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Miami Living: Tips for Driving in the "Magic City"

Written by Holly Chavez.

Tips for Driving in MiamiTips for Driving in Miami

Living and traveling in Miami can both be challenging on some levels. Once you’re there, the magical environment feels like you’re in paradise. But reaching your idyllic destination can sometimes be a major headache, since you’ll have to negotiate your way through the maze of surrounding counties.

The highway system in the city of Miami, and Florida in general, is far different from many metropolitan areas in the United States. Adding to the mix, Florida is also one of the most active tourist destinations in America. This combination tends to make drivers who are unfamiliar with the region a credible threat, to what might otherwise be the local population’s smooth maneuvering through trendy neighborhoods.

Get Ready for Massive Traffic Snarls

Whether you are headed to the popular O Cinema Wynwood to catch a sold out David Bowie exhibit - or you’ve decided to test out what’s proclaimed to be the best Cuban food on the planet - you are going to be taken aback by the ferocity of the busy and congested Miami traffic. Business operators may be very friendly to tourists, but that cordial relationship usually stops when you hop on the Florida highways.

Miami is a two-time winner of the Rudest Drivers in America contest, so road rage is a real issue in this city. The sheer number of visitors is the primary reason. There are several main streets and highways that see bumper-to-bumper traffic at any time of the day, and very often into the night. Individuals with "night blindness" may have real difficulty navigating traffic.

One important tip is to schedule your trip for a time when traffic is known to be at a low volume. It’s also a good idea to take routes that are less popular. Be aware of pedestrians darting through traffic. And remember, patience is a virtue on Florida roadways.

Tolls Prevail on Florida’s Roads

All Florida roadways are not free, and require a toll or toll sticker. The Sunpass is essentially a sticker that is applied to your car windshield. Rental companies will often include a pass with their rental cars. This will allow for easy movement through any particular toll station. Also be aware that some highways such as the Florida Turnpike Homestead Extension do not accept money, so the SunPass is essential in some cases.

While “local streets” in Miami are free for usage, it will still be necessary from time to time to use a highway system requiring a toll pass. You’ll find once you are in Miami that you can enjoy the famous South Beach there, and you are also close to other great Florida beaches such as Key West. If you choose to put these locales on your itinerary, the Florida Department of Transportation's Sunpass Prepaid Toll Program can help you save time and cash.

Navigating the Miami Grid

The inner-city highway grid in Miami is designed relatively well. It consists of four quadrants divided by the intersection of Flagler Street and Miami Avenue. There is also a common courtesy rule amongst Miami drivers that involves turning left on a red light after awaiting oncoming traffic on a yellow light. Always pull up as far as possible because the driver behind you will follow if space allows. And remember, this does not apply to running through a red light. Red light cameras are installed throughout the Miami area and the city is as serious about collecting fines as they are about highway safety.

Four-way stops are common in residential areas, but traffic lights abound in the Miami grid. The “streets” run east-west, and “avenues, courts, roads and places” run north-south, and most are numbered. There are some with names and also numbers, and “legacy” names have been kept to maintain the history. Until you’re familiar, it can be daunting.

Miami is Tough on DUIs

Miami is definitely a fun city to party in, but there is one additional and very serious tip for navigating in Miami: Do not drink and drive. It’s never a good decision anywhere, but Florida police are dedicated to stopping impaired drivers and the state is strict on punishment. This is especially true if you are from another state. This is the first rule for vacationing, and reveling, in Miami.

While officials are relatively lenient on traffic congestion necessities like the red light rule, DUI charges are prosecuted vigorously. Prioritizing courtesy and safety are important to driving in Miami, but legal technicalities may be even more important. If you happen to be stopped for impaired driving, you’ll definitely need local legal help. The Florida court system is diligent, and prosecutors do not mince words. And, remember that big insurance companies aren’t your friend if someone hits you.

Always remember that pre-planning and discipline are key to successful driving in the "Magic City" and around the Miami-Dade County metroplex. The laws can be tricky and complex, especially if you are new to the city, so it’s a good idea to map out your way and leave plenty of time for negotiating the roadways and finding a place to park close to your destination.

Author Holly Chavez enjoys visiting Miami and immersing in all the activities the city has to offer. The traffic is a force to be reckoned with (especially during rush hour). Once you get to your favorite fun spots, it is definitely worth it though!

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