Nearly 1 million people from northern states escape to Florida during the colder months, according to a 2004 study by the University of Florida. New Yorkers represent the largest percentage of these so-called "snowbirds," at just over 13 percent, while residents of Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania (all states with famously harsh winters) also flock to the Sunshine State in large numbers.
But these temporary residents fleeing the cold could end up in hot water if they don't follow Florida's auto insurance laws. Here are some tips for making sure you have constant coverage year-round.
If you drive your car to Florida
Planning on driving your car to Florida and back home again each year? You may have to adjust your coverage to fit Florida's insurance requirements. If you have a vehicle in Florida for more than 90 days in a 365-day period, you must buy auto insurance that complies with Florida's auto insurance laws, according to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV). Those 90 days do not have to be consecutive.
If you keep a vehicle in storage in Florida
Some snowbirds might choose to keep a vehicle in storage in Florida so that they can fly (instead of drive) back and forth to their home states. It might seem logical to drop coverage on a car that isn't even being driven -- but Florida law requires you to keep it. If your car has a Florida license plate and registration, you must maintain a Florida auto insurance policy, according to DHSMV, whether the vehicle is being used or not.
Auto insurance can be expensive, and keeping coverage on a car you're not even driving could blow your budget. Fortunately, Florida law allows a way around this requirement. Before leaving Florida to go back home, you can leave your Florida license plates and registration at your local tax collector or driver's license office, according to DHSMV. Once you've surrendered your registration and plates, you can drop your Florida insurance coverage. When you return to Florida the following winter, you'll simply need to show proof of insurance to get your plates and registration back.
Even though your car won't be moving the entire time you're away, you still might want to make sure it's protected against vandalism, theft and environmental hazards. Comprehensive coverage, although not mandatory under Florida law, will cover you in these circumstances.
Florida's auto insurance requirements
If you do need to get Florida auto insurance, it's important to understand that Florida is a no-fault insurance state. This means that if you're injured in an accident, you'll file claims through your own insurer, regardless of who's at fault in the accident. The part of the policy that covers your injuries is called personal injury protection (PIP), and it covers your passengers' injuries as well.
Florida requires drivers to get at least $10,000 in PIP and $10,000 in property damage liability, according to DHSMV. If you get Florida auto insurance, these are the minimum amounts you must buy from a provider that's licensed to sell insurance in Florida.
Failing to get covered can result the suspension of your driving privileges -- and it can cost $150 (up to $500 for subsequent violations) to get them back, according to DHSMV.