With 21,646,155 residents, Florida is the third most populated state. Every day 17 million drivers take to the state’s roads and highways. With such a large number of vehicles on the road, accidents are bound to happen. Some of those will involve reckless driving.
Under Florida law, any person who gets behind the wheel of a motor vehicle, be it a car, van, truck, or motorcycle, and drives with willful and wanton disregard for another’s safety or property is guilty of reckless driving.
Reckless driving is a crime, punishable by jail time, substantial fines, and suspension of driving privileges, among other penalties. And, while a criminal defense attorney may tell you there are defenses against a criminal charge of reckless driving, as personal injury lawyers we can tell you that causing an accident while speeding, failing to yield, following too close, making improper lane changes, or acting carelessness behind the wheel, will likely result in civil liability to anyone you harm.
In this blog post, we take a deep dive into the scourge of reckless driving: how often it happens, what it entails, and If you should talk to an experienced auto injury lawyer.
More People, More Cars, More Accidents
Florida continues to grow. A warm climate, a healthy tourism and second-home industry, plentiful jobs, and favorable tax laws have propelled Florida’s population explosion. Within the state, U.S. News ranked Orlando eighth among all cities seeing an influx of new residents in 2019. Other Florida cities that made the list include:
- Port St. Lucie
- Daytona Beach
- Fort Myers
From January through September 2018, Florida hosted 95.8 million visitors. In 2018 a record-setting 75 million people visited Orlando, making it, again, one of the most popular travel destinations in the country.
Population growth fuels a strong Florida economy. But it also strains local infrastructure. It takes time, space, money, and political will to build roads with enough capacity to handle a ballooning population. Many of those resources are in short supply in areas of the Sunshine State experiencing population growth, which increases incidence and dangers of reckless driving.
Reckless Driving Citation Statistics
Every year, the Florida Department Of Highway Safety And Motor Vehicles publishes a traffic citation report detailing the total number of drivers issued citations. During the calendar year 2018, statewide:
- 187,097 citations were issued for speeding
- 197,818 citations were issued for careless driving
- 73,167 citations were issued for failure to yield
- 20,368 citations were issued for following too close
- 60,855 citations were issued for improper lane changes
Data for Orange County alone (where Orlando is located):
- Speeding citations – 11,942
- Careless driving citations – 11,393
- Failure to yield citations – 2,887
- Following too close citations – 255
- Improper lane change citations – 2,712
By any measure, these are troubling statistics. With so many reckless driving behaviors occurring every day on Florida roads, accidents are bound to happen. Tragically, as the citations above suggest, many, many accidents could be prevented if drivers would take more care and obey traffic laws, rather than risking tickets, fines, and (potentially) criminal sanctions.
Common Reckless Driving Behaviors Examined
As the statutory definition cited at the beginning of this blog post suggests, reckless driving is not a single behavior. Rather, it comprises a constellation of poor and dangerous choices drivers often make behind the wheel. Each of these behaviors, on its own, tends to cause accidents. When they occur together, the risk of a catastrophic accident increases exponentially.
In spite of severe penalties for DUIs and vigilant enforcement against drunk and high drivers, impaired driving represents a persistent, costly statewide epidemic. The Herald-Tribune has called Sarasota the “DUI death capital of Florida,” a horrific distinction. Data from the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles for 2016 showed 5,223 alcohol-related traffic accidents resulting in 461 deaths and 3,160 injuries statewide.
Although alcohol use remains a particular focus of anti-impaired driving campaigns for good reason, impaired driving involves more than just drunk driving. A wide range of substances can damage a person’s ability to operate a motor vehicle safely, including illegal drugs, prescription and over-the-counter medications, and even certain foods when combined with medical conditions.
For example, the Food And Drug Administration warns of the impact of over-the-counter allergy medications on a person’s ability to drive safely. Products containing antihistamines can cause:
- Blurred vision
- Delayed reaction time
- Impaired cognitive ability
Other perfectly legal drugs that can limit a person’s ability to drive safely include:
- Pain relievers
- Anti-anxiety medication
- Blood pressure medication
- Sleeping pills
- Diet medications
The impact of prescription and over-the-counter medications on driving safety stands out in Florida, in particular, because of the state’s substantial retirement population and the tendency of older adults to take a wide range of medicines. Drivers should always take care to understand the side effects of any new medication before getting behind the wheel.
Speeding is, perhaps, the most common of all potentially-reckless driving behaviors. Drivers tend to take their “right” to exceed the speed limit, at least by a little bit, for granted. But the fact is, traveling faster than is safe for road conditions, regardless of the speed limit, puts lives at risk. Speeding on crowded roads, in particular, demonstrates a reckless disregard for the safety of others, and could land a driver in legal hot water.
Failure to Stop, Yield, or Slow Down
Almost every person with a driver’s license has or will have, run a stop sign at some point. Although sometimes understandable, and usually unintentional, a failure to stop as required can have deadly consequences.
