If you consider yourself to be a safe driver, you may not always see the value in carrying car insurance. But accidents can happen to anyone, no matter how smart or safe you think you are on the road. One collision while uninsured is enough to wipe you out financially and even result in jail time. Outlined below is what you could be facing if you are caught driving without car insurance. Penalties range from tickets to weeks in jail, depending on the circumstances of your case. Accidents happen in seconds, and if you lack insurance, the penalties that follow can stay with you for years and years.
Do You Need Auto Insurance to Drive?
You may have been told that car insurance is important but is it legally required? Yes -depending on the state you reside in. 48 states and the District of Columbia require drivers to carry at least a certain amount of auto insurance in order to be considered legal drivers. If you live in New Hampshire, auto insurance coverage is only required under certain conditions. For the state of Virginia, you do not need auto insurance, but you are expected to pay a yearly uninsured motorist fee to the state. Despite there being some states that do not require it, auto insurance is very important to have. It protects not only you but also others on the road should you end up in a serious collision. Not to mention you will face some serious penalties for choosing to drive uninsured in nearly every state. These penalties are time-consuming and financially draining. Don’t jeopardize yourself and any assets by ignoring car insurance requirements.
State Car Insurance Requirements
Specific car insurance requirements vary state by state, but you can expect every state to require you to carry liability insurance. Liability insurance covers damage and injuries you cause in an accident. It will never cover any personal injuries you sustain or damage to your property. Liability insurance required by states is as follows:
- Bodily injury liability - This type of insurance covers medical expenses if you cause injuries to the other driver in an accident. The coverage amount your state will require you to at least carry can range from as low as $10,000 to as high as $100,000 per accident.
- Property damage liability - This covers damage to the other party’s property, including their vehicle, following an accident you have caused. Required coverage limits also range in a similar fashion to bodily injury liability limits.
When you go to purchase liability insurance, you will see coverage limits. For example, liability insurance limits for the state of Texas can be written out as 30/60/25. Each number corresponds to a different type of coverage and how much your insurer will pay up to in the event of a claim. For the Texas insurance example, you must carry at least $25,000 in property damage liability, $30,000 in bodily injury liability per person, and $60,000 in bodily injury liability per accident in order to be considered a legal driver.
Some states mandate drivers carry other types of insurance in addition to liability coverage, like personal injury protection and uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage. This is to ensure that all parties will be covered adequately in the event of a collision. Check with your state’s department of insurance prior to purchasing a policy in order to make sure you are meeting the legal requirements. Skimping on insurance can be incredibly harmful, as we will explore in the sections below.
Penalties For Driving Without Proof of Insurance
Driving without insurance and driving without proof of insurance are two separate ballparks. Driving without proof of insurance means that you do carry car insurance but do not have your insurance card, declaration page, or insurance binder on hand. Generally, driving without being able to provide proof of insurance has less severe consequences than driving uninsured. If you are unable to show proof, you typically will be required to submit proof within a specified timeframe.
You could be hit with some unfortunate penalties on top of the submission requirement. Some of these may only be enacted if you fail to provide proof. You could be facing any of the following if you are pulled over and unable to provide proof of insurance:
- Tickets and subsequent fees
- License suspension
- Vehicle impoundment
- SR22 filing requirement
- Possible jail time
The penalties you will be facing vary widely depending on any damage caused, how many previous infractions you have acquired, and the state you are driving in. For example, in the state of California, if you are found to be driving without proof of insurance, you can face fines of up to $700, and the responding officer may impound your car. While in Texas, you could just be facing fines of almost $2,000.
Penalties For Driving Without Insurance
Driving without insurance and getting into an accident uninsured can be disastrous for not only you but also the other driver involved. It is all especially escalated if the other driver does not have uninsured motorist coverage. Vehicle repairs and medical bills from just one accident can be thousands and thousands of dollars, even millions. On top of this, you could be facing significant fines, SR22 filing requirements, vehicle impoundment, and even jail time. A full look at the penalties for getting into or causing an accident while uninsured can be found below.
