You’re driving down the highway on your way home from work. Out of the corner of your eyes, you notice something concerning: red and blue flashing lights. It’s a police car.
They must be on the way to the scene of an accident. But they don’t go around you. It is at this moment when you realize it is YOU that is being pulled over. You gently pull off to the side of the road and roll down your window in anticipation of the approaching officer.
The first thing he says is, “License, Registration, AND PROOF OF INSURANCE”.
A pit forms in the center of your stomach as you scramble to pull out everything he asked for. But there is a problem. You don’t have valid insurance on your vehicle.
This is an all too common scenario, and one that raises a lot of questions in the minds of drivers. One of which is “What Happens if You are Caught Driving Without Car Insurance?”
Most of us know that you are ‘supposed’ to have car insurance, but not many of us are aware of the legality of NOT having valid insurance, or what the consequences are of driving without it if you’re caught.
In this guide we’ll cover everything you need to know about driving without car insurance, and what you can expect to happen if you find yourself caught without it.
Do you Have to Have Insurance to Drive?
We all know that having insurance is the safe and responsible thing to do, but is it required?
Despite what you may or may not have heard, and despite some people’s beliefs that it is ‘optional’, all states (with the notable exception of New Hampshire) require drivers to carry valid insurance for any vehicle registered in their name.
Now that we’ve cleared that up, what are the consequences of driving without insurance? This is where things get a bit tricky. Although all states mandate that any individual with a car registered to their name must have insurance on that car, the actual consequences for not doing so do vary from state to state.
That said, the consequences generally consist of some time of fine or fee, impounding of your car, suspension or loss of license, and in some cases, even jail time.
Is it Illegal Not to Have Car Insurance?
The “Rules of the Road” may vary from state to state, but one thing remains consistent no matter where you live: it is illegal to drive your car without insurance.
There are very few exceptions to this rule. For example, a few states allow the driver to be personally liable and financially responsible for any damage or accidents caused by their vehicle. Drivers in such states must be able to prove that they meet any financial responsibility requirements set by that state, in place of insurance.
In all other cases, if you are unable to provide proof of insurance (or a state posted bond) when operating a vehicle on American roadways, you are in violation of state law. Even in situations where your vehicle is no longer in use, insurance has a multitude of benefits, covering you for liability and potential damage to property, as well as from losses caused by theft or break-ins.
How Much Insurance Is Required by Law?
All states, with the exception of NH, require the owner of a vehicle to have a minimum amount of coverage on their car. The minimum amount of required insurance varies per state, although there are some similarities we can highlight for you.
All States Require (at a minimum), the following coverage:
- Bodily Injury Liability
This coverage provides financial compensation for any medical costs injured by others within the vehicle. Generally, bodily injury liability caps out at around $20k-$100k per accident and between $10k-$20k per person.
- Property Damage Liability
This coverage provides financial compensation to account for any damage caused to another drivers’ vehicle and/or personal property in the vehicle, as well as any other property damage as a direct result of the accident. Coverage usually varies from between $10k-$25k per incident.
SR22 Coverage – Helping Drivers Meet the Legal Minimum Requirements
Unfortunately, not everyone can get ‘regular insurance’. Past accidents, DUI’s and other circumstances may make them ineligible under the terms of insurance providers. Yet, these individuals still need to meet the state’s minimum requirements to drive.
For them, SR-22 insurance is often the ideal solution. Unlike insurance, SR-22 is a ‘certificate of insurance’ that satisfactorily proves to the state that you carry adequate car insurance.
Although not actually an insurance policy, an SR-22 provides a ‘certificate of financial responsibility’ that enables you to meet your state’s coverage requirements to legally operate a car on it’s roadways.
What Are the Consequences of Driving Without Insurance?
Driving without insurance is risky, and if caught, brings with it a tidal wave of consequences. The exact consequences will vary depending on if you’ve had any prior offenses, what state you are in, and more.
As a first-time offender of driving without proof of insurance, you may be subject to hefty fines, while repeat offenders may face significantly harsher penalties.
Common Consequences Include:
- Fees and fines
- Traffic ticket
- License suspension
- License revocation
- Increased insurance costs
- License reinstatement fees
- Vehicle impounding
- Court appearances
- Legal fees
- Jail time
- And more…
But its not just state-imposed penalties you need to be worried about. Other drivers can personally sue you for their damages and medical bills in the event of an asset. Although you might think ‘go ahead I don’t have much to sue for’, what many people fail to realize is that a court can garnish your WAGES for decades to come to pay any civil awards made in favor of the plaintiff.
Suspension of Your License
Whether or not you will face license suspension depends on both the jurisdiction you’re in as well as the circumstances of your case.
If suspended, the duration can vary. In some cases the suspension can be as short as the time it takes you to show proof of insurance or file an SR-22. In other cases, your license may be suspended for a set period of time determined by the court and/or state law.
If you are involved in an accident without insurance, the court may order your vehicle to be impounded. But that’s not all. In most cases, this process also involves a revocation of your vehicle registration, resulting in increased fees and inconvenience.
Any violation of state law should be taken seriously. Driving without insurance is no exception to this rule. The majority of states in the USA classify driving without insurance as a misdemeanor criminal offense. Although jail time is generally not imposed for a first-time offender, those who are involved in a serious accident or who have exhibited repeat violations may be subject to a harsher sentence from the judge.
How long are we talking about? As little jail time as a few days up to two weeks in most states. That said, states such as Michigan take this crime seriously, imposing sentences ranging up to a full year behind bars.
Virtually every consequence related to getting caught driving without car insurance is financially costly. From legal fees, to court fines, license reinstatement, impound fees and more, when its all said and done, these can really add up.
Let’s Take a Look at Some Examples of What to Expect:
- Court costs (varies)
- Imposed fees and fines (up to $1500)
- Attorney/Lawyer fees (up to thousands)
- License reinstatement (hundreds)
When all is said and done, the costs involved when found guilty of driving without a license can range from as low as $200 all the way up to $5000 plus once all associated costs are added in.
You may also have to factor in time off work, the potential for losing your job (if you can’t drive to and from work), or the costs of now having to use public transportation.
Further, if you are unfortunate enough to have crashed into a driver who did not have personal injury protection, collision insurance or ‘uninsured motorist insurance’, you may end up being on the hook for tens (if not hundreds) of thousands in medical bills and repair costs.
Don’t Get Caught Off Guard
We get it. Insurance is expensive. But it’s nowhere near as costly as it could be for your wallet, reputation and record if you get caught without it.
Getting pulled over without proof of insurance, or without insurance, carries a range of penalties that can haunt you for years to come. Don’t put yourself at risk.
Luckily there are cost-effective options available even for those who already have less than stellar driving records. With options such as SR-22, drivers in any state can easily and affordably get coverage that enables them to legally meet their state’s mandated minimum coverage requirements. A far better option than risking it all by driving without coverage.