South Florida is in for one of its busiest holiday travel seasons ever. Here’s what to know to avoid the road hazards

With a pandemic in the rearview mirror and a holiday season just ahead, South Floridians will soon see an increase in chaos and congestion on the roads.

Officials are anticipating the busiest Thanksgiving in two decades, back above pre-pandemic levels. With the surge in traffic comes an expected spike in stranded motorists, fender benders and DUIs, and even the occasional Christmas tree in the road.

At the same time, an ongoing labor shortage means traffic operators in the Florida Department of Transportation District Four headquarters in Fort Lauderdale are working longer hours to keep response times low.

As drivers return to the roads in full force, South Floridians can expect worse than usual Thanksgiving traffic this year, surpassing 2019 levels for the first time.

“More and more people are out on the road now, post-pandemic,” said Savannah Sams, a Freeway Arterial Management Specialist for the Florida Department of Transportation.

Workers monitor traffic during Friday morning rush hour in the control room at the Florida Department of Transportation Regional Transportation Management Center in Fort Lauderdale.

Nearly 2.9 million Floridians are expected to travel this year, according to data from Triple A’s Broward office. That’s 50,000 more travelers than last year and 22,000 more than 2019, before the pandemic.

Almost all of them, or 2.7 million, will drive, adding 28,000 more road trippers than last year.

Broward Triple A suggests these tips to avoid traffic:

  • Leave early and plan your route in advance. Most congestion occurs the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.
  • If you do plan to travel on Wednesday, leave in the morning before 11 a.m. or at night, after 8 p.m., to avoid the busiest travel times.
  • After Thanksgiving, most congestion occurs Friday through Sunday between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.

More travelers on the roads means more accidents, from fender benders to DUIs. As a popular destination for snowbirds and holiday travelers, South Florida drivers can expect to cope with a particularly congested season compared to other parts of the country.

Many of these visitors are unaccustomed to driving in South Florida.

“I’d say this is an intense place because we have a wide demographic,” said Wayne Kinser, the manager for Triple A in Broward. “It adds to the ‘excitement’ on the road.”

But while visitors add to the overall probability of accidents, they are more often the victims than the perpetrators, said Lt. Indiana Miranda, a spokesperson for Florida Highway Patrol.

“A lot of the snowbirds are not as reckless,” said Miranda. “They become victims of those fatalities and crashes.”

Last year, Florida Highway Patrol responded to 4,585 crashes in the five-day Thanksgiving period alone, Miranda said.

She and the troopers expect to work long hours over the coming weeks.

“We always aim high and hopefully we hit low,” Miranda said.

Drunk drivers present the biggest concern. Almost half of those crashes last year, or over 2,000, involved alcohol.

To try to mitigate the problem, Triple A offers a “tow to go” program, a free service that sends a tow truck to move drivers off the highways to a safe location, such as “folks who maybe drank too much at the holiday party,” Kinser said. “We don’t take them to the next party though.”

While accidents receive the most attention, other kinds of incidents on the roads happen much more frequently.

Triple A expects to receive over 410,000 calls from stranded motorists in Florida this year — and that isn’t including nonmembers.

Stranded vehicles can also lead to accidents and even deaths. Hundreds of people die every year, Kinser said, when they are struck while tending to their vehicles.

The typical car breakdown causes are dead batteries and flat tires, both problems that “are avoidable with a little preparation,” Kinser said.

Triple A recommends that drivers check everything before they leave: the battery, brakes, wiper blades and, most importantly, the tires.

Florida Highway Patrol gives these tips to avoid accidents:

  • Never drive impaired
  • Check your tires
  • Buckle up
  • Register to update your emergency contact
  • Observe and obey all speed limits

The Florida Department of Transportation’s FL511 website also provides real-time updates on accidents and weather radar. Travelers can download an app displaying a map of all the incidents.

“You can see when a storm is traveling across the state,” said James Landni, the program’s Transportation, Systems, Management and Operations developmental engineer. “Maybe you stay at your relative’s house an extra hour to avoid it.”

Workers monitor traffic during morning rush hour in the control room at the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) Regional Transportation Management Center in Fort Lauderdale on Friday, Nov. 18, 2022.

Inside of the Florida Department of Transportation Regional Transportation Management Center in Fort Lauderdale, the control room looks like something out of a sci-fi movie: Traffic operators sit beneath the glow of a “video wall” displaying live feeds of highways as they sift through footage on multiple screens.

The Department of Transportation’s District Four covers Broward, Palm Beach, and the counties of the Treasure Coast. There’s a reason the headquarters is located in Broward.

“That’s where we see a lot of the action,” said Alexandra Lopez, the District’s Transportation, Systems, Management and Operations program engineer.

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Meanwhile, the labor shortage has hit Florida’s transportation department. In the wake of the pandemic, traffic control operators and engineering staff remain in short supply while the demand for their services grows.

“Things have been picking up, but we’ve been able to keep up with it,” Lopez said.

Operators work longer hours, while the department has expanded in other ways, such as new contracts for road rangers and better tools. One of those is a truck that moves debris without requiring responders to get out and potentially endanger themselves.

On Friday, Odane Gordon, a road ranger, performed a demonstration of the vehicle with a cone in the parking lot of the Fort Lauderdale headquarters. Before, he had to hop out of the truck to remove debris in the middle of the highway.

Gordon and fellow rangers will spend much of their holiday season moving people and obstacles off of roads to keep traffic flowing. Beyond that, he said, he doesn’t like to travel too much.

“Honestly, when I’m off work, I’m at home,” Gordon said. “I don’t want to be on the highway.”

Staff writer Shira Moolten can be reached at

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