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Monday, November 24, 2014

You Might Want to Think Twice About Declining The Collision Damage Waver When Driving in Florida!

head-on car crash
Florida car accidents happen far too frequently!
While driving through an unfamiliar city, some driver pulls out in front of you, or locks up his brakes for no apparent reason, or makes a sudden right turn from the left lane (not bothering to signal, of course), causing you to almost get into a car accident. "This city has the worst drivers on the entire planet!" you'll hear yourself screaming (perhaps, along with an expletive or two directed at the other driver).

I've lived and driven in plenty of places where I heard myself screaming a similar sentiment (although, admittedly, my outbursts may have been a little more colorful). Nowhere have I ever driven where I see as many death defying vehicular moves than in Florida, though. The reason is pretty simple - we have more people driving around this state that don't know where they are going than probably anywhere else in the world.

Basically, you have three types of drivers in Florida and those three different driver types combine to form a very deadly combination:
  • Senior citizens
  • Tourists
  • Regular everyday commuters
Senior Citizen Drivers

In case you haven't heard, the state of Florida is an excellent place to retire to. Every year, seniors flock to the warmer, no-hassle, low tax state and make it their new home (or they purchase a second home here to live during the winter months as "snowbirds"). Because of that, there are a TON of senior citizens driving cars in Florida.

Generally speaking, senior citizens tend to be overly cautious drivers (read that as "slow"). Maybe their reflexes aren't what they used to be or maybe their eyesight is poor. Needless to say, we've all been behind the slowly moving senior citizen driver roadblock.

Seniors are also known to pull into an intersection very slowly and accelerate very gradually - something that is annoying enough when making a turn from a traffic light but very dangerous when merging with traffic.

Worse, is the senior who suddenly makes a move with no apparent concern for any vehicle around them. Perhaps physical limitations keep them from being able to turn their heads to see if there is someone in their left or right blind spot. Maybe they have other things on their mind and simply forget to check.

Of the three driver types, senior citizens are probably the safest of the bunch, though. Because they do things slowly, other drivers have more time to react to their driving misdeeds. Nevertheless, they certainly contribute to the obstacles any driver has to be on the lookout for.

Tourist Drivers

Florida is the vacation capitol of the world for a very good reason. We have great weather year round, fantastic beaches and some of the most visited tourist attractions in the world. People come to Florida from all over the world to spend their vacations and holidays in "the Sunshine State."

Unfortunately, tourists often have no clue how to get to where they are driving and are looking more at the things around them than they are at the road. Whether reading a map or getting directions from a GPS navigation unit, the tourist has one eye on the road and another on how to get to where they want to go.

Of course, looking at maps or GPS devices isn't the only thing distracting the tourist driver. They are looking at all of the new sights, scoping out things to do, places to shop, restaurants to eat at. They miss speed limits signs while they are checking out gas prices, they miss exit signs while they are staring at theme park billboards, they miss stop signs and traffic lights while they are talking excitedly with their families.

Then, there is unfamiliarity with the roads. Far too often, you will see cars driving down the wrong side of the street in Florida or trying to enter a highway via the exit ramp. Some of this may have to do with so many international visitors who are used to driving on the opposite side of the road. In many cases, though, it is simply due to missing a sign that says "DO NOT ENTER" or "WRONG WAY."

And, let us not forget that many tourists are drivers from foreign countries who do not speak English as their native language (if at all). It's hard figuring out how to get somewhere and to obey traffic laws when you can't read the signs!

The tourist is definitely the most dangerous driver of them all. They are accidents waiting to happen and in heavy tourist areas (pick a Florida city), when you combine all of those distracted drivers navigating cars in an unfamiliar environment, you are bound to see a rise in traffic accidents and fatalities.

Regular Everyday Commuters

You would think that locals would be the safest drivers on the road. They know where they are going, after all. Unfortunately, when you live and work in a town, you have things to do, places to be, people to see. Driving is not a leisure activity; it is a means of getting from point A to point B in order to get the next thing on the list done.

Driving to and from work, dropping/picking the kids up from school or soccer practice, squeezing in an errand, stopping by the grocery store on the way home so that you can get dinner prepared quickly. There is always so much to do and there never seems to be enough time to everything.

We are always running late and need to make up that time somewhere. Unfortunately, those senior drivers and tourists are gumming up the works. They are in our way, we are scared of what frightful driving maneuver they might do next and naturally, we want to stay as far away from those people as possible.

Therefore, locals pull some of the dumbest driving moves of them all - shooting into small gaps between vehicles, zig-zagging through traffic, driving faster than the posted speed limits, failing to stop at traffic signals (not because we don't see them, but because they, too, are a hindrance). Not enough hours in the day combined with overconfidence make local drivers almost as scary as all of the tourists driving around town!

Does Florida Have the Worst Drivers?

Every city and state has probably had somebody exclaim at some point in time that it is the worst place in the world to drive. Unfortunately, there are very few actual, measurable statistics that can provide the definitive answer as to which city, state or country has the worst drivers.

A few months ago, Slate Magazine tried to sort through all of the data from insurance companies and various government statistical bureaus to come up with the definitive answer. Things like fatalities, drunk driving, pedestrian-involved accidents and the amount of miles driven per trip were factored in to arrive at their list of the most dangerous cities in which to drive. They published their findings in the article, "Which City has the Worst Drivers."

