Tourist Safety in Florida

WITH disturbing regularity, foreign tourists visiting Florida are finding themselves targets for robbery attempts - sometimes with fatal results.

The latest incident involved tourists from Britain who, while driving in northern Florida, stopped at a rest area on Interstate 10 Monday night. A robbery attempt left the driver dead and his companion wounded.

The state hosted 42 million tourists last year. Visitors from overseas comprise a growing segment. But within the last 12 months, nine foreign tourists have been killed during robberies - often during ``bump and rob'' incidents on streets and highways.

As tragic as the individual instances are, aggregate numbers suggest that fatal attacks in Florida are rare: nine deaths from among 42 million tourists. Even if one looks only at visitors from other countries, the number remains relatively small.

Yet nine deaths are nine too many. Their pattern indicates a cold-hearted calculus: Suspects focus on foreign tourists because they often carry large sums of cash, are unfamiliar with the territory and so are easy to spot as they try to find their way around, and are unlikely to return to testify if suspects are caught.

Florida initiated a sensible program of precautions after a German family was attacked and the mother killed last spring: pamphlets, clearer road signs to help visitors avoid problem areas, elimination of corporate logos and special license plates from rental vehicles, and stepped up police patrols at places such as Miami International Airport and in areas where foreign visitors most often get lost. Yet these didn't prevent the death last week of a German visiting Florida with his pregnant wife as they left the airport shortly after midnight. Police say the couple did all the right things when they were attacked on an expressway.

For visitors, vigilance may need to rise - taking flights that arrive during the day and, as the German government has recommended, taking airport shuttles to hotels and renting cars there. Gov. Lawton Chiles (D) on Tuesday ordered increased security at highway rest stops and is seeking federal aid to strengthen law enforcement efforts in parts of the state most affected by attacks on tourists.

These are important steps. Yet society also must find a way to address more-fundamental issues: the callous devaluation of human life and the misguided sense of empowerment that instilling fear can bring.

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