It is likely your license will be suspended following being caught driving without car insurance. How long it will be suspended varies by state laws. Some states end the suspension once you file an SR22 certificate, while others set the suspension for a specific period of time. If your license is suspended at all can also be decided based on your involvement in the collision. If you are found to be the at-fault driver and thus financially responsible, then your state may revoke your license based on that fact alone. Other states may be more strict and suspend your license following any traffic violation.
Fees And Fines
Much like any other traffic violation, there are a number of fines and fees that come from getting a conviction. Driving without insurance is no exception to this. Some states have fines as high as $2,000. What you will be paying can depend on what state you are in, the circumstances of your offense, and how many prior violations you have. Expect to also pay reinstatement fees in order to get back your license should it be suspended. There are also SR22 filing fees if you are required to file. It is important to note that fees and fines regarding the violation are not the only expenses.
In a number of states, driving uninsured is a misdemeanor that can potentially lead to you spending some time in jail. Jail time typically is not imposed following a first-time offense unless you are responsible for a serious accident. But repeat offenses can come with stiffer penalties, including jail time. Being caught driving without insurance can result in jail time ranging from a few days to a couple of weeks. In some states, you could be facing up to one year.
There is a number of fines and payments you may need to make following being caught driving without insurance. Legal fines can cost thousands of dollars alone. However, if you cause an accident while uninsured, you can be facing almost millions of dollars in medical expenses and auto repair bills. If you are found to be at fault, you will be expected to pick up where the other party’s insurance can’t. This is especially true if they are not carrying uninsured motorist coverage, personal injury protection (PIP), or collision insurance. You may even be sued by the other party, which leads to more headaches financially. The cost of an accident is enough to put you in debt or even bankruptcy.
Being caught driving without insurance, especially if you have caused an accident, a court may order your vehicle to be impounded. Your license and registration would then be revoked as well. It is very likely that you will not regain control of either until you have submitted proof of insurance. This is typically done through filing an SR22. Repossessing your vehicle may also come with reinstatement fees. There could also be a minimum amount of time your vehicle must stay impounded.
It is almost guaranteed that you will need to have SR22 insurance following a major traffic violation, especially after driving without insurance. This will also be the case if you cause an accident while uninsured. SR22 insurance isn’t a type of insurance but instead, proof of financial responsibility that shows your state you carry at least the mandatory minimum amount of auto insurance. You will have to find an insurance provider to purchase a policy from, and they will handle the filing. Filing may come with its own fees set by your insurance company. You can also expect to pay some hefty premiums due to their negligent history.
Letting Car Insurance Coverage Lapse
Simply letting your car insurance policy lapse is not a crime. This is perfectly legal to do and part of your right as a consumer. However, if you are deciding to let your coverage lapse, do not go out driving. You should also keep in mind that insurance providers do not like to see that you have a history of insurance coverage lapses. While you can do it, they may find it to mean you are unreliable or even a high-risk driver. Your insurability risk goes up with such a blemish on your insurance history. When you go to repurchase insurance, you may be paying much more than what you originally were. It is also possible that your car’s registration can lapse automatically if you let your insurance policy expire. So, while you absolutely can just let your insurance go away, you may not exactly want to.
Car Insurance When Driving Vehicles You Don’t Own
There are two instances you may find yourself driving a vehicle that you do not own: when you are borrowing someone else’s car and when you need a rental car. During these moments, you may be unsure about what insurance coverage you possess while operating such vehicles. When it comes to borrowing someone else’s car, it is important to remember that car insurance is tied to the vehicle, not the driver. This means that if you are driving someone else’s vehicle, the owner’s insurance policy will have to cover any accidents that can occur. When it comes to renting a vehicle, most rental companies protect the vehicle with the state’s mandatory minimum amount of car insurance. You do not have to purchase extra auto insurance, but it may be wise to do if you already have car insurance and frequently rent vehicles. Since mandatory insurance typically only covers the other driver in an accident, you will want protection for the vehicle you are driving. Your personal auto insurance policy will still apply in most cases when renting a car.
