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What Happens if You're Caught Driving Without Car Insurance?

Driving without car insurance can land you in hot water. Even though auto insurance coverage is required by law in many states, almost 13.7 percent of American drivers are uninsured.

The penalties for driving without insurance can be severe. In this article, you'll learn about the consequences of driving without insurance.

If you are uninsured and need an affordable insurance policy, you can use an online comparison tool like SmartFinancial to find budget-friendly coverage. Just enter your zip code on this page to get started.

What Is Car Insurance?

Car insurance is a contract between you and an insurance carrier. These policies protect you against financial losses after an accident or theft. You agree to pay a premium, and the insurer agrees to pay for covered losses listed in your policy.

Auto insurance covers the following situations:

  • Property Damages - It pays for damage or theft to your car.

  • Liability Claims - When you cause injuries to another party or their property.

  • Medical - This insurance pays for hospital bills, doctor's visits, rehabilitation, lost wages and funeral expenses.

These policies can be renewed every six months or annually, depending on your insurer's terms. An insurer can decide to drop your coverage if you violate the terms of the agreement.

Do You Need Insurance to Drive?

Yes, you must have car insurance to own a car or drive in many states, or you're violating the law. Drivers must maintain the minimum car insurance requirement in 49 states and the District of Columbia. 

At the very least, most states require that you drive with liability coverage. Most states mandate this insurance, which includes:

  • Bodily Injury Liability – When you're at fault, this coverage pays for the accident-related medical costs and injuries of another driver. Insurers typically offer liability limits ranging from $10,000 to $50,000 per person, and $20,000 to $100,000 per accident. These amounts vary by state.

  • Property Damage Liability – When you cause an accident, this policy covers the other party's damages. For instance, it will cover repairs for another driver's car or a person's property damage, such as a wall, guardrail, fence or post. The amounts offered range from $10,000 to $25,000.

Some states also require personal injury protection (PIP) or medical payments (MedPay) as part of their minimum requirements. 

Other states may mandate uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage. Aside from laws requiring car insurance, lien holders require comprehensive and collision insurance if they lease or finance a vehicle.

Does Every State Require Auto Insurance?

Not every state mandates drivers to carry auto insurance. New Hampshire and some rural parts of Alaska only require drivers to get car insurance when they have a serious offense, like a DUI or hit-and-run accident. Virginia has a low fee to waive auto insurance.

These states still require at-fault drivers to take financial responsibility for the accidents they caused. 

You'll have to pay many of these expenses out-of-pocket if you have an accident without insurance. So, it's a good idea for motorists to carry coverage, regardless of what laws are on your state's books. 

What Is Proof of Insurance?

Your insurance identification cards (ID) provides your state with proof you have valid insurance that complies with your state's minimum liability coverage. These documents usually contain standard information that law enforcement officers can verify, including:

  • The policyholder's first and last name

  • Insurance carrier's name, address and National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) number

  • The policy number

  • The date your coverage became effective

  • The expiration date of the policy

  • The vehicle's make, model, year and vehicle identification number (VIN)

An insurer will provide you with proof of insurance after you purchase your policy. Some companies will mail, fax or email an ID to you. Others provide digital copies through an app.

There are 49 states and the District of Columbia that accept digital ID cards as proof of insurance. New Mexico is the only state that rejects digital documents.

Your ID cards will not show any optional coverages that you have. It is only proof that you meet your state's minimum liability requirements.

When Must You Provide Proof of Insurance?

You must provide proof of insurance in the following situations:

  • Receiving your driver's license – In many areas, you must provide proof of insurance before you can drive on the road.

  • When registering your car – Most states require you to provide proof of insurance to register your vehicle with the DMV.

  • During a traffic stop – A law enforcement officer will issue you a citation if you don't provide proof of insurance.

  • After an accident – Many places require you to present your insurance information after you have an accident.

Need Proof of Insurance? Check Your Car Insurance Rates Today!

What Are the Consequences of Driving Without Insurance?

Some people believe that driving without insurance is no big deal, as long as they don't get caught. Sadly, these drivers don't learn about the severe penalties many states give uninsured drivers until it's too late.

