If you regularly drive the speed limit in the Tampa Bay area — whether on residential streets, commercial thoroughfares or the interstate — you have likely been tailgated, aggressively and dangerously so, with flashing high beams and unfriendly hand signals, even in the “slow” lane. Speed limits here are treated more like minimum speeds. Many drive as though it is their birth right to go as fast they want, unencumbered by law-abiding motorists.
But it’s not just speeding and tailgating that is epidemic. Rude and inconsiderate driving is commonplace, from red-light running to a lack of turn signals, to blocking intersections and driveways. Some motorists manage to be thoughtless even at a standstill by leaving 10- to 20-foot gaps while stopped at a red light, blocking access to the turn lane. Those same drivers frequently tailgate when traveling at 40 mph or more. Blame is often cast toward snowbirds and visitors; however, it is locals who set the tone on our roads. Unfortunately, that tone is one of cutthroat competition rather than cooperation. Courtesy is said to be contagious. But so is a lack of courtesy, and that is what has the upper hand around Tampa Bay.
It is puzzling why law enforcement and elected officials are so tolerant of all this in a region so dependent on tourism. It’s bad enough we have a national reputation of dangerous conditions for pedestrians and cycling. Great beaches and attractions are easily forgotten by visitors when the streets are so unfriendly. The prevailing nastiness doesn’t do much for the quality of life for residents, either.
The good news is behavior and attitudes can be changed. Increased enforcement would be a good start. Few things are more effective at getting motorists to drive safely than the threat of being ticketed.
A public ad campaign encouraging courteous driving might help reshape our road mentality. Billboards and spot radio ads could promote messages such as “Drive friendly, Tampa Bay; we’re all in this together” or “Roadways are for co-operation, not competition.”
Improved synchronization of traffic signals and more traffic sensors would reduce the time spent at red lights. Done correctly, this would increase flow, reduce frustration and even slow people down.
All three of these steps are doable.
As reliant as we are on car travel and out-of-town guests, we owe it to ourselves to make driving as pleasant as possible.