Finding Car Insurance
Despite it being required, there are hundreds, even thousands of drivers out there that do not carry any car insurance. Many drivers cite various reasons for not having insurance, from not being able to afford it to believing the cost outweighs risks. However, the consequences that come from driving without insurance can be detrimental to your livelihood and financial position. It is reckless and shameful to drive without insurance. If you are struggling to obtain car insurance coverage, there are a number of ways to find the best policy for you. Outlined below are some tips for finding good auto insurance coverage that meets both your needs and your budget.
Shopping around for car insurance with several quotes is the best way to get an idea of what you will be paying and the type of coverage a company can provide. You should get at least three quotes from a diverse range of insurance providers. Make sure you look both nationally and locally as local providers are more likely to insure you if you are high-risk. National insurers tend not to want to touch high-risk drivers. Quotes are available for free, usually on the provider’s website or over the phone. Every insurance company determines its premiums differently due to its algorithms. However, they will look at where you live, your driving record, and the type of coverage you want, among other general things. Be honest and open about your insurance history to get the most accurate quote.
Car Insurance Discounts
As you shop for insurance, you should always ask about discounts. Insurance companies offer drivers a number of discounts. For example, if you have a clean driving record, you may be eligible for a company’s safe driving discount. Other common car insurance discounts include:
- Good student discount
- Senior driver
- Employment or group affiliation
- Advance premium payment
Enquire with your insurance agent about any discounts that may be available to you. If you already own an insurance policy like homeowners’ insurance, you may be able to bundle your policies for a reduced rate. Bundling means purchasing multiple insurance policies under one company. This is handy for people who already have a number of active policies. Little discounts add up over time and can give you a pretty nice break on your premiums.
Understanding Insurance Coverage Limits
In order to avoid facing any of the penalties that have been outlined in this piece, you simply need to purchase at least the state-mandated minimum amount of car insurance. Just having this required liability coverage amount will have you covered from any legal consequences following an accident. Other types of coverage, like collision and comprehensive insurance, are typically not required by states. However, just because a type of insurance is not required does not mean it isn’t incredibly useful. You should consider purchasing beyond the mandatory amounts of coverage. Utilizing policy add-ons and expanding coverage limits can help protect your finances following an accident. Without strong coverage, you will be on the hook for medical expenses and auto repairs.
Assigned Risk State Insurance Programs
If you can afford insurance but are being labeled a high-risk driver by insurers, it may be helpful to look into your state’s assigned risk program. Each state runs its program a little differently, but, in general, an assigned risk program is a market for drivers who are too risky to be insured to find insurance. Rather than just having a policy under one insurer, multiple insurance companies will participate in the program and pool together to collectively take on the risk you pose. You can expect insurance rates to be a little high, but you will at least be covered and able to drive legally.
Low-Income Car Insurance
If you are unable to find affordable car insurance, your state may offer a low-income auto insurance program. Very few states offer this, but it may be beneficial to look into if you need to drive yet cannot provide yourself with the proper coverage. Some of these programs set income limits that you must fall under in order to be eligible to participate. For example, in California, the California Low-Cost Automobile (CLCA) insurance program offers residents liability and underinsured motorist coverage. To apply, you must be within 250% of the federal poverty limit and own a car worth less than $25,000. You must also possess a good driving record. Even with its requirements, this may be a very valuable option for you if you are struggling to purchase car insurance. With these programs, there may be a yearly rate you will have to pay to the state for the coverage, but it will be greatly more affordable than if you were to go through a commercial insurance company.
Car Insurance For Undocumented Immigrants
If you are an undocumented immigrant, chances are you do not have a driver’s license and therefore struggle to get any type of insurance coverage. But just because you do not have insurance or a license does not mean you are not driving occasionally. Getting caught in such a situation does not only mean you may be facing penalties and fines but you could also be deported. A number of states and Washington D.C. have implemented programs offering undocumented immigrants a chance to get legitimate driver’s licenses. By obtaining a driver’s license, you can be one step closer to getting car insurance. This should take a lot of stress off you. And if you are struggling to afford insurance, utilize one of the many tips explored above to get the coverage you need.