Want to go fast on Interstate 95 in Miami-Dade County? Using the express lanes will cost you as much as $10.50 starting Saturday.
ARTICLE WRITTEN BY: Michael Turnbell Original Source: http://bit.ly/1fOp7hK
Officials say the current toll rates — as high as $7 when congestion is worst — aren’t stiff enough to limit the number of drivers willing to pay. Too many cars mean slower speeds.
“Driver demand is what sets the toll price,” said Alicia Torrez, a Florida Department of Transportation spokeswoman.
The $7 rate was charged 172 times in 2013, more than double the previous three years combined.
The new minimum toll will be 50 cents, up from a quarter. The new maximum toll rate will be $1.50 per mile, up from $1, to drive the current 7-mile stretch between the Golden Glades and I-395.
Increasing the toll rate is necessary, they say, to keep traffic moving at 45 mph or higher in the express lanes for 90 percent of the time. The state reached that goal only 64 percent of the time in August. Since then, other months also have fallen below 90 percent.
To keep demand in check, the state plans to raise tolls to $2 per mile if the new maximum rate is reached on 45 days during a six-month period.
“Many people will not drive in these lanes because now they can not afford it,” said Steve Sternberg of Boynton Beach. “So we are going to make it easier for more affluent people only to get around quickly.”
Express lanes are set to open on a 13-mile stretch of I-95 between the Golden Glades and Broward Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale by April 2015. Eventually, the plans are planned to go as far north as Linton Boulevard in Delray Beach.
AAA hits state on car seats
Auto agency says Florida needs to toughen up nation’s most lax law on vehicles’ safety seats and boosters for children
ARTICLE WRITTEN BY: Katie Santich Original Source: http://bit.ly/Oq0UVn
Florida’s law requiring car seats for children is the most lax in the nation, AAA officials say, and the group is pushing lawmakers to adopt more rigorous standards that many claim would save lives and prevent disabling injuries.
Current state law requires only that children up to age 3 be secured in a car seat. Children ages 4 and 5 may be placed in a car seat or booster seat — but, unlike most states, they don’t have to be. Florida law says a seat belt will suffice.
“It’s tragic that kids are getting killed and injured when there’s such an easy, preventable way to stop it,” said State Rep. W. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, who is sponsoring an AAA-backed booster-seat bill in the Florida House. “Kids don’t have a voice, but I think most parents would make the right choice if they knew what that was. Part of my goal is education.”
His bill, like a companion bill in the Florida Senate, would require children to be restrained in a car seat or booster seat through age 7 or until the child reaches 4 feet, 9 inches tall.
Already, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends rear-facing car-safety seats for children up to age 2, forward-facing car safety seats for most children through age 4, belt-positioning booster seats for most kids through age 8, and lap-and-shoulder seat belts for kids who have outgrown booster seats. In all cases, the academy recommends, anyone under 13 should ride in the back seat, which is generally safer.
“The consequences of not using appropriate child safety seats can be devastating,” said Karen Morgan, public policy manager of AAA — The Auto Club Group.
Motor-vehicle crashes are the leading killer of children age 14 and under. In 2011, the most recent statistics available, more than 650 children age 12 and under died in vehicle crashes across the country, and more than 148,000 were injured. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about a third of those kids were not restrained by seat belts or car seats.
Using a car seat reduces the risk of death for infants under a year old by 71 percent, and for toddlers by 54 percent, the CDC reports. Using a booster seat for children age 4 to 8 cuts their risk of serious injury by nearly half by positioning the belt across the shoulder and lap rather than the child’s neck and stomach.
AAA has lobbied to pass similar legislation in Florida for years without success. In 2001, the law overwhelmingly passed in both the state House of Representatives and Senate — but was vetoed by then-Gov. Jeb Bush, who said that it would be difficult to enforce and might impose an unfair hardship on low-income families. The governor also said he favored parents, not government, taking responsibility for protecting children.
