Auto Insurance Basics

What Happens if You are Caught Driving Without Car Insurance?

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In the vast majority of states, if you own a car, you are going to want car insurance. Not only is driving without insurance against the law, it can end up costing you thousands of dollars in fines. The penalties you may face depends on your state, but most cases involve a ticket, a license suspension, getting your vehicle impounded, hefty fines, and potentially jail time.

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Getting a Ticket

In many states, if you are pulled over by the police and cannot show proof of insurance--even if you do actually have a policy-- you will be subjected to a ticket. In order to avoid further penalty you will have to submit proof of insurance usually within the next 24 hours or several days. In most cases, and states, if you can put forward proof (either an insurance card or a policy binder), then that will be the end of the matter. If you are actually uninsured however, the punishments can get worse--especially if this is not the first time you were caught. 

In Connecticut, you will get a $35 ticket the first time you cannot prove you have insurance. In New York, you could face a ticket worth $150 to $1,500 if you are caught without insurance. A $1,500 fine is nearly as much as it costs to insure your car for a whole year in most states. 

License Suspension

If you are caught driving without insurance, your license can be suspended in addition to 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 you 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, for example. Reinstating a license can cost several hundred dollars, which on top of any other fines, can equal the cost of a year long auto insurance policy. 

Massachusetts is an example of a state that suspends your license for a certain amount of time, in this case 60 days. California is one of those states where it would only get revoked if you are caught without insurance after an accident, and not after a routine traffic stop. In Wisconsin, however, if you are caught without a license, even if you are not in an accident, your driving privileges are suspended until you get an SR-22 filed on your behalf. 

Vehicle Impounded and Loss of Registration

Driving without insurance could even get your car impounded or its registration suspended. 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. 

In New Jersey, which has some of the strictest driving while uninsured laws in the country, if you cannot submit proof of insurance within 24 hours of being cited, your car may get impounded on top of its stripped registration. Getting your car back will include more out of pocket expenses. Some states may even require it be impounded for 30 days, which will make this ordeal even more expensive--possibly costing over $1,000.

Prison Sentence

In several states, driving uninsured is considered a misdemeanor offense, and can lead to a jail sentence. Jail time will most likely not happen the first time you are caught, but you may not get so lucky if you are caught a second or third time. After your second time, you may be considered a repeat offender in the eyes of the law, and subject to stiffer consequences.

In Connecticut, if you are uninsured and caught driving, you could face a prison sentence up to three months long. Driving uninsured is considered a misdemeanor in the state. In Michigan, you could face up to a year of jail time for driving uninsured. These charges may also be associated with more fines and fees. 

Financial Consequences 

The penalties we describe above are costly repercussions set by the laws of your state. If you were to get into an accident while uninsured though, the damages may even be enough to cripple your finances for years to come. In the worst case scenario, the driver you crash into will not have uninsured motorist insurance, nor personal injury protection or collision insurance, and easily cost thousands of dollars of damage and hospital bills. This would leave you on the hook for most of it, if you are found at-fault. The other driver may go so far as to sue you, and go after any future earnings or savings accounts you may have in your name in order to pay for their bills.

The Penalties in Your State

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. The ability to make amends for any financial damage you cause is easiest when you're covered by a car insurance company. Click below to see how your state deals with those who take on the risk of driving uninsured.

Alabama Hawaii Michigan North Carolina Utah
Alaska Idaho Minnesota North Dakota Vermont
Arizona Illinois Mississippi Ohio Virginia
Arkansas Indiana Missouri Oklahoma Washington
California Iowa Montana Oregon West Virginia
Colorado Kansas Nebraska Pennsylvania Wisconsin
Connecticut Kentucky Nevada Rhode Island Wyoming
D.C. Louisiana New Hampshire South Carolina
Delaware Maine New Jersey South Dakota
Florida Maryland New Mexico Tennessee
Georgia Massachusetts New York Texas

How to Get Insurance

As many as 1/7 drivers on the road today do not have insurance, and many because they simply cannot afford it, or are unable to find it. As we studied in Chicago, low income neighborhoods had higher premiums than high income ones, which made it harder for those residents to afford insurance. Still, the financial and penal cost of getting caught uninsured is greater than a year’s worth of car insurance. If you need to drive, we urge you to find a way to get insurance, even if it is the most basic of kinds. Below are some guidelines, regardless of your financial situation, which if you follow, can help you get affordable auto insurance.

Knowing Your Limits

To avoid any of the penalties we have described, you just need to meet your state's minimum, which is usually around $20,000 to $50,000 worth of liability coverage. Car insurance is made of multiple parts and coverages that may be adjusted to best suit your price range and needed level of protection. Ideally, every driver would be able to get full coverage that could take care of their injuries, another driver's injuries, their car and another driver's car. Unfortunately, full coverage is expensive and not feasible for many drivers, which is why state minimums are usually restricted to just liability coverage. In most states, granted you have a clean driving record, you can find basic liability auto insurance for less than $50 a month. That doesn't mean you should not shop around. 

Shopping Around

Shopping around for the best car insurance is key to finding cheaper rates. In most parts of the country, there are no less than ten companies vying for your business, and most likely, one of them is offering a premium well below the average. In Utah for example, we found GEICO offers policies for 50% under the state average for our sample 30 year old driver. Just because one company quotes you an expensive price, there is still a very good chance another will show you a price for much less. The general rule is that you should get at least three quotes, but most companies make the process so easy and fast, it should not be hard to get at least 6.

Affordable Car Insurance For Low Income Earners

If car insurance is absolutely impossible to afford, you should search online to see if your state has a low cost auto insurance program for low income earners. New Jersey and California are two such states. In New Jersey, the program is open to those enrolled in Medicaid. In California, you can join its program if your income is less than $60,750 for a household of four people. Yearly rates usually do not exceed $400, making it several hundred dollars cheaper than normal policies. Your limits are lower than even the state minimum, but again, it is better than having no insurance at all. 

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 will you face penalties and fines, but also possible deportation. Luckily, a few states have introduced ways for undocumented immigrants to get legitimate driver's licenses. California and Nevada, two states with large undocumented immigrant populations both allow undocumented immigrants to obtain a license. Obtaining a legitimate card with driving privileges is the first step in obtaining insurance. 

Assigned Risk Programs for High Risk Drivers

If you can actually afford insurance, but are deemed too risky to insure by the insurance companies, then you should see if your state has an Assigned Risk program. Each state is a little different, but essentially, it 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 take on the risk. One example is California's CAARP program. Rates will not necessarily be cheaper, but at least you will have insurance. 

Final Thoughts 

Driving without insurance is risky and should be avoided at all times. Affordable car insurance is available most every, just remember that by diligently searching around, and knowing how much insurance you actually need, you can find it. Any bit of insurance is better than no insurance.

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