Driving without insurance is illegal in almost all states in the U.S. Still, the consequences of motorists driving without coverage vary significantly depending on the state where you do so. Punishment can be a fine or might include a visit to jail. If you make a habit of driving without insurance and are caught, as a repeat offender punishment can be pretty severe.
What Kind of Insurance is Required?
To drive, you must have a valid driver’s license, and your car must have a license plate. Likewise, most states will mandate that you have car insurance coverage for every auto that is registered to you. If you do not own a car, you must be added to the owner’s insurance policy or buy your own auto insurance policy to drive.
The only state that does not require car insurance is New Hampshire, but you will be required to demonstrate that you can pay for any injuries or damage that result from an accident that is your fault. In New Hampshire, insurance is one method that you can use.
Individual states will determine the minimum insurance coverage for their territory and providers will ensure that you meet those minimum requirements when purchasing a policy. All states except for Florida require motorists to carry liability coverage for bodily injury and property damage.
In Florida, you are only required to have liability coverage for damage to property. If you cause an accident, liability coverage for bodily injury will pay for any medical costs of those riding in the other car. Coverage for property damage will pay for damage to the other auto or for damaged property such as a mailbox, lawn, fencing, or other.
At least 18 states require PIP- Personal Injury Protection insurance or medical payment insurance. A few states also mandate uninsured/underinsured motorist insurance.
Remember that the states may dictate the minimum amount of coverage that you must carry, but it may be worth your while to carry more if you drive a lot, and your finances permit you to contract more.
What Happens if I Drive Without Insurance?
Driving while uninsured is a serious business, and depending on where you reside and your driving history, the consequences can be severe. Penalties will depend on the situation you are involved in and if you are a repeat offender having been caught driving without insurance in the past. Typical penalties include:
- Fines and financial responsibilities
Legal fines can cost a few hundred to several thousand dollars, but often financial consequences do not end with fines. If you have an accident, you may be held responsible for medical expenses and repair costs if you are at fault, and in many states, you can be sued.
- Having your vehicle impounded or the registration revoked
A court can order that your car be impounded along with revoking the registration and your license. You will have to show proof of insurance, usually an SR-22 to undo these penalties. New Jersey requires you to submit proof within 24 hours or risk impoundment and a revoked registration. Other states may impound vehicles for 30 days.
- A suspended license
Some states will suspend your license, but the length will vary. In some places, it will be sufficient to show proof of insurance or file an SR-22 such as in Wisconsin, while other states may suspend licenses for a specific period like Massachusetts which suspends driving privileges for 60 days. Reactivating a license can be costly.
- Jail time
Even though driving without insurance is considered a misdemeanor in many states it can still get you jail time, especially if you cause an accident or are a repeat violator. Jail time can be several days to several weeks. But in Michigan, it could last a year.
- Being required to obtain an SR-22 certificate
SR-22 insurance can be required for one to three years if you are driving while uninsured.
- Insurance premiums increase
It is worth noting that forgetting your proof of insurance and driving uninsured are separate violations and will have different penalties. If you are insured but have forgotten your proof of insurance, you may receive a lesser penalty if you present proof of insurance within an established timeframe.
Getting Pulled Over Without Insurance
If you drive without insurance and are stopped, you will probably be fined if you are a first-time offender. Some states may charge as much as $5000 for these violations. Some states, however, may also suspend your license for a specific period or after you prove you have acquired insurance, or they may require you to file an SR-22 with the state.
Your car may be confiscated and impounded until you pay a fine and procure insurance coverage. Driving without insurance can also increase your insurance premiums when you do acquire it.
Being Involved in an Accident Without Insurance
The penalties for driving without insurance will apply here but will probably be considerably more severe. It is probable that you will have both your car impounded and your license suspended as well as receive a hefty fine.
In a worst-case scenario, you may also be liable for any injuries and property damage resulting from the accident which could potentially wipe you out financially well into the future. Consult a lawyer to help you assess the options available to you.
In the event of an accident without insurance, California will suspend your license for a year and levy hefty fines. Florida will fine you but only suspend your license until you show proof of insurance although the state may mandate SR-22 insurance.
Texas will suspend your license and car registration for as long as two years and mandate that you file an SR-22 for three years following the accident. New York will revoke both license and vehicle registration for a period from one to three years. In all these states your auto can be impounded.
Can the Police Verify if I Have Insurance?
Some police departments may be able to access an insurance database that contains all insured vehicles with license plates. In these cases, you may not be required to show proof of insurance.
Punishments Across States for Uninsured Motorists
Individual states determine what the penalties are for driving uninsured in their territory. Some will have less severe punishments while others may send you to prison. No state, however, will permit you to drive without guaranteeing financial responsibility.
All states will impose penalties of some type for driving without insurance, and future insurance premiums will be more expensive.
Purchasing your state’s required minimum liability insurance will inevitably cost less than the financial repercussions of driving without insurance or even worse, the financial responsibilities of being uninsured when at fault for an accident. Shop around, but make sure you are insured before you get behind the wheel.