Perry acknowledges that similar sentiment persists, but he counters, “We’re not coming up with some new requirement. It’s simply modifying the law to be more effective for kids.”
And Morgan said the nation’s embrace of car seats has strengthened considerably since 2001.
“Now every other state has a stronger law,” she said. “And there are several places that people can go to get [free or low-cost] car seats for their children — hospitals, fire stations, AAA.”
Too, the tougher standards have support from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Florida Emergency Nurses Association.
“We have to deal with the aftermath of children involved in crashes who have not been properly restrained,” said Penny Blake, an emergency nurse who chairs the association’s government affairs committee. “We are the ones who have to try to save the child’s life or organs and who have to comfort the parents — many of whom feel guilty. They did not know that something as simple as a booster seat might have made all the difference.”
On the other hand, because so many authorities now recommend car seats and booster seats for children up to 4-feet, 9-inches tall, some Florida parents assume it’s already the law here.
“I thought you had to put them in a booster seat until age 7,” said Eric Sutton, an Orlando father of two boys under age 5. “The 4 1/2-year-old just graduated to a booster seat three months ago — and there’s no way I’m letting him ride without that for a very long time.”
ARTICLE WRITTEN BY: Michael Turnbell Original Source: http://bit.ly/1kyq2Gm
It’s an unusual sight on Interstate 95 in Miami-Dade County this week: Lots of troopers and lots of drivers being pulled over.
The Florida Highway Patrol launched Operation I-95 Saturation on Monday, flooding a 16-mile stretch of I-95 in Miami-Dade with twice as many troopers from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Speeders and aggressive drivers are the target.
The five-day crackdown, which lasts until Friday, comes after troopers have received numerous complaints from drivers about excessive speeding in the express lanes, which run seven miles from the Golden Glades interchange to I-395.
To create tolled express lanes without cutting back on the number of free lanes, all lanes on I-95 between I-395 and the Golden Glades were narrowed from 12 feet to 11 feet.
In most places, shoulders now are only 8 feet. That leaves troopers with few spots where they can safely pull over drivers.
“We’re very, very limited where we can make traffic stops. People know that and say there’s no place for them to stop me so I’m going to go as fast as I want. They’re using it to their advantage,” said Trooper Joe Sanchez, spokesman for the patrol in Miami-Dade. “It’s really been a problem for us.”
Troopers hope the high visiblity of cruisers and sirens on I-95 and the sight of drivers being pulled over this week will be a deterrent.
In addition to watching for excessive speeders, troopers will be looking for drivers who change lanes erratically or cut in and out of the plastic poles that separate the express lanes from the free lanes.
Sanchez couldn’t cite the number of citations given Monday but said troopers “had written a lot of tickets.”
Typically, only three troopers patrol I-95 between the Broward-Miami-Dade county line and U.S.1south of downtown Miami.
In December, the average speed in the express lanes for most of the day was 66 mph southbound and 64 mph northbound, or about 5 mph over the speed limit.
The speed limit on I-95 south of the Golden Glades between Northwest 151st Street and State Road 112 was increased from 55 to 60 mph last September.
ARTICLE WRITTEN BY: BRITTANY SHAMMAS Original Source: http://bit.ly/1dc5AXL
Are you an aggressive driver?
State law says you are if you commit two of the following traffic violations at the same time:
• Improper and sudden lane changes
• Running red lights or stop signs
• Cutting people off or not yielding the right of way
On a recent weekday afternoon, it’s a red Dodge Magnum that catches Palm Beach County Deputy Jason Karlecke’s eye as he roams Interstate 95. The car comes up in the carpool lane from behind and screams past. The deputy’s radar unit flashes its speed in red block numbers: 94 miles per hour.
“That would have never happened with a marked unit,” says Karlecke, a cop for 16 years.
The Magnum starts weaving between lanes and cutting in front of other cars, still doing 90-some miles per hour. On come the lights and sirens in Karlecke’s unmarked car and soon enough, the car is pulled over on the side of the road.
