After multiple serious accidents and months of public outcry, some Florida lawmakers are finally calling for changes to an extremely dangerous situation.
For months, we’ve told you about the deadly conditions in the I-95 express lanes through Miami. The fast-moving lanes are separated from slower-moving traffic only by flimsy orange, plastic poles. Ignoring traffic laws and the posted speed limit, motorists frequently cross through the poles and cut into the path of vehicles in express lanes — an extremely dangerous practice known as “lane diving.”
The situation has caused multiple accidents along with serious injuries — including an amputation — and deaths. Kaire & Heffernan, LLC, represents one of the victims, Stephanie Blossom, a pregnant woman whose car was totaled after an SUV plowed through the poles and struck her car. Fortunately, Stephanie’s unborn baby was not harmed.
Recently, several state lawmakers publicly took issue with the situation. State Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla stated that the poles must be removed, noting that they create dangerous conditions and a false feeling of security for drivers. State Rep. Jose Felix Diaz agreed, stating that immediate change is needed.
A Worsening Situation
As of February, the Florida Highway Patrol reported that five fatalities — and 58 crashes that resulted in injuries — occurred in the express lanes over the past three years. In April, another individual lost his life due to this unsafe roadway.
Rather than taking steps to remedy the situation, the Florida Department of Transportation announced in late March that it would start installing the plastic poles in Broward County — extending rather than fixing the dangerous conditions in Miami-Dade.
FDOT noted that the poles will “create a permanent barrier” between the new express lanes and the general lanes. The agency also encouraged drivers to adhere to “safety tips,” including avoiding driving over the poles, staying within their own lanes, and obeying posted speed limits. That advice has not worked so far.
Poor Road Design Creates Hazard
On such a perilous roadway, relying on motorists to perfectly follow traffic laws simply is not realistic. One Florida state trooper remarked recently that the plastic poles and the extremely close quarters between regular and express lanes set up the perfect elements for tragedy to strike.
Motorists who quickly cut into the express lanes violate the right of way of other vehicles, he noted, causing accidents that often result in injuries and even fatalities. For impatient and distracted drivers, cutting into the express lanes is routine.
What would it take to make the interstate safer? A permanent, substantial barrier would go a long way toward remedying the situation.
But an FDOT spokesman has said the roadway lacks sufficient room to erect concrete barriers. Despite the fact that troopers have responded to more than 12,000 accidents in express lanes over the past three years, the current plan is to extend the system of express lanes — including the plastic poles — along a 50-mile span from Miami to Delray Beach.
FDOT: No Compromise to Driver Safety
FDOT representatives have expressed surprise that motorists will take a chance by crossing the orange poles. There’s no room for a permanent barrier system on the roadway, they say, and the system of plastic poles serves as a physical barrier that does the job.
Meanwhile, law enforcement representatives advise the public not to drive next to the poles, since it’s impossible to predict when another motorist might decide to cut in.
We strongly disagree that the plastic delineating poles serve their intended purpose. In fact, they make the interstate much more hazardous than it needs to be, and the situation has caused injury and death to many innocent people.
Fighting for Change
We started a petition to send the message loud and clear to Florida’s governor and Legislature that the current setup of the I-95 Express Lanes is unacceptable. We provided statistics on the high number of accidents on this stretch of road and described the common and dangerous practice of lane diving.
In addition, leaders in the law enforcement community have spoken out. State troopers say the ineffective poles separating the express lanes make it impossible to do their jobs safely. One veteran trooper asked how much loss of life it will take before something changes.
Finally, it seems that lawmakers are starting to get the message that citizens won’t continue to stand for the hazardous conditions. Vocal advocates in the Legislature are beginning to demand that changes happen quickly — rather than in the 7- to 10-year time frame FDOT envisions.
But despite the outcry against the flimsy lane delineators, FDOT representatives maintain that the system is working. And with FDOT making money from charging motorists to use express lanes, it’s unclear whether the situation will change before tragedy strikes again.
Doing Nothing Is Unacceptable
We cannot allow our state leaders to continue to ignore a hazardous situation that’s resulting in injuries and deaths to innocent people. At Kaire & Heffernan, LLC, we will continue to draw attention to the issue and insist that county and state leaders act quickly to correct this significant danger.
If you haven’t already done so, please consider signing our petition to add your voice to the call for change to the deadly conditions on I-95.
Mark Kaire has been practicing law in Miami for nearly 15 years. He is dedicated to helping the injured people of Miami receive compensation. Mr. Kaire has been blogging on Miami’s legal issues for 4 years.