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Written by Gaspar González - BT Contributor   
May 2013

Dangerous driving may be the most salient feature of life in Miami

Wbigstock-Miami-Traffic-5139968e all know Miami drivers bring their own unique style to the road. There’s the “Miami Left,” whereby a motorist makes a left-hand turn, not at a 90-degree angle, which would be the proper way to do it, but at something closer to 45 degrees, so that he or she actually cuts across a lane of oncoming traffic before settling into the correct lane.

There’s also the “Miami Exit Move,” in which a driver who is distracted (texting, applying make-up, trying to wolf down that Taco Bell chalupa) suddenly realizes their highway exit is fast approaching. Problem is, it’s three lanes away and traffic is never going to let them get over. In a lot of cities, the driver would simply drive to the next exit, get off, and double back. (Really.) Not here.

Here, they’re getting over. No matter what it takes. No matter how many other drivers have to slam on their brakes or swerve to avoid them. It happens daily on roads all over Miami-Dade, perhaps nowhere more frequently than at the point where I-95 southbound meets I-195 and State Road 112. (Why do drivers have such a hard time deciding between downtown, the beach, and the airport? Is it because they fly in their bathing suits?)

Motorists here have elevated bad driving -- dangerous driving -- to the point that it’s no longer just another aspect of life in South Florida. It may well be the defining aspect.

To live in South Florida is to live with the knowledge that you could be plowed into by any driver, on any street, at any time, no matter how unlikely the chances of that may seem. And when it happens, if their car is not disabled by the accident, there’s a very good chance they will flee the scene. Because that’s also what we do.

Last year, the Florida Highway Patrol revealed, there were 20,000 hit-and-run accidents in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. That translates to about 55 a day, or roughly 2.25 every hour of every day. Keep in mind, those aren’t car accidents. Those are hit-and-runs. That’s as many as in Los Angeles, a city long famous for its vehicular dysfunction.

Many of these involve fatalities: a bystander waiting for a bus, a cyclist out for an evening ride, or, most recently, a chef at a South Beach restaurant, struck and killed by a car driven by a self-described “party princess” as he walked to work in the early-morning hours.

Stefano Riccioletti was thrown 30 feet in the air by the impact. The party princess, Karlie Tomica, whose blood alcohol content was reportedly three times the legal limit, just kept going, hoping to make it home before anyone could get a good look at her license plate or the make of her car.

In many places, that would rank as an unconscionable, memorably gruesome incident. Here, it will quickly be displaced by the next horrific hit-and-run, which, given the numbers I’ve cited, will probably occur sometime before you finish reading this.

There’s a scene in Casablanca in which Major Strasser, the Nazi in charge, issues a thinly veiled threat to the character played by Ingrid Bergman. “Perhaps you have already observed that, in Casablanca,” Strasser tells her, “human life is cheap.” I’ve often referenced the line when friends in other places ask me if driving -- or walking -- in Miami is as dangerous as it appears. They usually laugh. I don’t.

How cheap is human life here? It’s hard to say for sure, though consider two things we apparently value more. One is the freedom to talk on our cell phones -- and text -- as much as we want, wherever we want, including behind the wheel of a car cruising at 60 mph. That’s why Florida is one of only four states (South Carolina, South Dakota, and Montana are the others) with absolutely no limits on talking or texting while driving. (A bill making its way through the Florida legislature promises to change this.)

The other thing that seemingly trumps public safety is the imperative of having an extra couple of parking spaces. It was recently reported that attempts by Miami-Dade and Coral Gables to build a pedestrian bridge spanning U.S. 1 -- at a spot where, since 1989, eight University of Miami students have been struck while trying to cross the street -- hit a snag.

The owners of University Centre, the strip mall located on the east side of the street, were unwilling to give up five parking spaces so the project could proceed. This, despite being offered $1.8 million in compensation.

I don’t claim to know the market value of a parking space, but $360,000 per seems like a fair deal, especially when the purpose of the proposed bridge is to enable a good portion of your customer base to make it safely to the door of your business.

Miami. It’s enough to drive you crazy.


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