This driver gets off easy. He tells Karlecke he’s rushing to a wreck a family member was involved in, and the deputy — noticing an upset woman in the passenger seat — believes him enough to give him a warning and send him on his way.
Under normal circumstances, the driver would have been cited for aggressive driving, which carries heftier penalties than a typical violation. State law says a drivers are aggressive if they commit two specific traffic violations at the same time.
The violations include speeding, tailgating, running red lights or stop signs, improperly changing lanes, improperly passing and failing to yield the right of way.
Deputies assigned to the Palm Beach County Sheriff ’s Office’s Aggressive Driving Unit blend in with traffic in their unmarked patrol cars, looking for drivers who are the worst of the worst: the ones blowing the speed limit, darting in and out of lanes, tailing other cars or charging through red lights.
They don’t pull over people who make petty mistakes. Their job is to stop the drivers who put everyone else on the road at risk.
The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office has had the squad since 2006. It started out with a four-year grant from the Department of Transportation. When that ran out, the sheriff’s office absorbed the costs to keep it.
Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Teri Barbera said the unit has paid dividends, and the results are evident in the decreasing number of citations written for aggressive driving in Palm Beach County.
In 2011, sheriff’s deputies issued 1,681 aggressive driving citations. In 2012, that number dropped to 1,393 and in 2013 it fell even further, to 1,118.
That, Barbera said, is proof the approach is working and the main reason Sheriff Ric Bradshaw has kept the unit on the road.
Broward County also has an aggressive driving unit, which works with other agencies to target dangerous people behind the wheel.
In a recent operation in December, the Sheriff’s Office and the Florida Highway Patrol issued 189 tickets to aggressive drivers in one four-hour period, including one driver who was going 110 miles per hour and another who drove north on a southbound exit ramp.
Members of the aggressive driving squad are equipped with state-of-the-art gadgets that help gauge speed. The cars they drive have radar mounted on their dashboards and at their back windows, so they can get the speed of vehicles behind and in front of them.
They also carry binocular-like devices that use radar to clock a car’s speed. You hold it up to your eyes, point it at a car and the speed pops up. These deputies are also trained in estimating a car’s speed just by looking at it.
Six deputies are assigned to the unit. They patrol the interstate and roadways throughout the county, waiting for someone to drive aggressively.
It usually doesn’t take long.
After stopping the Magnum, Karlecke steers his Dodge Charger toward West Palm Beach and takes a spin down Okeechobee Boulevard. He soon spots a black Volvo SUV blazing through a red light. The guy is going about 15 miles per hour over the speed limit.
There’s no real demographic when it comes to them, Karlecke says. He’s caught teenagers, senior citizens, men and women driving aggressively.
“It’s people late to work; it’s people late to an appointment,” Karlecke said. “It can be absolutely anything, absolutely everybody
— anyone who’s impatient.”
They almost always have an excuse. Once, a driver barreling down an empty rural road told Karlecke he was just keeping up with traffic.
When the deputy pointed out that the road was clear for miles, the guy gestured ahead and said he was trying to catch up to the cars “way up there.”
A man driving his motorcycle down Interstate 95 at 160 miles per hour — the fastest speed Karlecke’s ever caught someone doing
— said he was trying to “open it up.”
Karlecke, who’s been chasing aggressive drivers since the unit’s debut, said they seem to be getting more common on South Florida roadways.
“People are in a bigger hurry,” he said, and they’ve got less patience.
But Palm Beach County residents are catching on to the presence of the Aggressive Driving Unit and the fact its deputies are watching from cars that don’t stand out. That’s actually a good thing, Karlecke says.
“People know you’re there,” he said. “They’re slowing down, and that’s what you want.”
ARTICLE WRITTEN BY: Aaron DesLatte, Tallahasee Bureau Chief Original Source: http://bit.ly/1mkUvqU
Higher state speed limits get green light under bill that advanced in the Legislature
TALLAHASSEE — Florida drivers could find themselves able to legally lean on the gas pedal a little more on certain highways, under a bill that got its first OK in the Legislature on Thursday.
