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Proof of insurance, or proof of financial responsibility, is required to legally drive a car in all 50 states and Washington D.C. While a first offense for driving without insurance — or proof of insurance — can yield big fines, repeated offenses can dramatically escalate the severity of the punishments. Besides legal penalties, if you're in a car accident without insurance, you're liable to be sued by the other driver for the damage to their vehicle and any medical bills they incur from the accident.
Penalties for driving without proof of insurance
Not having auto insurance and not being able to prove that you have it are two separate violations that can yield different penalties, depending on your state. Generally, penalties for failure to provide proof of insurance (while you are, in fact, insured) are considerably less severe than those for actually driving uninsured, as long as you submit proof of coverage within a specified timeframe. This timeframe can be anywhere from 24 hours to a few days.
If you're caught driving without insurance, you may face:
- Tickets and fees for failing to provide proof of insurance
- License suspension
- License reinstatement fees
- Vehicle impoundment
- SR-22 requirements
- Car insurance rate increase
- Potential jail time
Penalties vary depending on state. Here are the four most populous states' penalties for a first offense of failing to provide proof of insurance during a traffic violation:
|$360-$720, penalty assessment fees included
|Officer may choose to impound vehicle
|$925-1750, penalty assessment fees included
|License and registration will be suspended unless proof of insurance is provided within five days, after which you will have to pay a $150 reinstatement fee
|License and registration could be revoked for up to three years if you don't provide proof of insurance within a specified timeframe
|Officer may choose to impound vehicle
In most states, you'll also face much harsher penalties if you're caught multiple times, or if you were at fault in a crash while uninsured.
Failure to provide proof of insurance — via an insurance card, a declaration page or an insurance binder — will result in modest fines. On top of these fines, you'll have to pay processing or penalty assessment fees, as well as the ticket amount for any traffic violations you may have committed.
How do the police verify your insurance?
During a traffic stop, the police will almost always verify that you have an active car insurance policy. Often they'll ask for a copy of your insurance info (either on paper or on your phone), and verify that it matches your vehicle registration.
Many police departments have access to their state's insurance database, which has a record of every car that does and does not have coverage. They'll run your car's plates to verify that it's covered. In this case, you may not have to show your insurance card at all.
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Penalties for Getting Into an Accident While Uninsured
If you're uninsured or have let your insurance lapse, getting into an accident can be a disastrous situation, both for you and the other driver—especially if they don't have uninsured motorist coverage. Repair and medical expenses from a major accident can easily cost thousands of dollars, even exceeding $1 million if serious injuries are incurred. Uninsured drivers who injure or kill other drivers can face big fines, SR-22 requirements and prison sentences.
|$360–$720, penalty assessment fees included
|One-year suspension, after which you can have your license reinstated if you have an SR-22 for three years.
|Court may order impoundment of vehicle; 100% liability for other driver's medical and vehicle expenses if you're at fault.
|$175–350 plus an annual surcharge of $250 for three years plus any damages for the accident you were in, if you are liable, up to a maximum of $4,000
|Automatic suspension of vehicle registration and license for up to two years. File an SR-22 for three years after the accident.
|Vehicle can be impounded for 180 days; cannot apply for release of car without evidence of financial responsibility. $15 fee for every day your vehicle is impounded; 100% liability for other driver's medical and vehicle expenses if you're at fault. Up to one year in jail, depending on severity of accident.
|$150 reinstatement fee
|Suspended license until you have provided proof of insurance. SR-22 may be required depending on severity of accident.
|100% liability for other driver's medical and vehicle expenses if you're at fault.
|$150–1500 and a civil penalty fee of $750
|Your license and registration will immediately be revoked for at least one year and up to three years
|Court may order impoundment of vehicle. Potential imprisonment of up to 15 days.
If you are caught driving without insurance, your license can be suspended in addition to your getting a ticket. The duration of the suspension can vary. In some states, it ends once you show proof of insurance or file an SR-22. In others, the court or DMV can suspend your license for a set period of time based on the state laws.
The circumstances that lead to suspension also vary between states. Some only revoke your license if you are caught without financial responsibility in an accident, while others suspend your license after a ticket and require proof of insurance within 24 hours. Reinstating a license can cost several hundred dollars; on top of any other fines, the total cost could equal the annual cost of an auto insurance policy.
Vehicle Impounded and Loss of Registration
If you're caught driving without insurance, especially if you're involved in an accident, a court could order your vehicle to be impounded and your license and registration to be revoked. In most states you will not be able to drive the vehicle again until you submit valid proof of insurance to your state's DMV, typically an SR-22.
In most states, driving while uninsured is considered a misdemeanor offense, and can potentially lead to a prison sentence. Jail time will most likely not be imposed for a first offense, unless you cause a serious accident. But repeat offenses will incur higher fines and stiffer punishments, possibly including jail.
If you are uninsured and caught driving, you could face as little as a few days or as much as two weeks of prison time. However, in some states, such as Michigan, you could face up to a full year. These charges may also accompany fines and fees.
