Steven Dickstein – The twenty-one miles of South Florida’s I-95 express lanes have breathed new life into the phrase “don’t drive slow in the left lane.” The varying one-to-two lane stretch of road is separated from the regular flow of traffic with 21,000 plastic pole “delineators.” These delineators that were once at twenty-foot intervals are now at every five feet. They intentionally break-off when run over, although now they are sturdier than those originally installed. Lane-diving is the dangerous temptation of drivers in standstill traffic to dart into the seemingly wide-open, fast-paced express lanes. The delineators are not barriers for those who seek to avoid traffic or the expense of the express lanes during rush hour.
One South Florida law firm filed a lawsuit against the Florida Department of Transportation (“FDOT”) and DBI Services, the contractor who maintains the delineators, on behalf of two motorists injured when a driver swerved into the express lanes and collided into the motorcyclists. The suit alleges negligence in “failing to maintain the orange plastic delineator poles on I-95 express lanes, creating a hazardous trap for drivers.”
Many drivers have jumped on or through the flimsy barriers or the opportunistic gaps without penalty. As 600 delineators are lost and in need of replacement each week, drivers often stare at the chance to hop in the fast lane. In response, the Florida Highway Patrol has launched a campaign, “Drive Safe 95 Express,” which fines drivers $179 dollars for entering the express lanes in a non-designated entrance. However, the narrow shoulders on the left side of the Express Lanes are too narrow for individuals to be safely pulled over, so lane divers often escape the lane diving fine. This year, the FDOT plans on expanding the shoulder along various points of the express lanes for enforcement and emergency stops.
Express lane passengers have often paid the price of admission plus the price of other drivers’ temptations when cars dart from the slow traffic to the fast lanes and cause catastrophic injuries and multiple car pile-ups. In the last three years, Miami-Dade County has experienced over 12,000 accidents in the express lanes. Although the statistic does not include lane-diving alone, Lewis “Mike” Eidson of Colson Hicks explains the practice “creates an unreasonable risk of danger because you have one car going at a very low rate of speed and one going 65 to 70 mph.”
This lawsuit may have a big effect on the future of the express lanes. The FDOT has begun expanding the express lanes onto new stretches of highway with even more planned for future construction. However, safety considerations may require concrete barriers, eliminating the delineators, or rethinking the express lanes entirely. There is no doubt that the express lanes save a lot of time and generate even more money. But the question remains as to whether the costs of these lanes outweigh its benefits.