What happens if a police officer pulls you over during a traffic stop and finds out that you don't have insurance? In this section, you'll learn about the consequences that uninsured drivers may face when law enforcement catches them driving without coverage. 

1. Your State May Fine You 

In some states, you'll get a Class B misdemeanor the first time law enforcement catches you driving without insurance. 

Your state's law enforcement will charge you the first time you're caught driving without insurance. The fine for getting caught driving without insurance varies by state. First offenders may pay up to $500 in areas like Vermont. Other states charge fines as high as $5,000. These states include Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey, North Dakota and West Virginia.

Uninsured California drivers can receive a stiff $720 fine, while their Texan and New York counterparts may receive $1,750 and $1,500 fines, respectively.

In California, fines can be as high as $720, in Texas as much as $1,750, and in New York up to $1,500. These fees don't include the damages and injuries that you're responsible for paying to another driver after the accident. After all these fees total up, you're still paying more in fines than you would if you had maintained your state's minimum insurance requirements.

Even if you have insurance but cannot show proof of coverage, you can get a ticket and fine. So, expect a significant penalty if you get ticketed for driving without insurance. 

2. You May Go to Jail

Your first offense may get you off with just a ticket, but repeat offenders can pay a higher cost. As if this wasn't bad enough, you can still go to jail for driving without insurance, depending on where you live. 

In most areas, driving uninsured is a misdemeanor that can lead to a prison sentence. After your first offense, you may squeak by with no jail time unless you have a terrible accident or were driving under the influence. Some areas have more severe punishment than others. For instance, you can face up to a year in prison if Michigan law enforcement catches you driving without insurance.

Usually, your multiple offenses will land you behind bars in most states. 

Uninsured drivers can go to prison for second offenses in the following states:

  • Alaska – In this state, uninsured drivers can spend ten days in jail if it is their second offense.

  • Alabama – Offenders can spend up to six months in prison for their multiple violations.

  • Colorado – Violators can spend up to a year in jail for their second offense in the Mile High State.

  • Georgia – Uninsured drivers can receive 12 months in prison and fines between $200 - $1,00 for their second offense.

  • Idaho – People can spend up to 6 months in jail for their second offense.

  • Kentucky – Uninsured drivers can receive up to 10 days in prison for their second infraction.

  • Massachusetts – The state may sentence uninsured drivers up to one year in jail for multiple offenses.

  • Minnesota – Uninsured individuals may receive up to 90 days in prison and a fine for the second violation.

  • Missouri – This area sentences offenders to 15 days in jail for multiple infractions.

  • Montana – Repeat offenders may receive up to 10 days in county jail.

  • New Jersey – Drivers may receive up to 14 days in prison for a second offense.

  • New Mexico – Uninsured drivers can receive up to 6 months in jail, a fine, or both for repeat infractions.

  • North Carolina - Individuals can receive up to 45 days of probation or jail time.

  • South Carolina – People can receive up to 30 days in jail for a second offense.

  • West Virginia – Uninsured drivers can receive 15 days to a year in prison for a second violation.

  • Wyoming – Individuals can receive six months in jail for multiple offenses.

No one knows when a police officer will make a traffic stop. If you don't have insurance, you can search for a policy now using an insurance comparison site like SmartFinancial. Just enter your zip code on this page, and you'll get a quote from several carriers within your area.

3. The state may suspend your driver's license 

You can get your license suspended if law enforcement catches you driving without insurance. Once this happens, some insurers will refuse to provide you coverage because you were driving without insurance. You may need to file an SR-22 to get insured again, not to mention hefty license reinstatement fees.

Not only will you get a costly ticket for driving uninsured, but if you're involved in an accident, you may have to pay for all the repair costs for both vehicles out of pocket. You may be responsible for impounding fees if the police tow your car.

Drivers don't have to be pulled by a trooper to get criminally charged for having no insurance coverage. Technology has made it easier for states to track down uninsured drivers.

Many areas use an electronic insurance verification system (EIVS) to track whether drivers have valid insurance coverage.

If your insurance lapses, your insurance company will immediately report to your state that you no longer have coverage. Twenty-two states regularly monitor registered vehicles electronically to see if their drivers have valid insurance coverage. 