A bipartisan contingent of lawmakers wants to allow the state Department of Transportation more leeway to raise speed limits on mostly rural stretches of highways between cities. The goal is to improve traffic flow and safety.
The bill would allow the DOT to boost speed limits on four-lane interstate highways from 70 mph to 75 mph. Highways with 60-and 65-mph limits could also get 5-mph boosts if the DOT deems it appropriate to improving traffic flow.
SB 392 was approved by the Senate Transportation Committee on Thursday, but not before highway safety groups and some lawmakers fretted the higher speeds could fuel road rage and make highways less safe.
Senate sponsor Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, said the idea isn’t so much to allow for higher speeds on urban beltways in Orlando, South Florida or Tampa. Instead, it’s meant to address rural regions in between the cities — along Interstate 10 or Interstate 4, for instance — where the speed limits may be out of date.
“I would imagine in most urban environments, they will not touch speed limits one bit,” he said. “But in very rural environments, what we know based on the existing traffic studies where speeds are much higher, this will allow them flexibility to adjust those speed limits.”
The bill allows DOT to set limits “based on research and science,” he told the panel.
Supporters say there is scant evidence that higher speed limits on some roadways would make them less safe.
Drivers moving through Florida’s rural areas often ignore the limits, authorities say. And traffic studies nationwide have found that traffic flows are more dangerous when drivers dip too far below or above the rate of speed at which 85 percent of vehicles travel at or below.
But the Legislature’s staff analysis for the bill states that “increased personal injury or deaths, property damage, and litigation costs associated with increased crash severity might be anticipated.”
The bill has a Democrat for a co-sponsor, Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth. But it doesn’t have a House sponsor, meaning it might face a tougher road to passage in the 60-day session that starts in March.
Critics said it could send the wrong signal to already reckless and harried drivers that they can push the envelope further.
“The highways of Florida are not the German Autobahn. I’m really concerned about lives,” said Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa. email@example.com or 850-222-5564.
ARTICLE WRITTEN BY: Aaron DesLatte, Tallahasee Bureau Chief Original Source: http://bit.ly/1mkUvqU
ARTICLE WRITTEN BY: ANA VECIANA-SUAREZ aveciana@MiamiHerald.com (Original Source: http://bit.ly/KQ6lv7)
A 12-point checklist by CarFit covers various areas, including the set up of mirrors and the proper seating position.
John Castro, 77, has been driving for 60 years, but he’s the first to admit that, even with all this experience, his road skills aren’t what they used to be. The technology on his Honda Civic confounds him at times, too.
So Thursday the retired Eastern Airlines worker decided to take his car to a Pinecrest-sponsored free program that’s designed to help older drivers find out how well their cars accommodate their needs.
“My reactions aren’t as good as they used to be, so I want to make sure I have everything else right,” Castro said. “Driving in Miami means that you always have to expect the unexpected.”
Created by the American Society on Aging — and developed with the American Automobile Association, AARP, and the American Occupational Therapy Association — CarFit uses a 12-point checklist that enables mature drivers to improve their safety and comfort.
During a 15-minute inspection,
trained volunteers review a variety of issues with a driver: Can the driver see over the steering wheel? Are the mirrors set up to limit blind spots? Is the driver using a seatbelt correctly? Is the driver seated back far enough to allow safe deployment of an air bag in case of an accident? Are the driver’s feet correctly positioned?
The participants are eager to follow recommendations, and often they learn something about their cars, too.
Castro, for instance, had never used his high beam lights because he didn’t know how to click them on. He learned Thursday.
Making adjustments can save lives. When CarFit was tested in 10 cities in the spring of 2005, more than one third of the 300 drivers had at least one critical safety issue, 10 percent were seated too close to the steering wheel, and 30 percent did not have the proper line of sight over the wheel.
Fran Carlin-Rogers, a Car-Fit volunteer who travels the state training other volunteers and helping organize events such as the one in Pinecrest, said the wrong mirror position is the most-frequent problem. But there are plenty of comfort issues, too. Because of joint problems and chronic ailments, some seniors experience pain when they reach for a seat belt. Others can get into a car but find it difficult to get out.
