They’re here every year, without fail — our migratory winter visitors. They flock to our fair Florida sometime in December or after the holidays, taking refuge from the bitter winter weather of their more permanent homes until spring makes it safe for them to migrate north again.
If you are a permanent resident of the central Florida gulf coast, you might be rolling your eyes about now. We know you need absolutely no explanation of what we’re getting at here, but in the interest of being inclusive for readers who don’t understand why the mere mention of “snowbird season” might be met with a slightly derisive laugh, we’ll lay it all on the table.
Winter gets very crowded around here
The average snowbird is from either Canada or the northern U.S. and is usually, statistically speaking, of retirement age. While the numbers are famously difficult to document with absolute accuracy, though many have tried, it is actually not an exaggeration to say that more than 80,000 snowbirds spend their winter in Sarasota County alone each year. That is a tremendous population boost for a county that is already the permanent residence of a little over 412,000 people, especially when you factor in the additional number of out of state cars or RVs that come with our winter guests, many of whom do not have a lot of familiarity with our roads.
Growing tension about traffic accidents
Florida’s relationship with winter visitors is a complicated one. On one hand, we get it, right? The central gulf coast is great – that’s why we live here. Who wouldn’t want to spend the winter here? Some of us may have businesses that really thrive during winter months and are thankful for the extra income it brings. On the other hand, there is also legitimacy in some of the concerns that are voiced by full time residents. Many of these are related to the very real increase in automobile accidents, often caused by visitors.
Proceeding into snowbird season with caution
There are probably a lot of factors that contribute to this — as mentioned, the majority of snowbirds are around retirement age, usually 55 year or older and often in their late 80s. Some may be experiencing the driving difficulties that come with health conditions related to advancing age. Combine this with the uncertainty of driving in an unfamiliar area, and possibly driving a large vehicle, or a strange rental car and it’s easy to understand why accidents increase.
However, placing a general amount of blame in this situation does us little good. It is probably more realistic for those of us who are here full time to be mindful and more aware of the increased risks on the road during these winter months and hopefully, avoid any unfortunate encounters.
Here are some common things to watch for and common-sense steps to take:
- Watch for sudden lane changes and quick turns without directional signals. Visitors may not know the area roads and will often make unexpected decisions when they realize they may miss their turn.
- Don’t get impatient behind slow moving cars. The reality is, elderly drivers tend to drive more slowly and deliberately, especially if they cannot cope with normal traffic speeds on unfamiliar roads. There will always be an opportunity to pass safely. Wait for it.
- Don’t tailgate. It is less safe for you than for the car in front and often annoys the driver into doing something irrational.
- Don’t display your frustration. Remember that the snowbird driver will probably be more frustrated with their situation than you are.
- Make sure your own driving habits are as good as you want theirs to be. Use your turn signal. Keep a safe driving distance. Drive defensively.
If you do find yourself the victim of an accident and would like to speak to an attorney about the legal options that might be available to you, we invite you to contact us for an evaluation of your case, free of charge. We can and genuinely want to be of help to our clients.