my petrol cap from outside of the car. The cap was yellow (it usually is). The cap had writing on it, it states – E85/Gasoline so this means I can put a new eco fuel called E85 in. You don’t have to put E85 in, you can put any gasoline in but not diesel.
As I have already paid my $20 I can select any of the yellow buttons and fill my car up with $20 worth. I pressed the button and started filling. Button number 87 was the one for me because it is the cheapest fuel but I could have chosen any yellow button. I won’t put the more expensive fuel in because it isn’t my own car (and I’m tight) The pump will automatically cut-off at the amount you paid so you don’t get the embarrassing $20.01c scenario. The system is set for me to spend my $20 on any type of fuel I like.
It’s Easier Than You Imagine
If you are worried about driving in Florida, just book a few days to see how it goes. I have been with many family members and friends that didn’t want to drive but loved it when they tried it. My sister and niece were arguing about who should drive during their first visit back in 2017. Neither of them were happy about driving in Florida. Eventually my niece said she would do it for a few days but then her mum (my sister) will need to start driving.
After a few days my sister refused because she was too nervous. She said that her daughter was used to it now so may as well carry on. My niece wasn’t happy. She refused to do any more driving until her Mum gave it a go. Their whole family were going to miss our Disney World visit so my sister reluctantly agreed to drive. She loved it as soon as she had done just one drive. If you can just step up and do it, you will see a lot more of Orlando in a car.