Nearly every U.S. state requires drivers to have car insurance. If you're caught driving without insurance, you could face various penalties depending on the state and the circumstances. These penalties include fines, the suspension of your license and registration, and even jail time. You could also be held personally liable for any damages or injuries you cause in an accident. This means that if you’re sued, a court could order garnishment of your savings, assets, or future wages to force you to pay.
You need car insurance to drive
48 states and the District of Columbia require drivers to carry at least minimum levels of liability insurance. Penalties for driving without insurance vary by state and by the specific circumstances under which you’re caught. Here’s what could happen based on some common scenarios.
Penalties for Driving Without Proof of Insurance (but are insured)
To help illustrate this scenario, imagine you’re pulled over for a traffic violation. The officer asks for your license, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance. You’re insured but don't have the proof with you.
In most cases, the penalties for being unable to provide proof of insurance at the scene (as long as you are insured) are less severe than the penalties for actually being uninsured while you drive. This is provided you can show proof within a set time established by your state’s law.
Penalties usually include fines, processing fees, plus the appropriate fine for your traffic violation.
Penalties for Driving without Insurance
In this scenario, you’re asked for proof of insurance but cannot provide it because you’re actually uninsured. In this scenario, the penalties are more severe. They may vary based on your driving history and the type of driving infraction you’ve committed.
Potential penalties include a traffic ticket and fines, license suspension, vehicle impoundment, SR-22 insurance requirements, and jail time.
Penalties for Getting Into an Accident While Uninsured
The most severe scenario for driving without insurance involves your causing an accident. This scenario could be financially devastating for you, especially if the other involved driver doesn’t have uninsured motorist coverage.
Most states consider driving without insurance to be a misdemeanor, and penalties vary based on the exact circumstances of the accident. These penalties can include hefty fines, suspension of driving privileges, vehicle impoundment, SR-22 insurance requirements, and jail time of up to a year.
You can also be held financially responsible for any vehicle damage or injuries you cause. With no insurance, you’d need to pay for these “damages” out of pocket. The other driver could sue to ensure you pay out of your savings, liquidation of assets, or future wages. According to the III, the average cost of a bodily injury claim in 2020 (including the insurer’s expenses to settle the claim) was $20,235. You’d be responsible for those costs if uninsured!
The bottom line is that driving while uninsured is a bad idea — one that can have dire legal and financial consequences.
How to get car insurance when you’re uninsured
Here are a few tips to get car insurance when you’re uninsured.
Need car insurance right away? Shop online
Many of the country’s leading car insurance companies sell policies online, 24/7. You can get a policy, including a printable proof of insurance card, usually in a few minutes.
Want to save money on car insurance? Shop around
Rates can vary by hundreds of dollars between insurance companies. So choose at least three companies and do comparison quotes. Follow these additional tips to lower your car insurance premium.
Need help understanding your car insurance options? Talk to an independent agent
Independent insurance agents typically represent multiple insurance companies. They can discuss your needs and budget, and match you with a car insurance policy that’s right for you. Find an independent insurance agent in your area.
Frequently asked questions (FAQ)
Is driving without car insurance illegal?
Driving without insurance is illegal in 49 states and the District of Columbia. One state, New Hampshire, doesn't require insurance. But it does require drivers to be financially responsible for any injuries or property damage they cause in an accident.
Is driving without car insurance a felony?
Driving without insurance is generally classified as a misdemeanor. However, depending on the circumstances under which you’re caught, penalties can range from fines and fees to license suspension and jail time.
Can my license be suspended for driving without car insurance?
Yes, your license can be suspended for driving without insurance. While laws vary by state and the circumstances under which you’re caught, driving without insurance can often lead to suspension of your driving privileges.
Do I need insurance to get or renew a driver’s license?
Laws vary by state, so check with your state’s bureau of motor vehicles for more information. Keep in mind that while some states don't require insurance to get a driver's license, nearly every state requires insurance to drive.
What can I do if I can’t afford insurance?
There are many things you can do to save money on car insurance. Your best bet is to get quotes from multiple companies and ask about discounts. You can also look into pay-per-mile and usage-based car insurance programs, which can help some drivers save based on their driving habits.
If car insurance is still beyond your means, consider public transportation, carpooling, or other ways to get around. While less convenient, these options can save you from significant legal and financial trouble if you’re caught driving without insurance.
Which states don’t require insurance?
New Hampshire doesn’t mandate insurance but does require its drivers to be financially responsible for any damage or injuries they cause. Virginia gives drivers the option to either purchase car insurance or pay a $500 annual uninsured motorist fee. This allows a driver to be uninsured at their own risk.
In either case, being uninsured means the driver is personally responsible for any damage or injuries resulting from an accident.