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What Happens if You are Caught Driving Without Car Insurance?

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Proof of insurance, or proof of financial responsibility, is mandatory in order to legally drive a car in all 50 states and Washington D.C. 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
  • Having your vehicle impounded
  • SR-22 requirements
  • Potential jail time

While a first offense for driving without insurance—or proof of insurance—can yield significant fines, repeated offenses can dramatically escalate the severity of the punishments. Besides legal penalties, if you're in a car accident without carrying 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 possessing auto insurance and not being able to prove that you have it are two separate violations that can yield varying penalties, depending on your state. Generally, penalties for failure to provide proof of insurance (while you are, in fact, insured) are less severe than those for actually driving uninsured, as long as you can submit proof of coverage within a specified timeframe. This timeframe, specified by the officer serving you your ticket, can be anywhere from 24 hours up to a few days.

Penalties vary widely depending on the number of infractions you've committed, the amount of damage you've caused, and the state that you're driving in. Here are the four most populous states' penalties for a first offense of failing to provide proof of insurance during a traffic violation:

StateFinesDriving PrivilegeOther
California$360–$720, penalty assessment fees includedNAOfficer may choose to impound vehicle
Texas$925–1750, penalty assessment fees includedNANA
FloridaNALicense and registration will be suspended unless proof of insurance is provided within five days, after which you will have to pay a $150 reinstatement feeNA
New York$150–$1500License and registration could be revoked for up to three years if you don't provide proof of insurance within a specified timeframeOfficer may choose to impound vehicle

Failure to provide proof of insurance—via an insurance card, declaration page, or insurance binder—will result in modest fines. On top of these fines, you'll have to pay additional processing or penalty assessment fees, as well the ticket amount for any traffic violations you may have committed. The officer may be able to confirm your coverage via a statewide insurance registry, if one exists in your state, but you still may face minimum penalties based on the officer's discretion.

Penalties for Getting Into an Accident While Uninsured

If you're uninsured, or if you've 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 significant accident can easily cost thousands of dollars, even exceeding $1 million if serious injuries are incurred. Additionally, uninsured drivers who injure or kill other drivers can face significant fines, SR-22 requirements and prison sentences.

StateFinesDriving PrivilegeOther
California$360–$720, penalty assessment fees includedMandatory one-year suspension, after which you can have your license reinstated if you maintain 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.
Texas$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 $4,000Automatic 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.
Florida$150 reinstatement feeSuspended 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.
New York$150–1500 and an additional civil penalty fee of $750Your license and registration will immediately be revoked for at least one year and up to three yearsCourt may order impoundment of vehicle. Potential imprisonment of up to 15 days.

License Suspension

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 can 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 laws in your state. The circumstances that lead to the suspension also vary between states. Some will only revoke your license if you are caught without financial responsibility in an accident, while others will suspend your license after a traffic violation and require you to provide proof of insurance within 24 hours. Reinstating a license can cost several hundred dollars; on top of any other fines, this total cost can equal premium for a year-long auto insurance policy.

For example, in Massachusetts your license will be suspended for 60 days if you're caught driving without insurance. Similarly, in Wisconsin, your driving privileges will be suspended until you file an SR-22, which proves that you meet the minimum level of required financial responsibility. In California, however, your license will only be revoked if you are caught without insurance after an accident, not after a routine traffic stop.

Vehicle Impounded and Loss of Registration

If you're caught driving without insurance, especially if you're involved in an accident, it's possible the court will 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 can submit valid proof of insurance to your state's DMV, typically in the form of an SR-22.

For example, in New Jersey, if you cannot submit proof of insurance within 24 hours of being cited, your car may be impounded on top of its stripped registration. Getting your car back will then require additional reinstatement or processing fees. And some states may even require your vehicle to be impounded for 30 days, which will invoke further costs and inconveniences to you as you try to navigate daily life without the privilege of driving.

Prison Sentence

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 additional fines and fees.

Financial Consequences

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 the driver you crash into does not have uninsured motorist insurance, personal injury protection or collision insurance, the accident could easily cost tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars of repair and hospital bills. This would leave you on the hook for most of those costs, if you are found to be at fault for the accident. The other driver might even go so far as to sue you, and to go after any future earnings or savings accounts you may have in your name in order to pay for their bills.

How Each State Deals with Uninsured Drivers

Every state has its own form of punishment 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 purchase 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 do 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 need to drive, we urge you to purchase at least 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 any of 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.

In most states—if you have a clean driving record—you can find basic liability auto insurance for less than $50 a month.

Shop Around

Shopping around for the best car insurance is vital to finding affordable rates. In most parts of the country, no less than ten companies vie for your business, and usually at least one of them is offering a premium that's well below the average. In Utah, for example, we found that GEICO offers policies for 50% less than the state average for our sample 30-year-old driver. Generally, you should get at least three quotes before choosing a policy, and since most companies enable you to get quotes easily online, 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 purchase insurance through one of these assistance programs will pay several hundred dollars less than they would for normal policies.

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, not only would you face 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. Obtaining a legitimate card with driving privileges is the first step in obtaining insurance.

Assigned Risk Programs for High Risk Drivers

If you can afford insurance, but are deemed too risky to cover by insurance companies, then you should look into your state's assigned risk program. Each state's program is different but, essentially, an assigned risk program is a secondary market for drivers too risky to be insured due to a history of violations 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.

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