If you drive in Florida, you won’t have an accident. Every fourth vehicle that speeds past you or drives a red light is not insured. If your car is damaged, the chances of getting your losses backed by someone else are only good if you are fully insured yourself.
According to the Insurance Research Council, Florida has the highest proportion of uninsured motorists at around 27%. The problem is compounded by the fact that many of these motorists – nearly 2 million – drive with a suspended driver’s license that has usually been revoked due to unpaid fines.
The dilemma: one difficulty makes the other worse.
When the insurance goes dark
“When a driver’s license is suspended for unpaid fines, auto insurers typically cancel or do not renew their auto insurance policy,” said Mark Friedlander, spokesman for the Insurance Information Institute, a trade group.
When auto insurance is canceled or renewed, the insurer immediately notifies the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV) that the vehicle is in breach. Both a valid driver’s license and insurance are required in the state of Sunshine. Public transportation is a dubious proposition as nine out of ten Floridians go to work.
If you are not insured, there is another violation.
Florida’s automotive division claims that about 14 million of the 15 million vehicles registered have at least the minimum coverage. But don’t count on it.
“Just because the vehicle is insured doesn’t mean the driver has a valid driver’s license or is covered by the vehicle’s insurance policy,” Friedlander says. “The unlicensed driver is counted as an uninsured driver.”
Friedlander’s ominous warning: “If you let an unlicensed driver use your car and he or she gets into a car accident, your claim will be denied.”
Drive or not drive in Florida
It’s easy to see why people drive and ignore license bans. “People are forced to choose between illegal driving. . . or. . . losing the ability to pay the court debts that triggered their suspension, ”according to a study by the Fines and Fees Justice Center (FFJC).
Could the situation get any worse? Yes, as the cost of driving in the Sunshine State continues to rise.
“Florida ranks second on the list of the least affordable states for auto insurance,” according to another study by the Insurance Research Council. According to Friedlander, Floridians currently pay an average annual auto insurance premium of $ 2,239.
The fines that Florida drivers cost their driver’s license doesn’t necessarily mean they are bad drivers. According to a list provided by the FLHSMV, a large percentage is spent on “failure to pay a traffic fine”. And those fined may only have five days to pay if they miss a court hearing – or face suspension, the FFJC study said.
State laws also allow licenses to be revoked for other reasons, ranging from criminal penalties to non-payment of child support payments, as well as minor issues such as “minor tobacco possession,” “poor eyesight,” and “acting immorally with a passenger.” According to the FFJC study, less than 4% of licenses for “dangerous” crimes such as driving while intoxicated were revoked.
Florida fines are a lucrative source of income for the state and its counties. For most years, the court system evaluates fines and fees in excess of $ 1.1 billion and levies about three-quarters of them.
High fees lead to suspended licenses
Miami-Dade judge Steven Leifman told Miami Today that Florida is using a “high-fee model,” with most express tickets costing at least $ 200, including court fees. Almost a third of drivers in Miami-Dade County – the most populous state – drive with a driver’s license, the publication reported.
An unpaid ticket is handed over to a debt collection agency, which then increases the cost by an estimated 40 percent. And under Florida law, a third driver license offense requires “a convicted person … to sit in prison for at least 10 days.”
Many Floridians could – at least technically – spend time in what the Brennan Center for Justice has called “a new twist on debtors’ prison”.
Many in the legislative and judicial systems believe that Florida’s fine and suspension practices are counterproductive. Approximately 13% of the state’s population lives below the poverty line, and that number is likely to increase as the COVID-19 crisis persists and unemployment rises in Florida’s touristy economy.
Losing your job because you can’t drive, can’t use your car, and have to hire a driver to get groceries only makes things worse.
I hope you don’t get caught
In March, legislative efforts by Senator Tom Wright and Rep. Byron Donalds to remove the penalties for driving license suspension for unpaid fines died on committee and will not resume until next year.
Meanwhile, drivers with suspended licenses “just hold their breath so they don’t get caught,” Wright said.
Some local court systems are trying to make changes themselves. Court clerks are required to hold an “Operation Green Light” at least once a year to help drivers restore their licenses. Orange County went further, waived collection fees and put nearly 9,000 suspended drivers on a payment plan, according to Orlando Sentinel. Other counties like Palm Beach introduced flexible payment plans.
In order to remedy many of the violations of driving behavior, a “traffic school” is available – at least for initial violations. “Customers can check the status of their driver’s license at any time on our website,” says spokeswoman Jessica Kelleher from the FLHSMV.
Ashley Thomas, author of the FFJC report, says license freezes should not be used as a tool to force people to pay fines in the first place.
In the meantime, there is still a chance of tangling up with an uninsured / unlicensed driver on Florida roads, or even getting met while filling your car at a gas station. This is what happened to Orange County’s Pablo Gill in 2018. He still hasn’t received an insurance agreement.
“We strongly encourage Florida drivers to have both collision and uninsured auto insurance to protect themselves,” said Friedlander of the Insurance Information Institute.