By Marcus Fernandez
The term “snowbird” is used to describe people who escape the wintry northern weather to travel to sunny Florida. The southern migration begins as early as October and snowbird driving becomes more prevalent. It continues through April or May when snowbirds leave Florida to return to their northern homes. Long lines at restaurants and roads congested by an influx of travelers are only a couple of the seasonal phenomena attributed to the approximately 900,000 people who make the Sunshine State their winter home each year. Snowbirds and residents can make their travels throughout the state safer by adhering to a few safety tips when driving.
Be mindful of driver fatigue
Long drives can take a toll on snowbirds anxious to get settled in their winter home. Drivers who fall asleep at the wheel pose a danger to themselves and others. According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 4% of motorists admitted to falling asleep while driving within 30 days prior to responding to the survey.
Fatigue from driving for too many hours may affect a motorist’s ability to react to changing road and traffic conditions. A tired driver may experience slowed reflexes and impaired judgment that could cause an accident.
Some of the signs of fatigue include the following:
- Drifting out of the travel lane
- Missing an exit
- Ignoring road signs
- Frequent blinking and yawning
If you experience symptoms of driver fatigue, let someone else drive for a while. If that’s not possible, pull to a safe place off the road and rest. Delaying your arrival is far better than being involved in a crash caused by falling asleep or being overly tired while driving.
Drivers unfamiliar with an area
Snowbird driving stories can often include leaving directional signals on after changing lanes or traveling in the far left lane at speeds significantly below the posted speed limit. One of the perks of an extended stay is the opportunity to explore new places to shop, eat and go sightseeing. Unfortunately, focusing on finding your way around unfamiliar locations may prevent individuals from paying attention to their driving.
Drivers in search of an unfamiliar address or destination may travel at slow speed and linger in a particular lane. They may also brake suddenly or make sudden turns without using directional signals. Such snowbird driving behavior may cause the drivers of other vehicles to swerve or be forced into other unsafe behaviors that could result in an accident.
When traveling to a new destination during your stay in Florida, take a few minutes to get clear and accurate directions. Go over the directions to make certain you understand them before beginning your trip or use a trip guidance system. If you become lost or confused, stop at a safe location off the road to figure it out.
Finally, closely monitor your speed when traveling on the interstate or multi-lane highways. If you are traveling slower than the flow of traffic, stay in the right-hand lane. Only enter the left lane for passing.
Snowbird driving and GPS dependence
Of the more than 402,000 crashes occurring on Florida roads in 2017, the last year for which the state has data available, 51,258 of them were caused by drivers who were distracted and not paying attention to the task of safely operating their vehicles. Some of the common causes of driver distraction include the following:
- Talking on your cellphone
- Texting while driving
- Adjusting the radio or audio system
- Eating and drinking
- Conversations with other occupants of the car
- Vehicle navigation system
Snowbirds may need to use GPS installed in their vehicles or smartphone navigation more than drivers who live in the state year-round. Focusing on a trip guidance system may cause you to take your eyes off the road. If your vehicle is traveling at 55 mph, the five seconds it takes for you to check the directions on your GPS or to make adjustments to it take your eyes are off the road while your car, truck or SUV cover a distance equivalent to the length of a football field.
Common medical conditions may cause unsafe snowbird driving
The demographics of snowbirds appear to follow the overall population trend with one in four residents of the Sunshine State being 60 years of age or older. An aging population brings with it medical conditions that may affect driving abilities.
Impaired hearing and vision, strokes and seizures, and limited range of motion are some of the medical conditions that may impair the driving abilities of older drivers. Early stages of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease may impair a person’s memory. It may also impact their ability to make decisions that could affect driving performance.
Snowbirds experiencing physical or mental impairments should discuss them with a medical professional, receive appropriate treatment and discuss any driving restrictions that might be necessary. It is also a good idea to talk to your doctor about the adverse effects prescribed medications might have on your ability to safely drive.
When snowbird driving accidents happen
If you are in an accident caused by snowbird driving, you may have the right to recover damages. Consult an experienced Florida personal injury lawyer to learn more about your rights to compensation. Contact us today for a complimentary case evaluation.