If you’ve registered a car in the state where you live, you know that you’re required to have auto insurance. You can’t even show up to the DMV for your plates without proof of insurance, after all that time in line, they’ll just send you away and tell you, “better luck next time!”
But what if your car is already registered and you allow your insurance to lapse? What are the penalties for driving without car insurance, if any? This guide will give you an overview of why you should keep your car insured and what happens if you don’t.
Car Insurance: State Minimums
Each of the 51 states in the country has minimum requirements for car insurance. You’ll usually need to pay for:
- Personal property damage liability, and
- Bodily injury liability coverage
But in many states, you’re also required to be covered by:
- Uninsured/underinsured motorist property damage liability
- Uninsured/underinsured motorist bodily injury liability coverage
- Personal injury protection (PIP)
It’s absolutely imperative that you carry proof of insurance with you wherever you drive. Whether you keep your binder in your glove box, your card in your wallet, or a policy number on your phone, you’ll need the information in the event of an accident or traffic stop.
Should you fail to provide this information to law enforcement, there are a wealth of penalties you might face. These penalties will vary with your state, but in the next sections, we’ll take a look at the basics of what could happen if you’re caught driving uninsured.
Suspension of Your Driving Privileges
In most regions of the United States, a license suspension is the immediate consequence of driving without insurance. This comes in three very inconvenient forms.
- Your license can be suspended
- Your registration can be suspended
- Your license plates can be seized immediately
As you’d imagine, this can be quite costly. Not only will you have no transportation for the duration until you can reinstate your privileges, it’s also quite expensive to pay the fees to do so.
Court, State, and Other Fines
In many states, you’ll be imposed a mandatory fine for driving without insurance. This is one of the inevitable penalties for driving without insurance unless you can prove in court that you were insured at the time of the incident.
Fines will vary greatly by state. In some states, payment plans are offered to assist you. In other states, you can be assessed up to $5,000 for driving with no insurance.
The amount you’ll pay as a fine may depend on factors such as the number of offenses and how long you’ve been uninsured.
Yes, you can go to jail for up to a year if you’re caught driving without insurance. Again, this will sometimes depend on the severity of the circumstance and the length of time you’ve been uninsured.
Keep incarceration in mind when your auto insurance bill is due. Bail, attorney’s fees, and other associated costs are much more expensive than that $107 per month you’re paying for the state minimum insurance coverage.
Your car can be impounded if you’re caught driving without insurance. In addition to your driver’s license and registration reinstatement fees, retrieving your vehicle from the lot will cost you a pretty penny.
Of course, if your vehicle is impounded you might have a hard time getting to work. That’s a secondary cost of driving without insurance in many states.
In some cases, particularly if you’ve been caught without insurance multiple times, the state will require that you establish an SR-22. This is a statement from your insurance provider proving that you carry liability insurance.
While an SR-22 may not seem like a big deal right now, just wait until you have to buy your next policy. By being required to have an SR-22, you’re showing that you’re high-risk. Don’t be surprised if your next insurance quote is significantly higher than the quote you received before your SR-22 requirement.
Financial Responsibility for Accidents
Perhaps even worse than jail time is this penalty for driving without insurance: you’re financially responsible for accidents.
If you’re found to be at fault in a motor vehicle accident and are not carrying insurance, the financial burden is yours. Just a little fender-bender on a side road? Maybe that won’t be a problem for you. But imagine you’re responsible for a 6-vehicle pile-up on the freeway.
You will be paying not only for your own vehicle’s damage and medical bills, but the damage to cars and the medical treatments of all drivers and passengers in the other vehicles. Ouch!
Conclusion: Penalties for Driving Without Car Insurance
The penalties for driving without car insurance are usually much more costly than simply carrying your state minimum requirements. Be sure you keep your insurance card or other proof of insurance on you at all times when you’re driving so that you can avoid very expensive fines, fees, and responsibilities.