Florida Residents Living Out of State Need to Check Driver's License, Registration Status

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Some legal residents of Florida who live outside of the state on military orders are facing unexpected challenges keeping their driver's licenses and vehicle registrations valid. Despite maintaining their legal residence, they've found their licenses suspended and registrations canceled due to issues surrounding insurance verification.

Last week, renewed discussion within popular military-family-oriented Facebook groups centered around insurance-related letters arriving from Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, some dated as recently as February 2024. Other military families have discovered that they couldn't renew Florida driver's licenses or vehicle registrations.

"You can imagine my shock when I went to renew my [driver's] license and saw that it had actually been suspended since January, and not only had I had no idea, but no one had contacted me about it," said Paris Tibbs, an Air Force spouse who recently moved from Florida to Maryland.

Most concerning are reports that military families are running into roadblocks and getting bad information when trying to resolve the problem.

"I had to jump through several hoops and spend hours playing phone tag with different DMVs all over Florida before I was able to find someone who understood and could rectify my situation," Tibbs said.

Concerning the State of Legal Residence

The service members and families affected don't appear to have done anything wrong.

Under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, military personnel and their spouses are allowed to retain their state of legal residence despite moving on military orders. Especially when stationed in low- or no-income-tax states such as Florida, service members and spouses often choose to establish residency there. They can then retain that residency when they move to their future duty stations, keeping their driver's licenses and vehicle registrations in the state of legal residence.

However, for those driver's licenses to remain active, the states typically need some information. In Florida, the state needs to know that insurance remains in effect when the vehicle leaves Florida. 

What Happened

The root of the current problem is unclear. 

Last May, a similar but possibly unrelated issue involved USAA customers. USAA had changed something in its reporting, and the Florida system didn't recognize that USAA customers had valid insurance. That problem seemed to have been resolved quickly.

However, service members and their spouses continue to report insurance-related driver's license suspensions. While such suspensions are not new, it seems that they are happening more often. It is unclear whether this is related to the USAA reporting snag, an unrelated increase in Florida not having accurate insurance information or something else.

When asked about military members encountering problems, FLHSMV communications director Molly Best provided this statement:

"Unfortunately, this is not a new issue. In May last year USAA changed their process for reporting insurance policy initiations and cancellations to FLHSMV and due to this process change the information reported resulted in communication that [flagged the insurance policy as canceled] instead of reporting continuation of coverage.

"FLHSMV did send out letters to those that were affected by this with instructions on how to fix this issue, and I believe USAA also issued some messaging about this."

Best did not specify whether she was referring to any ongoing problems or only the incident that happened last May.

I chatted with Andrew Femath, senior communications manager at USAA, who provided this statement:

"USAA follows the required process to inform the state of insurance coverage for its Florida auto policyholders. In May 2023, a system update caused some members to receive a sanction notice in error from the state, which was promptly addressed and resolved on May 5, 2023.

"If members are experiencing license and registration issues after May 2023, it's important to note that the state mandates an active Florida auto insurance policy for vehicle registration, although exceptions exist for active duty military personnel with proper documentation on file with the state. Members are encouraged to submit the required paperwork to the state if they are [on] active duty, which can be found at https://www.flhsmv.gov/military/motor-vehicle-registrations/."

To be clear, the Florida exception also applies to spouses, not just active-duty personnel.

How to Fix It

What's a military family to do?

It's worth keeping in mind that any letters would have been sent to the address on file with FLHSMV. Many military folks don't know they can have their out-of-state mailing address on their Florida driver's license, so the address listed on their record may not be accurate. Or even if the address was updated at some point, it may not have continued to be updated to the current location.

Start by checking the FLHSMV Driver's License Check page. If your license is suspended for insurance issues, you may be able to upload the required information there.

To prevent future license suspensions, it may make sense for service members to file a Florida insurance affidavit with FLHSMV. Some folks have been told that this will need to be done annually, but I cannot confirm this information. This form, accompanied by copies of military orders and insurance cards, would be submitted to the local county tax collector's office or faxed to FLHSMV.

If your driver's license or registration is flagged for not having Florida insurance, resolving the issue can be challenging. One active-duty Florida resident shared his journey after receiving notice of a sanction this year. After trying unsuccessfully to update his record online and by phone and ultimately concluding that those processes didn't work for people living out of state, he tried mailing and faxing his documentation.

"After waiting the requisite 10 business days, nothing was cleared," he said. After some difficulty getting through by phone, he spoke to a representative who "acknowledged that I had sent in all required information ... and she had no answer as to why no action had been taken."

The breakdown between insurance verification systems underscores the importance for service members to manage their driver's licenses and vehicle registrations proactively to avoid disruptions during their military service. This includes keeping your mailing address up to date with the issuing agency in any state. That way, you can be sure that any communication makes it to you in a timely fashion.

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