Nearly every state requires car insurance, and not having a card or other proof of coverage can add significant hassle and sometimes cost you money.
Proof of insurance comes in several forms, but it's an important thing for every driver to possess. You will have to show it if you get pulled over, get in an accident or register a car.
The most common form of proof of insurance is a card mailed to you by your insurance company or printed out. It will include your policy number, plus details about you and your vehicle, and is commonly kept in the glove box. 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 and allows authorities to check you have coverage. You will typically be asked for your car insurance card or some other proof of insurance in several common driving situations.
- Being pulled over by law enforcement
- Getting in an accident and need to exchange insurance information
- Registering a newly purchased vehicle or renewing your license plate at the DMV
- Financing a vehicle and need to show proof of insurance to the seller or lender
The most common form of proof of insurance is an insurance ID card that is mailed to you. Many insurers will also email you the card to print out, and some allow you to show proof of insurance on their mobile app or by logging into a website.
Insurance cards 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 different ways to get your vehicle insurance card, all relatively convenient.
- By mail from your insurer: The easiest way to get a vehicle insurance card is to request one from your insurer. They will usually mail you multiple paper insurance cards, often just as part of the process of starting a new policy.
- Print it our 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, State Farm and Progressive, allow you to access your insurance card through their mobile apps.
It's worth noting, drivers in New Mexico cannot rely on law enforcement accepting electronic proof of insurance, although officers will sometimes accept it. Every other state, plus Washington, D.C., allows drivers to show proof of insurance without a card. That said, an officer might not be liable for damage that happens to your phone.
What does an insurance card look like?
An insurance card will usually have the name of the insurer, plus a set of information about the driver and vehicle. It will not have a driver's photo and might not have the driver's address.
Sample New York insurance card
Sample California insurance card
Why you need proof of insurance
You need to show proof of insurance 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 results in you having to later prove you are covered.
Failure to show evidence of insurance
The penalties for being unable to show proof of auto insurance are usually relatively mild, assuming you are in fact covered. If you do have coverage, but no card or other proof available, it is your responsibility within a certain timeframe to prove to a governmental entity that you are covered. Ideally, you should get it resolved as quickly as you can.
Assuming you do this, you may not pay a fine at all, or the fine might be a small one. For example, California and Tennessee will charge drivers between $20-$25. In Illinois, that fine can be $100, and penalties can be more significant if you are not carrying proof of insurance at the time of an accident.
If you are pulled over without proof of insurance but are insured, 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
It should go without saying, 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 sort of scrutiny, and penalties could be severe.
Frequently asked questions
What is proof of insurance?
Proof of insurance is most commonly a card, print out or information on your own that shows you have an active policy. It usually includes some information about your policy. You will need proof of insurance if you are pull over by law enforcement, get in an accident, are purchasing a new vehicle or are renewing a 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. Some states, notably Washington, Wisconsin, Tennessee, North Dakota, Mississippi and Arizona, you will 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 the driver can cover the cost of an accident if they cause one.
What does proof of insurance look like?
Proof of insurance most commonly looks like a small card with a set of information that includes a policy number, term of policy, driver's name and insurer's name. It can also be a print-out of an insurance card or be 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 a backup.