Penalty for Driving Without Insurance

These 44 states suspend licenses for driving without insurance:

AlaskaNebraska
ArizonaNevada
CaliforniaNew Jersey
ColoradoNew York
ConnecticutNorth Carolina
DelawareNorth Dakota
FloridaOhio
GeorgiaOklahoma
HawaiiOregon
IdahoPennsylvania
IllinoisRhode Island
IndianaSouth Carolina
IowaSouth Dakota
KansasTennessee
KentuckyTexas
MaineUtah
MassachusettsVermont
MichiganVirginia
MinnesotaWest Virginia
MississippiWisconsin
MissouriWyoming
Montana 

4. You'll face stiff penalties from your insurance company

Insurance carriers may penalize drivers who allow their insurance to lapse. Insurers view these drivers as high risk and may decide to cancel their policy or refuse to cover them. You'll have to seek coverage from a high-risk insurer instead.

If your insurer doesn't cancel your policy, they hike your insurance rates for several years until the conviction drops off of your record. 

5. You May Be Required to Get SR-22 Certification

In some jurisdictions, drivers must purchase SR-22 certification if a court suspended their licenses due to lack of insurance coverage. A carrier, who specializes in SR-22 insurance, must file these forms directly with the state. It shows that the driver has the required liability insurance to drive in the state.

States require drivers to get this coverage when they have driven under the influence (DUI) convictions. They must carry this insurance when they have multiple at-fault accidents with no insurance. Others must get this coverage when a court suspended or revoked their driver's licenses.

Unfortunately, SR-22 certification is more expensive than regular insurance. Many states mandate convicted drivers to carry this insurance for three to five years, whether they drive or own a vehicle. If they do not comply, they may face stiff fines, legal penalties and have their licenses revoked. Individuals who don't have a car must get the non-owner SR-22 certification.

Need Proof of Insurance? Check Your Car Insurance Rates Today!

What if I Have an Accident Without Car Insurance?

Just think about how much repairs to a car can cost and then double it. If it's a simple fender bender, it can cost you hundreds, if not thousands of dollars to repair, depending on the accident's severity. 

  • You'll pay medical costs out of pocket. If you don't have insurance, you'll pay for medical fees and other expenses out of pocket if you've injured the driver and other passengers.

  • The other driver or their insurer could sue you. You may believe the only consequence of getting caught driving without insurance is a ticket for a couple of hundred dollars. If you have a car accident while uninsured, the other driver can sue you for thousands of dollars. The other driver's insurance carrier will sue you for their injuries and property damages, depending on how bad the accident was. You'll also face stiff legal penalties. 

  • You could lose your right to sue an at-fault party. You could lose the right to sue for damages, even if you're not at fault for damages. Have you heard about the No Pay, No Play law with car insurance? Some states, like Louisiana, have laws on the books that restrict your right to sue for damages if you were uninsured, but the accident was the other driver's fault. Let's say the accident was not your fault, but you had no car insurance. Depending on your state's laws, you may have to pay for your damages, even if the other driver wrecks your car and injures you and your passengers. If it's not clear whose fault the accident was, you won't have an advocate fighting for you and you will likely lose the case and have to pay for your damages at the very least.

  • You will receive a high-risk driver designation. If you lose your license because you didn't have insurance coverage, you may have to file an SR22. This insurance is expensive and created for especially high-risk drivers. You'll likely pay hundreds if not thousands more a year with an SR22 filing than paying for minimal insurance.

Do Local Authorities Actively Monitor Uninsured Drivers?

Yes, some states monitor drivers actively and some at random. In these areas, authorities conduct passive checks, but most places have a system to cross-check registered cars for insurance coverage. This means that you can get ticketed and have your license suspended without even getting pulled over.

What Should I Do if I am Caught Driving Without Insurance?

You may only have to pay a couple of hundred dollars a year to get insured. Don't even think about driving uninsured as an option because one ticket may be more than what you'd have paid, and your insurance rate will go up for years if you try to buy it after you're caught driving without insurance.

You'll also likely need to file an SR-22 certificate to get insured after a misdemeanor, which is very expensive. Instead of having a misdemeanor on your record and lots of hefty fines and fees, compare auto insurance quotes with just one company.

