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3 Ways to Show Proof of Insurance & What to Do If You Can't

Nearly every state requires car insurance, and not having a card or other proof of coverage can be a big hassle and sometimes cost you money.

Proof of insurance comes in several forms. It's important for every driver to have proof to show if pulled over, in an accident or registering a car.

The most common form of proof is a card mailed to you by your insurance company or printed out. It will include your policy number and details about you and your vehicle. Some car insurance companies provide the option of showing electronic proof of insurance.

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What is proof of insurance?

Proof of insurance is a card, printout or digital document that shows you have an active insurance policy. It allows authorities to check your coverage. You'll typically be asked for your card or some other proof of insurance in several common driving situations.

  • Being pulled over by law enforcement
  • Getting in an accident and needing to exchange insurance information
  • Registering a newly purchased vehicle or renewing your license plate at the DMV
  • Financing a vehicle, as proof of insurance to the seller or lender

Often, proof of insurance is in the form of a physical card that is mailed to you. Many companies will also email you the card to print out yourself, and some allow you to show proof on their app or website.

The proof of insurance will include your policy number, as well as some information about you and your vehicle. That information can include:

  • Insurance policy number
  • Effective dates of the policy
  • VIN (vehicle identification number)
  • Car year
  • Car model
  • Some coverage details

How to get an insurance ID card

There are three ways to get your insurance card, and all are relatively convenient.

  • By mail from your company: The easiest way to get an auto insurance card is to request one from your insurance company. They will often mail you multiple paper insurance cards automatically, as part of the process of starting a new policy.
  • Print it out yourself: You can also ask your agent or company to email you a copy of the card, which you can print out and store in your glove compartment.
  • Display your card on your phone: Multiple companies, including Allstate, Geico, Progressive and State Farm, allow you to access your insurance card on their app.

It's worth noting that drivers in New Mexico cannot rely on law enforcement accepting electronic proof of insurance, although officers will sometimes accept it. Every other state, plus the District of Columbia, allows drivers to show proof without a card. That said, an officer might not be liable if they damage your phone.

What does an insurance card look like?

An insurance card will usually have the name of the insurance company, plus information about you and your vehicle. It will not have a photo and might not have your address.

Compare examples of insurance cards from California and New York:

Sample California insurance card

California insurance card

Sample New York insurance card

New York insurance card

Why you need proof of insurance

You need to show proof because it's illegal to drive without insurance in almost every state. Police will check if you're insured at almost every traffic stop, and if you're in an accident, it's important to exchange insurance information.

Unless you can show proof of insurance at the DMV, to law enforcement or to a lender, it is assumed you don't have any. This means having to later prove you are covered.

Failure to show evidence of insurance

The penalties for being unable to show proof, if you have auto insurance, are usually relatively mild. If you have coverage but no proof available when asked, you'll need to prove coverage to a government entity within a certain time frame. Ideally, you should get it resolved as quickly as you can.

Assuming you do this, you may pay a small fine — or none at all.. For example, California and Tennessee will charge you $25. In Illinois, that fine can be $100, and penalties can be worse if you're not carrying proof of insurance at the time of an accident.

If you are pulled over without proof of insurance but do have coverage, you should follow the instructions provided by law enforcement and rectify the situation as quickly as possible to avoid penalties, such as fines or license suspension.

Fake proof of insurance

This should go without saying, but you should not try to obtain or use fake proof of insurance. If you don't have insurance or some other proof of financial responsibility, you should not be driving.

Law enforcement officials have databases in which they can quickly track down your insurance information. There is a good chance any falsified documents will not survive that scrutiny, and penalties could be severe.

Frequently asked questions

What is proof of insurance?

Proof of insurance is most commonly a card, a printout or information on your phone that shows you have an active policy and includes some information about it. You will need proof of insurance if you are pulled over by law enforcement, get in an accident, are buying a new vehicle or are renewing your license

Do you need proof of insurance to register a car?

In the majority of states, you will need proof of insurance to register a car. In some states — Arizona, Mississippi, North Dakota, Tennessee, Washington and Wisconsin — , you'll need proof of insurance before driving. New Hampshire does not require drivers to have liability insurance but does require "proof of financial responsibility," which means you can cover the cost of an accident if you cause one.

What does proof of insurance look like?

Proof of insurance most commonly looks like a small card with information, including the policy number, term, your name and the insurance company's name. It can also be a printout of an insurance card or shown on your phone through an app or website.

Can you show proof of insurance on your phone?

You can show proof of insurance on your phone in almost every state. New Mexico is the lone state where police are not required to accept electronic proof of insurance. It's a good idea to have a physical card as backup.

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