Erica Barstow gets two calls a day from strange men, and she likes it. For every hour of the day she is on the roads around Miami she gets a call from a would-be suitor. Mind you, they have to be quick. Erica's phone number is stuck on the rear bumper of her sporty Ford Mustang. One blink and you'd miss it.

It's not actually her number on the red and yellow sticker, it's the number of Auto Dates, a driver dating service for Florida's singles. Set up 10 months ago in one of America's most dangerous cities, the motorised matching service has wooed 700 members, at dollars 19 each - all looking for a partner on the highways and interstates of the Sunshine State. The key is in their personal code number on the sticker. Admirers have to quote that to get access to the driver.

Erica hit the jackpot before she joined the club, when she was out cruising in her Mustang. In the neighbouring lane, driving a shiny Toyota Camry, was Cliff Dvorkin.

'I saw his bumper sticker first,' she purred. 'I thought it was a neat idea. Then I saw him. I like professional-looking men.' Cliff, a twice- divorced stockbroker, is also the founder of Auto Dates and when Erica called 770 0330, it was the smooth-talking Cliff she got on the other end. 'Cliff normally fields the calls between members and callers, but this time it was him who was being called up,' Erica said. Last week was the couple's sixth month together.

A friend of Cliff's used to run a similar organisation in California in the Seventies, but let it go under when he moved to Florida. In May, Cliff and his friend revived the idea in balmy South Florida, where there is little public transport and most people use their cars to get around. The partnership broke soon after starting up and now Cliff is the sole owner.

'Miami is perfect for this. We spend a lot of time in traffic and often you spot someone you like the look of and wonder if they are single,' he said. 'If you see the Auto Dates sticker you'll know they are looking and have a way of contacting them. A friend of mine met his wife by pulling her over in her car.'

Linda Simon, a Miami sex therapist, didn't find a husband in traffic but she did come up with an idea for a guide to car dating for America's 80 million singles. 'I was in a gridlock and was casually checking out the other cars, but there was nothing appealing,' she recounted. 'Then, inching along in the next lane came this white BMW. I thought, this is for me, so I made contact. I had a large index card with 'I LOVE YOUR CAR' written on it. As he came by, I put the card up to the window and turned on some romantic music.' Linda's plot worked. 'His name was Alfred. He was an ambitious lawyer but he thought my tactics were funny. We ended up dating for a while.'

Linda, 53, and her daughter, Robyn, are now Florida's self-appointed queens of driver dating. In February they will publish Love on a Two-Way Street (Symon and Simon Publishing, dollars 9.95) a book blatantly aimed at women drivers keen to pick up tips on how to woo Mr Right when he is speeding along at 60mph three lanes away.

'Once I spotted this great-looking guy in a red Corvette and had no way of finding out who he was or where he lived. It was so frustrating,' moaned Robyn, 33, a television producer. 'It was over in a flash and there was no way of stopping him. That was when I decided to do something about it.'

Robyn and her single mother now have virtually foolproof ways of ensnaring Miami's male drivers - techniques that make up the Basic Love Signals chapter of their book. They are not for the bashful.

'Honk - give this signal if you're horny and want immediate attention. Use anywhere, anytime, even across a crowded intersection. Maybe followed by turn signals to indicate the prospective mate should follow you.

''Flash cards - get a stack of large index cards and write down brief messages, such as 'You're cute' or 'Follow me', and of course have one card with your phone number.

'Parking-lot pursuit - go into a parking lot, find your perfect car and wait for the owner.

'When all else fails - try fender bending.'

In Miami, where staring at the idiot who just cut you up or giving 'the bird' to a highly charged Camaro driver packing a pistol, might mean a few rounds unleashed into your Honda, motorists drive a fine line between fraternising and confrontation. Isn't hooting furiously at a stranger or even trying to ram him or her to grab their attention extremely risky?

Not according to Linda and Robyn. 'Being in a car is no less risky than going to a bar. The car will tell you something about that person, in a bar you know nothing about the person you're chatting to,' Linda claims.

But Cindy Sessoms, 26, who spent six months going out with a man she had collared in a Miami restaurant car-park said: 'That was in the mid-Eighties. I wouldn't do that now, it's too dangerous. Following someone in a car is not a good idea.'

Cliff Dvorkin is aware of the risks of promoting a public dating service in such a notorious area. 'We never give out members' phone numbers, all we do is pass on the caller's number and it is then up to the member to call back, or not. We also recommend that couples meet for the first few times in a public place.' Neither is the service solely heterosexual. 'If a gay guy left a message we would pass it on.'

To put the service to the test, Nathan, a photographer, and I rented a bright-red convertible Mustang for a 36-hour dating blitz. Cliff made us honorary members, giving us a sticker with our own code number. I was the first married member of the club. 'Spouses don't tend to like their partners joining,' Cliff joked. 'I can't think why.'

Up and down I-95 we cruised, Ray-Ban's in place. We called the hotel to check for messages. 'Howard Johnson's Resort, can I help you?' Candy, the receptionist, answered. I asked her, anything from Auto Dates. 'Oooh, what's that?' she asked. We told her, which made her answer, in the negative, all the more embarrassing.

Maybe it was the car that was wrong. 'A white Roller is the ultimate car,' said Robyn, who drives a Subaru. 'A red Ferrari reveals a fiery temperament and a blue Mercedes would be a sign of conservatism.' And a red Mustang? 'A bit girly,' Robyn decided, before adding. 'It has to be a total package, the guy has to be good-looking, too.'

Cliff eased the swelling of my bruised ego. 'Women get 55 per cent more calls than men,' he announced. 'Women here are really shallow, they go on looks - like a guy in a Mercedes convertible.'

By nightfall we had given up, although the cover of darkness might have boosted our chances. That or a brown paper bag, or a bicycle. 'You'd have to fall off in front of your dream woman to make her notice you on a bike,' the mother and daughter daters commented.

In a day and a half, Nathan and I didn't get one call. Thirty-six hours is not long enough, even in fast and loose Miami. On the way to the airport we struck up a conversation in a traffic jam with a lady driving a Cadillac. It was our closest call, ruined only by our opening gambit: 'Thank you for not shooting us'. She was equally grateful.

(Photograph omitted)