Are you an uninsured driver? You can use an online insurance comparison service to find a policy that's right for you. Enter your zip code to get started. You'll receive several free car insurance quotes by filling out one brief form.

Four Tips to Avoid Penalties for Driving without Insurance

  1. Avoid missing your insurance payments. When you're late, your insurance company may cancel your insurance policy.

  2. Don't use fake insurance cards. Some people may suggest that you fake your proof of insurance. It isn't a good idea. Using a fraudulent car will constitute as insurance fraud, which is illegal and can result in stiff penalties, including a ticket, fine and possible criminal charges.

  3. Alert your carrier before switching insurance. Are you changing insurance companies? Don't cancel your old insurance policy until you've known the date the new one will take effect. Also, continue making payments, or the insurance company will charge you with late fees.

  4. Follow your state DMV's rules before dropping insurance. Ask the department about the process to drop insurance coverage for cars you no longer drive.

Penalties for Uninsured Drivers by State

Uninsured drivers face criminal liability depending on where they live. Here is a list of penalties by state.

State

Monitoring Method

Penalties for Uninsured Drivers

AlabamaPassive

$500 - $1,000 fine

AlaskaPassive

$500 & license suspension

ArizonaActive

$500 - $1,000 fine, license suspension

ArkansasActive

$50 - $250 fine

CaliforniaActive

$100 - $200 fine, license suspension

ColoradoActive

$500, license suspension

ConnecticutActive

$100 - $1,000, license suspension

DelawarePassive

$1,500-$3,000 fine, license suspension

FloridaActive

$150 - $500 fine, license suspension

GeorgiaActive

$25 - $185 fine, license suspension

HawaiiPassive

$500 - $5,000 fine, license suspension

IdahoPassive

$75 - $1,000 fine, license suspension

IllinoisPassive

$500 - $1,000 fine, license suspension

IowaPassive

$250 fine, license suspension

KansasPassive

$300 - $2,500 fine, license suspension

KentuckyActive

$500 - $1,000 fine, license suspension

LouisianaActive

$500 - $1,000 fine

MainePassive

$100 - $500 fine, license suspension

MarylandActive

$1,000 - $2,500 fine

MassachusettsPassive

$500 - $5,000 fine, license suspension

MichiganPassive

$200 - $500 fine, license suspension

MinnesotaPassive

$200 - $3,000 fine, license suspension

MississippiPassive

$1,000 fine, license suspension

MissouriPassive

$500 fine, license suspension

MontanaPassive

$250 - $500 fine, license suspension

NebraskaPassive

$50 fine, license suspension

NevadaActive

$250 - $1,000 fine, license suspension

New HampshireActive

License suspension after the accident

New JerseyActive

$300 - $5,000 fine, license suspension

New MexicoActive

$300 - $1,000 fine

New YorkActive

$140 - $1,500 fine, license suspension

North CarolinaActive

$50 - $150 fine, license suspension

North DakotaPassive

$150 - $5,000 fine, license suspension

OhioPassive

$160 - $660 fine, license suspension

OklahomaActive

$250 fine, license suspension

OregonPassive

$130 - $1,000 fine, license suspension

PennsylvaniaActive

$300 fine, license suspension

Rhode IslandPassive

$100 - $1,000 fine, license suspension

South CarolinaActive

$100 - $550 fine, license suspension

South DakotaPassive

$100 - $500 fine, license suspension

TennesseeActive

$25 - $300 fine, license suspension

TexasActive

$175 - $1,000 fine, license suspension

UtahActive

$400 - $1,000 fine, license suspension

VermontPassive

$0 - $500 fine, license suspension

VirginiaActive

$500 fine, license suspension

WashingtonPassive

$550 - $1,000 fine, license suspension

West VirginiaActive

$200 - $5,000 fine, license suspension

WisconsinPassive

$10 - $500 fine, license suspension

WyomingPassive

$250 - $1,500 fine, license suspension

Instead of driving without insurance, buy affordable insurance for your vehicle by comparison shopping can save you up to 40 percent on your car insurance rates. Online insurance comparison tools, like SmartFinancial, can help. Just enter your zip code, and you'll get a quote from several local insurers within your area.

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