Intersections are particularly dangerous, especially here in Florida. Time Magazine’s list of the twelve most dangerous intersections in the nation includes five right here in the Sunshine State:
- The intersection of State Road 40 and State Road 19 in Astor
- The intersection of North Semoran Boulevard and Old Cheney Highway in Orlando
- The intersection of Vista Del Lago Boulevard and Route 192 in Kissimmee
- The intersection of South Scenic Highway and County Road 700 in Frostproof
- The intersection of Hialeah Gardens Boulevard and North Okeechobee Road in Hialeah Gardens
Accidents at intersections frequently result in fatalities, because they involve a confluence of vehicles, pedestrians, and cyclists crossing each other’s paths. A single moment of inattention or carelessness at an intersection can lead to a catastrophic broadside collision.
Governor DeSantis signed HB107 into law on May 17, 2019, making texting while driving a primary offense in Florida. The legislation also stipulates a handheld wireless communications device may not be used while driving in a school crossing, school zone, or work zone area while workers are present or operating equipment.
Multitasking simply does not work while behind the wheel. Drivers cannot focus on the complex task of safe driving while also eating, drinking, lighting a cigarette, interacting with a screen, or looking at fellow passengers.
Following Too Close (a.k.a Tailgating)
Florida law treats following too closely (failing to keep sufficient distance, always at least two car lengths, from the car in front of you) as a reckless driving behavior. Tailgating is the leading cause of rear-end accidents, which can inflict serious injuries even when they occur at low speed and cause only minor physical damage to the cars involved. Rear-end accidents are a leading cause of whiplash (a debilitating soft-tissue injury), back and spinal cord injury, and concussions, that can lead to:
- Neck, back, head, or shoulder pain
- Problems concentrating
- Loss of arm strength
- Blurred vision
- Limited range of motion
- Pain or numbness in the arms or hands
- Sleep disturbances
- Debilitating fatigue
To protect yourself from becoming a victim of someone else’s tailgating behavior:
- Move over and allow impatient drivers to pass; and
- Stay on the side of safety, the right-hand lane, whenever possible.
Failing to Signal/Improper Passing
Drivers who fail to use turn signals when changing lanes to pass another vehicle cause many highway traffic accidents. So do drivers who pass in the wrong part of the road, or who try to use road shoulders and breakdown lanes to pass.
Why do some drivers fail to use signals?
- For some, it is just a bad habit.
- Some drivers feel signals are not necessary if there is not much traffic.
- Sometimes turning is a split-second decision and there is not enough time to signal.
- Some drivers actually think turn signals are optional.
To pass safely, always use a signal, and follow these tips.
- Make sure the traffic flow will allow passing safely.
- On a two-lane road with one lane in each direction, do not attempt to pass more than one vehicle at a time.
- Make sure there is enough room in a designated driving lane (not the shoulder, a bike lane, or a breakdown lane) to pass safely.
- Be aware of blind spots, especially when passing a truck. Remember, if you can’t see the other driver’s mirrors, then that driver can’t see you.
- Do not attempt to pass motorcyclists traveling in the same lane as you, and do not pass bicyclists unless you can give them at least three feet of berth.
And remember, generally speaking:
- Passing on the right is illegal; and
- Any passing maneuver where the driver cannot fully see oncoming traffic is not allowed.
Florida law prohibits highway and street racing. Not only is it illegal to drive in a race on public roads, it is also against the law to be a spectator. A person convicted of participating in a street race faces:
- A fine of $500 to $1,000 and a mandatory two year suspension of the driver’s license and possibly up to one year in jail
- Those with a previous conviction within the last five years face an increased fine of $1,000 to $3,000 and a mandatory two year license suspension as well as up to one year in jail
- If convicted of a third or subsequent offense, the penalty is a $2,000 to $5,000 fine and a mandatory four year suspension of the driver’s license as well as up to one year in jail
And of course, street racers who injure someone through their reckless driving will likely face civil liability for damages, too.
A Word About Teen and Young Adult Drivers
Younger drivers commit the bulk of reckless driving offenses. Most of those reckless young drivers are male, and many of the offenses involve drug or alcohol impairment. To combat the poor decisions this particular cohort of drivers tends to make, Florida has passed laws to curb the dangerous driving behaviors among young people.
- There is zero tolerance in Florida for those under age 21 when it comes to drinking and driving. Drivers under the age of 21 with a blood-alcohol level of .02 percent or more will have their license suspended for six months/
- Teens must comply with school attendance, or they will be ineligible to obtain or maintain their license
- If convicted of possession of tobacco, minors lose their license for a minimum of 30 days
Steps You Can Take to Reduce Your Risk for Reckless Driving Accidents
Set yourself up for success and follow some tried and true steps you can take to ensure a safe ride. Stay focused, and:
- Stay out of the fast lane except to pass.
- Scan your side and rearview mirrors often, and train yourself to look not just for cars and trucks, but also for motorcycles, bicycles, and pedestrians.
- Use caution while driving around large trucks, and remember the mirror rule – if you can’t see their mirrors, then they can’t see you.
One reckless driver on the road is one too many. Reckless driving causes serious and fatal injuries every day on Florida roads.
If you are the victim of a reckless driver, then you may have the right to recover substantial compensation, if you act soon. Contact a motor vehicle accident lawyer to learn more.