Many people have used their new found time during the pandemic to learn new things.
Some people took online classes to learn how to speak another language. Others dusted off old musical instruments and tuned up their mediocre skill in the unlikely event they find themselves in the middle of a battle with Kenny G.
Then are those who began to drive as if they were suddenly given a shot to compete in the Daytona 500 and used Florida’s highways as a practice course.
What in the world was happening? To get some answers Florida’s Fourth Estate’s hosts Matt Austin and Ginger Gadsden spoke with Florida Highway Patrol Lt. Kim Montes who says she has seen some dangerous things on the roadways during the pandemic.
Most of those things involve people losing their minds behind the wheel.
Montes said while there were fewer drivers on the road and less congestion, some drivers used the opportunity to bring out their inner lead foot and drive fast. Really fast. Dangerously fast.
One driver was clocked driving twice the speed limit.
“We caught a vehicle doing 156 mph on the 417 in a posted 65,” said Lt. Montes.
It’s sad to say someone driving faster than 100 miles per hour wasn’t an outlier during the pandemic.
Montes says they were catching 50 to 70% of drivers going far beyond the posted speed limit.
She says typically in a week in Central Florida FHP would catch a dozen people driving faster than 100 mph but during the pandemic Montes says they were stopping 3 to 4 dozen drivers during that same time frame exceeding 100 mph.
Montes says when these speeders were caught they don’t have a good reason for going that fast.
“They were doing it simply because they could,” she explained.
When you’re barreling down the highway at racetrack speeds, it’s more difficult to stop.
It’s no coincidence FHP says during the past year they have seen more rear end collisions.
Montes said, “People were going so fast that they were not able to stop as a slower vehicle was in front of them and we were seeing more rear end collisions and more rear end fatalities during this time period because the speed difference was so great between the two different vehicles so it really did put other drivers at risk.”
Montes said it’s their job to catch and stop a driver like this which puts even more people in danger.
And it’s not just the fast drivers causing problems. Aggressive and impatient drivers are also refusing to pump their bakes and are causing trouble on the highways.
“We are seeing more aggressive driving. We’re seeing people pass on double yellow lines and taking risks and we’re having a lot of improper passing fatal crashes and then of course there is an innocent victim involved,” Montes said. “We’re seeing people run red lights like we haven’t seen before. We’re seeing people pass on the shoulder when they get stuck in traffic and actually go down the road the wrong way.”
Montes says they can’t explain it and they don’t know where all of this impatience is coming from compared to years past.
She says, “The person only thinks about themselves and they don’t care who is in their way. They’re going and they’re gonna go now.”
“The law requires drivers to drive to the right-most part of the roadway unless you’re passing or unless the road is so congested that everybody is filling the lanes,” explained Montes.
On a personal note, Florida’s Fourth Estate would like to ask everyone to write the sentence above on your cars sun visor or rearview mirror. Thank you in advance.
Montes went on to explain, “So, if you’re driving on a limited access highway 408, I-4, I-95, The Beachline, you really should be in the right lane unless you’re passing because that left lane is for passing. Even those drivers who are going to be going over the speed limit that were trying to catch, we really want drivers to stay to the right unless you’re doing one of those other things.”
Ginger and Matt also wanted to ask Montes about the relatively new tougher texting and driving law in Florida.
There was already a distracted driving law in place which was signed in 2013 by then Gov. Rick Scott.
But drivers could not be pulled over for simply texting and driving. If troopers caught a driver speeding and it was also determined that person had been texting then they could be cited.
Fast forward to 2019 when Governor Ron DeSantis signed an amended law, making texting and driving a primary offense.
The previous toothless distracted driving law is something News 6 brought to the forefront with its Driving Change Campaign in 2016.
A movement which was sparked when anchor Matt Austin (yes, that Matt Austin) was rear ended by a driver who admitted to law enforcement he had been texting and driving. Matt ended up in the hospital with about a dozen staples in his head and a concussion. That crashed set into motion a relentless News 6 push that would eventually lead to a texting and driving law with more teeth. The push for change took nearly 3 years and many trips to Tallahassee. If you want to know more about how it all played out
We have an entire section dedicated to Driving Change on ClickOrlado.com.
Montes says the pandemic definitely shifted FHP’s focus from distracted drivers to those who were speeding.
She recalled one of the first cars she stopped during the pandemic. Two women were on State Road 408 going 30 miles over the posted speed limit.
“When I asked where they were going, was this emergency, were they going to get food? They said they were going to get hair supplies. Obviously, not an emergency and that’s kind of what we saw when we would stop these people. Nobody had a good excuse as to why there were out and why there out travelling at such a high rate of speed. Luckily, not only our agency but the sheriff’s office and Orlando police, we were all out trying to get these drivers to slow down,” Montes explained.
But now more than a year into the pandemic and Montes say they are on the lookout for distracted drivers again.
She says in 2019 FHP gave tickets to 2,124 drivers who were caught texting behind the wheel. Last year that number went up to 4,247. She expects to see that number increase for this year. What Montes really wants is to not have to write any distracted driving tickets.
If you would like to listen to the entire podcast click on the Florida’s Fourth Estate links below. You can also hear FHP Lt. Kim Montes talk about the tragedy of street racing and how innocent people are being killed.
Florida’s Fourth Estate looks at everything from swampy politics to a fragile environment and even the crazy headlines that make Florida the craziest state in the Union.
Ginger Gadsden and Matt Austin use decades of experience as journalists to dissect the headlines that impact Florida. Each week they have a guest host who helps give an irreverent look at the issues impacting the Sunshine State. Big influencers, like Attorney John Morgan, renowned Florida journalists and the scientists protecting Florida’s ecosystem, can often be found as guests.
Look for new episodes every Friday on iTunes, Stitcher or wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts.