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How Many Driving Laws Do You Flout?

We see it daily on neighborhood roads: drivers speeding and running red lights. Odds are, however, your family members and you are violating safe driving laws on a regular basis.

What are some of the most commonly overlooked laws in Northwest Hillsborough? In addition to speeding, if you violate any of the following eight rules, you could be voted “most unpopular person” in your neighborhood.

Move Over Law: If there is a stopped law enforcement vehicle, utility vehicle, garbage truck or loading tow truck stopped or working on the shoulder or in the right lane, you are required by law to move over a lane to enhance the safety of those in and near the stopped vehicles. If it is impossible to change lanes, you must reduce your speed to 20 mph below the posted speed limit when passing.

Handicapped Parking: Ask any resident what makes her blood boil most about parking. Many will quickly cite individuals who park in posted no parking zones. Even worse, however, are the supremely self-entitled who stop or park in designated handicapped parking spots without a displayed handicapped placard. In the last six months, WOW has received multiple complaints about Westchase Elementary parents who repeatedly park in handicapped spots in the school lot simply because they arrive late for pick up. In December another resident who depends on handicapped parking submitted a photo of a silver Volvo illegally parked in a handicapped parking spot in the Westchase Town Center. If you don’t have a legal handicapped placard hanging on your rearview mirror, there is no time – no matter how brief you think your stop will be – when it is OK to park in these reserved spots. They are for people who need them even more than you do.

Golf Carts: It may seem like a convenient or eco-friendly idea to use a golf cart to skirt traffic and buzz around the community. It is, however, entirely illegal. Recently WOW has received multiple complaints about residents driving golf carts on sidewalks, particularly to and from schools. Setting aside the dangers posed to kids, who should never be perched without seatbelts in any moving vehicle, the use of golf carts on sidewalks is against the law. Sidewalks are for pedestrians, not motorized vehicles. Further, unless it has a license tag as well as proper lights and mirrors, it’s also illegal to operate a golf cart on streets in Northwest Hillsborough County outside of designated golf-cart communities. (Harbor Links and The Greens in Westchase are not golf-cart designated communities.)

Crosswalk Laws: Cars and even cyclists must stop or yield to pedestrians who are legally crossing streets (observing all pedestrian signals) at intersections with or without a painted crosswalk. Under state law, a crosswalk is legally assumed to exist at every intersection. Even if you have a green light while driving, if the pedestrian is crossing the street with the same green light or walk sign within a crosswalk, you must yield to them. You must do this when they are approaching or are present within the lane you are driving in or towards. In this circumstance, pedestrians have the right of way, no matter how slowly they may be loping. The same holds true for painted crosswalks at non-intersections.

Pedestrians, however, don’t always have the right of way. They cannot step suddenly into traffic in ways that vehicles cannot yield to them. Pedestrians also may not cross against traffic and pedestrian signals. Note, however, that a pedestrian still has the right of way when a Do Not Walk sign is flashing; the flashing signal is simply a warning that the solid Do Not Walk sign, which ends the pedestrian’s right of way, is coming up.

State and county laws also do not make all cases of jaywalking illegal. When traffic signals exist at consecutive intersections, pedestrians must cross at an intersection’s crosswalk. They may legally cross anywhere on the road, however, when signals are not present at consecutive intersections; in this circumstance pedestrians can cross anywhere using the straightest, most direct route provided they yield the right of way to oncoming vehicles. Thus, while parents dashing across Linebaugh Avenue from West Park Village to Westchase Elementary during rush hour may be doing something dangerous, as long as they are yielding to vehicles, they’re not doing anything illegal. Linebaugh intersects with Cavendish Drive across from The Vineyards without a traffic signal.

School Bus Laws: On any residential road within neighborhoods, when a school bus halts for loading and unloading, extends its stop sign and illuminates its flashing red lights, you must stop and not pass the bus. It doesn’t matter if you see children or not. You may not drive past slowly. You must stop. The only exception to this law is if the bus is on the opposite side of a street with a grass or concrete divider, such as Linebaugh Avenue and portions of Countryway Boulevard north of Linebaugh. Even on divided streets, however, you must fully stop if the halted bus is on your side of the divided road.

Left Lane Driving Laws: We’ve all gotten stuck behind them – the perpetual left lane drivers or the self-righteous who have even taken it upon themselves to enforce the speed limit by remaining in the left lane abreast another vehicle. This behavior is not only illegal, it is among the most common triggers of road rage incidents. Florida law states that all drivers must drive in the right lanes unless they are passing a vehicle, have encountered a lane obstruction or are preparing for an imminent left turn. If you are driving in the left lane and a vehicle behind you is attempting to pass, you must yield the lane to them regardless of the speed you or they are driving.

Cyclists: While cyclists sharing the roadway may make you crazy, a person on a bike has just as much right to use the road as any driver. While all cyclists must also observe traffic rules, including yielding to and leaving the left lane for passing vehicles, when you pass cyclists in your vehicle, you must properly signal and keep your vehicle at least three feet away from all cyclists.

Texting and Cell Phone Use: Studies have repeatedly shown it. No matter how safe a driver you think you are, when you talk on the phone while driving, you will respond no better than a drunk driver to all driving challenges. Set a good example for kids and don’t use the phone while driving. While 14 states have outlawed the use of cell phones while driving (and 37 have banned it for teen or novice drivers), it is still legal in Florida to talk on a cell phone while driving. It is, however, illegal to text, email or instant message while operating a moving vehicle. Cell phone use while driving is one of the main reasons that car accident rates – and car insurance rates – are now largely equivalent between young male and female drivers.

Sometimes a little brush up on the law can make for friendlier, safer roads. On top of observing these laws, always remember basic courtesy. When driving, drive as if you’re operating a shopping cart in your local grocery store. You likely wouldn’t cut people off or shove your cart aggressively towards other shoppers – or shout and offer offensive gestures to those not operating their shopping carts as you prefer. Why then is it smart or acceptable to do so inside a much heavier vehicle that could actually kill you or the other driver?

Please drive gently and responsibly. The kids are watching.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

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