The legal fines we describe above are costly repercussions set by the laws of your state. They can cost anywhere from $150 to $5,000 for your first offense, once all fees are added in. However, the cost of an accident while driving uninsured can be much higher, and may even be enough to drive you into debt or bankruptcy.
If a driver you crash into does not have uninsured motorist insurance, personal injury protection or collision insurance, an accident could easily cost tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars of repair and hospital bills. You would be on the hook for most of those costs if you are found to be at fault. The other driver might even sue you, and go after any future earnings or savings accounts you may have, in order to pay their bills.
How Each State Deals with Uninsured Drivers
Every state has its own punishments and penalties for driving without insurance. Some may be more lenient than others, but none accept driving without financial responsibility. While there are other methods of proving financial responsibility, the easiest method is to buy coverage from an insurance company. Click below to see your state's penalties for uninsured drivers.
How to find the best auto insurance
As many as one in seven drivers on the road does not have auto insurance. Some because they struggle to afford it, and others because they believe the cost outweighs the risk. However, the financial and penal repercussions of driving uninsured can easily exceed the annual cost of carrying basic car insurance.
If you drive, you should at least get your state's minimum required liability insurance. Below are some tips for finding the best auto insurance to meet your needs.
Know your limits
To avoid the penalties we have described, you just need to meet your state's minimum required level of financial responsibility, which is usually around $20,000 to $50,000 of liability coverage. Other types of coverage, such as personal injury protection (PIP) or collision and comprehensive insurance, may not be required by your state, but they provide critical protection if you can afford them.
Shopping around for the best car insurance is vital to finding affordable rates. In most parts of the country, no fewer than ten companies vie for your business, and usually at least one of them is offering a rate that's well below the average.
In Utah, for example, Geico offers policies for 50% less than the state average for a 30-year-old driver. Get at least three quotes before choosing a policy. Most companies enable you to get a free online insurance quote, so getting more shouldn't be a problem.
Affordable car insurance for low-income earners
At least three states, New Jersey, California and Hawaii, offer low-income auto insurance programs for drivers who struggle to afford coverage. In New Jersey, the Special Automobile Insurance Policy (SAIP) is open to those enrolled in Medicaid with hospitalization. In California, you can join its program if your income is less than $60,750 for a household of four people.
In Hawaii, anyone receiving direct cash payment assistance may be eligible for free personal injury protection and liability insurance from the state. Yearly rates could be free for some drivers in Hawaii and up to $611 if you live in Los Angeles. Regardless, drivers who get insurance through one of these assistance programs will pay several hundred dollars less than they would for normal policies.
Low-income drivers can sometimes have trouble switching insurers because you have to sign up for your new policy before you can let your old policy expire. That means you'll have to pay double for car insurance, at least until the refund from your old insurer is processed. Here are a few ways to help bridge that gap:
- Pay via credit card, if you can: Unlike a car payment, you can usually pay for insurance on a credit card. Using a credit card means the money for your bill won't actually leave your bank account until later.
- Opt for monthly payments: Insurers generally allow you to pay your bill in smaller, more frequent installments — often monthly. This will let you switch to a cheaper insurer while still breaking your payments into more manageable chunks.
- Save your quote for later: If you find a great rate for insurance but need some extra time to pull together the money, you can save your quote for later. Most insurers will save your quote for a month or two, but some will do so for much longer: For example, Progressive will save a quote for up to 13 months.
If you are an undocumented immigrant
If you are in the country without proper documentation, then you most likely do not have a valid driver's license, making it impossible to get insurance. If you were to be caught driving in this case, you would face not only penalties and fines but also potential deportation. Luckily, 12 states and Washington, D.C., have introduced programs for undocumented immigrants to get legitimate driver's licenses. Getting a legitimate card with driving privileges is the first step in buying insurance.
Assigned risk programs for high-risk drivers
If you can afford insurance but are too risky to cover by insurance companies, you should look into your state's assigned risk program. Each state's program is different, but an assigned risk program is a secondary market for drivers too risky to be insured due to a history of tickets or accidents.
Rather than just having one company take on the risk, multiple insurers come together to form a pool that collectively takes on the risk. Rates will generally be higher, but at least you will have insurance and can drive legally.
Frequently asked questions
What happens if you are caught driving without insurance?
The exact penalty will vary by state, but punishments are consistently harsh. You are likely to lose your license, have your vehicle impounded and pay hundreds of dollars in fines, at a minimum. Penalties are even worse if you're in an accident or get another ticket for speeding or driving under the influence.
What happens if you let your insurance lapse?
Letting your insurance lapse isn't a crime, so long as you don't drive while uninsured. However, insurance companies don't like this, and you're likely to see your rates increase substantially when you reinstate coverage. Your car's registration may also lapse automatically if you let your insurance expire.
Can you drive without insurance?
In most cases, no. Every state requires insurance or other proof of financial responsibility to own a car or drive it on public roads. Driving while uninsured is typically a crime.
Can you register a car without insurance?
In most cases, no. A few states, like Florida, allow you to register proof of financial responsibility and pay a registration fee instead of buying insurance. But doing so is often not much cheaper than buying insurance and is incredibly financially risky.