Most of these problems have solutions, and CarFit volunteers give drivers a list of community resources to help them. “In some cases, they can get off-the-shelf adaptive gadgets to make their lives easier,” Carlin-Rogers said. “It can be life-changing.”
Anne Karousatos, 79, took her 2008 Acura MDX to the CarFit checkup Thursday because “I’m older and I need to be more aware of what’s going on with my car.” She was relieved to find out that her equipment positions “fit” her just fine, but she also discovered something along the way.
“I learned that I needed to have at least 10 inches between the steering wheel and chest,” she said. “I didn’t know that.”
About 19 percent of Florida drivers are 65 and over, and that number is expected to grow as the population ages. It is estimated that by 2030 one in five drivers will be a mature driver. In the U.S., that means more than 30 million seniors will be behind the wheel in about 15 years.
Because age can affect vision, reflexes, and range of motion, various organizations offer programs to keep older drivers safe. Both AARP and AAA provide refresher courses for mature drivers. To encourage participation, some insurances companies offer discounts to drivers who complete these programs.
Last year CarFit volunteers saw more than 1,300 drivers in Florida, the most of any state, and the program may expand. “This area, from Palm Beach, Bro-ward, and Miami-Dade, is a priority for us because of the demographics,” said Carlin-Rogers. “We want people to start thinking in terms of driver wellness.”
The Florida Department of Transportation began funding CarFit programs about two years ago, but it was only in 2013 that the program moved into Miami-Dade. The Pinecrest event was the third in the county. Several more are scheduled in Broward County in the next few weeks.
“CarFit is a program we’d like to expand as a way of increasing safety awareness,” said Carlos Sarmiento, Community Traffic Safety Program Coordinator for the FDOT in Miami-Dade.
“Though it’s aimed for older drivers, in reality this is something any driver can benefit from.”
Castro agreed. “With the way traffic is in Miami, more people could use this. I’m driving off now feeling a little better and a little safer.”
For more information, visit www.car-fit.org
ARTICLE WRITTEN BY: ANA VECIANA-SUAREZ aveciana@MiamiHerald.com (Original Source: http://bit.ly/KQ6lv7)
Florida SunPass drivers can now drive through North Carolina tolls hassle free.
North Carolina is the first state to accept Florida SunPasses at its tollbooths. Within just 3 years, Florida drivers will be able to cruise through tolls in any US state without having to enroll in another state's toll program.
This initiative has come into effect after years of complaints from South Florida drivers, especially snow birds, who have demanded one simplified transponder that could be used in every state.
Billing, reimbursement between states, and drivers who manage to trick the system have delayed the process, but legislation is finally moving forward.
SunPass drivers can now travel the Triangle Expressway, near Raleigh, and all-electronic toll roads throughout the Tar Heel state. The tolls will be paid electronically and billed directly to the driver's Florida SunPass account. In return, the North Carolina Quick Pass is now accepted on tolls throughout Florida.
An agreement between Florida and Georgia for the Peach Pass is expected be next, though no dates have been announced. A nationwide transponder system is set to be in place by October 2016.
For those of you planning on going out Friday night, the tropical storm that's headed our way might not be the worst thing about the upcoming weekend.
The Miramar police department will be conducting a DUI checkpoint on the 3600 block of South University Drive from 9pm Friday to 4am Saturday.
For more information, click here.
Please be safe and have a nice weekend.
Florida has just joined a growing number of states that allow motorists to show electronic proof of insurance via smartphones or tablets.
As of June 2013, according to a new map prepared by the Property Casualty Insurers (PCI) Association of America, there are now 25 states that allow drivers to use digital proof of insurance, or "e-cards", at traffic stops. In just 2 years, policy makers in half of the country have adapted the law to allow customers to show proof of insurance electronically instead of only via a small piece of paper in their glove compartment.