Although their article only lists the five worst cities, along with a brief description of what makes them so dangerous, they do include a downloadable file toward the end of the article that lists the 39 cities in the United States with the worst drivers. As you can see, Florida not only took the top spot (Miami has the worst drivers in the entire country), but Florida has the dubious honor of having 5 of the top 8 cities with the worst drivers:
  1. Miami, Florida
  2. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  3. Hialeah, Florida
  4. Tampa, Florida
  5. Baltimore, Maryland
  6. New Orleans Louisiana
  7. Orlando, Florida
  8. Fort Lauderdale, Florida
  9. Houston, Texas
  10. Providence, Rhode Island
It's no shock at all to me; when you put those three driver types on the road together, it's no wonder you see traffic accidents almost everywhere you drive in Florida. We'd really all be better off in bumper cars here!

Far too often in the car rental industry, when we ask people if they would like to purchase a Collision Damage Waiver, we hear people say "I've never been in an accident before, so I don't need it" or "my insurance covers me."

Before quickly dismissing the extra protection, do yourself a favor and call your insurance company and/or credit card company and see if they cover "loss of use" - a charge that could have you paying for a car rental every day (at the daily rate) that car is out of commission due to an accident you were in - regardless of who is at fault. (Those days often stretch into weeks as your insurance company, the other car's insurance company and both vehicles' credit card companies bicker back and forth about who has to pay for damages, incidentally. All the while, the car sits, unrepaired, racking up loss of use charges.)

What you'll almost always discover is that they WILL NOT pay for loss of use or will put something in the fine print that says they will only cover loss of use if the car rental company provides a fleet utilization report showing all of their vehicles on rent - something that the courts have already ruled that car rental companies DO NOT have to provide to collect loss of use.

Because the courts have already decided those utilization reports are not necessary, no car rental company will provide them. In other words, your insurance company/credit card company almost never covers you for loss of use and you will be paying out of your own pocket for charges that are always in the hundreds and sometimes in the thousands of dollars, depending on the vehicle and how long it is out of commission.

The next time you are renting a car in Florida (or anywhere), ask yourself if it is really worth saving a few bucks a day as you head out into the mayhem known as "Florida driving." If I'm renting a car in a town that I am unfamiliar with, I always take the collision damage waiver. The added peace of mind costs very little when I compare it to all of the other money I spend on a vacation!

DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect those of American Car Rental. As is the case with all generalities, nothing in this article is meant to suggest that ALL tourists, or ALL seniors, or ALL locals drive in the manner suggested, above. Generalities exist for a reason; though, if they didn't, insurance companies wouldn't use them as the basis for determining insurance rates.

Florida Travel Sleuth Quote of the Day: "Insurance: it's something you hope you never have to use but you are glad you have it when you need it." - Unknown 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Video of World's Tallest Roller Coaster - The Skyscraper, coming to Orlando in 2016

Artist's rendering of Skyplex Skyscraper Roller Coaster
When it comes to roller coasters, there are few people that are bigger fans than I am. I remember the first ones I ever saw - at Kennywood Park in Pennsylvania when I was 6 years old. No matter how much I stretched my neck, they wouldn't let me on any of the coasters there because I was just a few inches shorter than the finger that stuck out from the wooden cutout of a freckled face boy that depicted the minimum height requirements.

Those Kennywood Park roller coasters were not without incident in those days, either. Dozens of people died on those wooden coasters when they derailed - something that made them all the more enticing for me back in the day.

Nowadays, the smooth rolling all-metal roller coasters have wrap-around wheels that make roller coaster accidents a thing of the past. Really, the only way a coaster can come off the tracks now is if the track, itself, fails. So, as terrifying as they may seem, few amusement park rides are as safe as a roller coaster.

I've ridden a lot of roller coasters through the years at parks like Magic Mountain, Six Flags, Hershey Park, Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Tampa, and, of course, all of the coasters at the Orlando Disney, Universal and Sea World parks. It's tough to pick a favorite, but I'd say that The Incredible Hulk and Rockin' Roller Coaster are near the top of the list, for different reasons.

There's a new roller coaster coming to town, though, and for the first time ever, it looks like something that I might be a little fearful of riding. The Skyscraper, set to debut in the hub of the tourist district in Orlando in the new I-Drive Skyplex complex, is pretty intimidating for a number of reasons.

First, it's  R E A L L Y  tall! At 570 feet tall, the Skyscraper will be the world's tallest roller coaster by a long shot. Currently, the tallest roller coaster in the world is Colossos at Heide Park in Germany and it is only 197 feet tall. Folks who are too chicken to ride this beast will have the opportunity to take the 55 story glass elevator to the top observation deck and look down on Orlando in all her glory. At night, I'm sure you'll be able to see fireworks exploding all around as the various theme parks put on their end of the day spectaculars.

Then, there is the length of the ride. At three minutes, there are certainly longer duration coasters in other parts of the world - especially wooden ones - but a ride on the Skyplex Skyscraper will be more than a half minute longer than any roller coaster in the Orlando area.

What my nerves are having a little problem dealing with is this roller coaster's speed. It's not the 65 MPH top speed that has me grimacing; there are plenty of coasters doing that or something near that speed and I drive at least that fast on my way to work. The problem I am having is the very slow speed that the roller coaster is moving when it turns riders sideways and upside down as it circles around the towering structure. My mind tells me that centrifugal force cannot possibly hold riders in place before gravity takes over!

See for yourself the animated video that depicts the Skyscraper ride and maybe you'll agree with me!

Florida Travel Sleuth Quote of the Day: "Worry is like a roller coaster ride that you think will take you somewhere, but it never does." - Shannon L. Alder