According to a recent study performed by Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company, 73% of Americans talk on the telephone while driving. The Insurance Industry for Traffic Safety found that almost 6000 deaths were caused by distracted drivers in 2008. The numbers for teens are particularly striking. 21% of fatal car crashes involved cell phone usage and at least 50% of Florida teens admit to texting while driving.
In Florida these numbers have particular significance because of our existing insurance laws and the number of uninsured drivers on our highways. Unlike many states, Florida does not require its drivers to have liability insurance conditioned to pay someone else harmed by a negligent or reckless driver. The only required insurance is PIP insurance which provides just $10,000 worth of no-fault medical or lost wage coverage. Very few hospital stays cost less than $10,000 so rarely is there any money for lost wages. Surprisingly, there is no requirement that Florida drivers carry insurance to pay the people they injure. Even more troubling is the fact that Florida, while having only minimal insurance requirements still has the 5th highest rate of uninsured drivers in the entire country. According to a recent study by the Insurance Research Council, a full 23% of Florida drivers had no insurance of any nature. Regrettably, those who do have liability insurance often have limits of only $10,000. All of which increases the likelihood that if you are seriously injured on the highway you may well have no one to look to reimburse you for your medical expenses, lost wages and pain and suffering. So, how can you protect yourself?
First and foremost, make sure to buy liability insurance that also includes uninsured motorist coverage. Unless you reject it in writing, your insurance company is required to sell you uninsured motorist coverage in limits equal to your liability coverage. For example, if you have $300,000 worth of liability coverage, unless you have rejected it you will also have $300,000 worth of uninsured motorist coverage. This coverage will insure you not only against people who hurt you who have no insurance but also drivers who have some insurance but who don’t have enough insurance to compensate you for your losses.
Second, if you own more than own vehicle you will have the option to have “stacked coverage”. This coverage means that you will be able to add (or stack) the coverage for 2 or more vehicles usually at a significantly lower rate than buying the same amount for just one vehicle.
An additional way to protect yourself at least partially is to have adequate health insurance coverage. In those counties where the hospitals are privately owned they will immediately accept your health insurance company payments for medical services. If the hospital claims to be a public hospital and the legislature has granted them special lien rights, the hospital may refuse to accept your insurance. For example, in Lee County, where virtually all of the hospitals are owned by the Lee Memorial Health System, they will insist on receiving their money from the liability insurance company and may refuse to bill your insurance company or Medicare even though you are eligible. This can mean that very little benefits of the liability or uninsured benefits are available to you, particularly if the medical expenses are significant.
Finally, always wear your seat belt, keep a safe distance from the vehicle in front of you, and don’t assume that other drivers on the highway aren’t distracted.