States that now allow electronic proof of insurance include: Alaska, Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Dakota, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington and Wyoming.
As tablet and mobile device sales and usage continue to increase, consumers expect to have multiple communication platforms with their agent and insurers.
“The E-commerce trend is expanding and motivating other policy changes that will modernize insurance laws and ways of doing business,” said Kelly Campbell, PCI vice president for state affairs.
“Electronic delivery of insurance documents will give consumers and insurers more choices and more flexibility in how policies are serviced. These laws are moving the interaction between customers and insurers away from the Pony Express and into the 21st Century,” Campbell said.
Public policymakers see the benefits in having insurance policies available for consumers electronically so that they can be accessed anywhere and at anytime. The use of digital identification cards is more convenient for drivers, and can also help reduce time in the courts spent addressing tickets issued simply because drivers forgot to put the card in their wallets or their vehicles.
“Six states have approved laws in 2013 that will allow consumers to access their insurance policy through a website," said said Alex Hageli, PCI director of personal lines policy. "Four more states are still actively considering these types of laws this year. This will enable a customer to see their insurance policy 24/7. This will be especially helpful when people are evacuated or suffer a loss following a natural catastrophe.”
Flexible rules in the law will allow drivers that prefer to use the paper proof of insurance can continue to do so. But, what should you do if you want the convenience of electronic proof of insurance instead? The first step is to contact your auto insurance company and ask them if they have an app that includes the feature as an option.
Have you ever used digital proof of insurance when stopped by law enforcement? How was the exchange? At Unger and Kowitt, we'd love to hear about it.
There is nothing quite like summertime as a teenager. School is out, hot weather is here, and lazy beach days are followed by parties at night. But summertime also turns out to be the most dangerous time of the year for teen drivers.
Traffic accidents are the leading cause of death for US teens, and recent data implies that, after declining for several years, teen deaths caused by car crashes are rising again.
Federal data shows that the average number of teenagers who die in car accidents doubles during the 3 months of summer. Seven of the 10 deadliest days for teen drivers are during the summer, and some of those days are likely to be teen party weekends: the last Saturday in June, July Fourth weekend, and the Sunday in August right before most universities start their fall semester.
Summertime is "the deadliest time of year for teen drivers and passengers," according to John Townsend II of AAA, who tracks teen fatality statistcs. "Weekends are particularly dangerous for teen drivers."
What's the number one reason for teen accidents? Distracted driving.
According to the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 11 percent of drivers younger than 20 who were involved in a deadly crash were reportedly distracted at the time of the incident. NHTSA says drivers are more than 3 times more likely to get into an accident while reaching for something in their car and 23 times more likely to crash while texting.
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, made up of the medical doctors who treat broken bones and limbs after crashes and trauma, and AAA have joined forces to sponsor the "Decide to Drive" campaign for teen drivers. The purpose of the campaign is to help young drivers stay focused, keep their hands on the steering wheel, and keep their eyes on the road.
Part of the Decide to Drive campaign includes a "Wreck-less Checklist" to help teens to stay focused on the most important task whenever they are behind the wheel: driving.
According to the checklist, drivers should take care of the following before they even start the ignition:
- Put on sunglasses, Bluetooth ear pieces, or any other accessories
- Adjust seats, headrest, controls, and mirrors
- Fasten the seat belt
- Move all reading material out of arm's reach
- Preload CDs or mp3 playlists
- Ensure that radio volume isn't too high to drown out sirens
- If needed, enter the destination into the car's navigation system
The checklist also includes these helpful tips teen driving tips:
- Pull over and stop the car if a distraction occurs
- Don't eat or drink while driving
- Stay focused on the road
- Don't multitask!
Now that 41 states, including Florida, have officially banned texting while driving, it's even more important that teens practice safe driving habits early on. Traffic ticket violations can be expensive for teens who work low-wage, part-time, summer jobs and traffic tickets can lead to points on a driver's license record, community service, traffic school, restricted driving rights, and increased insurance premiums.