In July 2020, Laura Finley was pulling out of the Dania Beach Library to head home after dropping off a library book. But as she pulled onto Park Avenue, a one-way road, to start heading east on Dania Beach Boulevard, a vehicle suddenly smashed into the side of her sedan.
Within a matter of seconds, Finley lost control of her car, which careened across the street into a parked car, then ricocheted into a light post. The driver’s side of the car was smashed in, airbags deployed, her phone was thrown to the ground out of reach, and when she looked down, her right leg was “twisted in all the wrong directions.”
“I didn’t even know what happened at first,” she says.
The 19-year-old woman driving the other car ran over, crying. A man who saw the accident tried to get Finley out of her car, but the door was stuck. He managed to reach her cell phone to call for help and stayed to talk with her until police and EMTs arrived. Firefighters used the Jaws of Life to cut her out of the vehicle and put her in an ambulance to Broward Health Medical Center.
After a series of x-rays, doctors determined that Finley had broken her pelvis in two places, as well as her clavicle and right femur. The next day, doctors performed surgery to insert a rod into her leg. Almost two years later, she no longer needs a walker or a cane but her leg is still twisted.
“You can be a good driver, but you can’t always control what other people are doing,” Finley says.
South Florida has a reputation for bad drivers. Or more specifically, a mash of road rage, speeding, tourists from around the world and uninsured drivers all in a rush to get somewhere now. Ask anyone who has been behind the wheel and they’ll share everything from seeing drivers on I-95 brushing their teeth to tractor trailers side-swiping cars, vehicles smashing into medians, and endless traffic as emergency services block off lanes on the highway to attend to accidents.
In 2020, the year that Finley was hit, there were more than 34,000 crashes in Broward County alone, leading to 268 deaths. This is according to the Florida Crash Dashboard, run by the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. But 2020 was an anomaly on the dashboard—for low numbers. Because of the pandemic, quarantine and working from home, fewer people were on the roads. In 2019, there were 41,114 crashes in Broward; in 2021, that number was 41,374.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what makes South Florida driving so bad. There’s the large number of uninsured and underinsured drivers. There’s the poor infrastructure such as I-95’s frequently run over, often missing delineators. There are the drunk driving laws that are in some ways more lax than in other states. Experts say drivers can combat this by practicing defensive driving, a method that involves anticipating danger and being prepared to avoid others’ driving mistakes. But some days on South Florida roads, that can be a tall order.
“You can be a good driver,” Finley says, “but you can’t always control what other people are doing.”