If you drive in the U.S., you simply have to have car insurance. It’s the law. (Even residents of New Hampshire, the only state which technically does not require residents to carry insurance, must prove they could pay damages if they cause a wreck.) According to ASIRT, over 37,000 people die in car crashes every year in the U.S., 2.3 million are injured or disabled, and these crashes cost the country over $230 billion annually — insurance is intended to protect drivers (and their property) from these risks. So what happens if you get caught driving without insurance? The Zebra’s licensed insurance agent and adviser Neil Richardson says you’ll likely face the following four consequences:
1: You’ll Get a Ticket
A ticket is a given if you’re caught driving without auto insurance. If you’re pulled over by highway patrol for speeding (or any other offense), or you get into a wreck, on top of any other fines and fees you incur, you’ll also be fined for driving without insurance. In some states, the fees can be thousands of dollars.
But the penalties don’t end there.
2: Your License Will be Suspended
If you’re caught driving without insurance, your license can be suspended until you are able to provide proof of insurance, and you’ll have to pay to have it reinstated. How long of a suspension you’ll face depends on the requirements of your state. After a few suspensions, you could have your license permanently taken away. Even worse: when you do shop for insurance, you’ll have to pay a higher rate.
3: Your Car Might Get Towed
If the police catch you driving without insurance, they could prevent you from continuing to drive by having your car towed. You don’t even need to be in a car wreck first—if you’re pulled over for speeding, or even for failing to use your turn signal, you could find yourself with a towed and impounded vehicle. You won’t be able to get your vehicle out of the impound lot until you provide proof of insurance. You’ll also rack up impound fees while you sort out insurance, and some impound lots will send your vehicle to auction rather quickly—in New York City, the auction process begins 72 hours after impound, and cars can be sold in as few as 10 days. Richardson says police don’t want to let uninsured drivers go because they could cause a collision with no ability to pay for repairs or injuries.
When it comes to towing, police officers have discretion. If you do have insurance, but you just don’t have the card with you (or if your insurance card is expired but your policy is current), the officer may decide to only issue you a ticket for lack of insurance—you won’t even have to pay the ticket if you take your proof of insurance to the court house. The catch: you actually have to have an insurance policy that was current at the time the ticket was issued.
4: You May Have to Pay Damages Out of Pocket
If you’re found to be at fault in a crash and don’t have auto insurance, you’ll likely be financially responsible for the other driver’s repair bills and medical expenses. If you refuse or are unable to pay, the other driver could sue you, which means court and lawyer fees on top of the expenses from damages caused in the crash.
States are Cracking Down
The number of uninsured drivers varies widely by state—in Oklahoma, 26 percent of drivers are uninsured, while in Massachusetts, just under four percent of drivers are uninsured. The national average of uninsured drivers is around 12 percent.
In some states, police officers aren’t waiting for people driving without insurance to get pulled over, but instead are out looking for them. In Arizona, for example, the police run random tests to see if registered vehicles are insured, and if they aren’t, the police will suspend the owner’s license. Illinois sends questionnaires to registered drivers asking them to state their insurance company and policy number. Failure to return the questionnaire results in suspended license plates. And Louisiana just began real-time auto insurance monitoring; during traffic stops, police will be able to automatically check drivers’ auto insurance coverage (or lack thereof).
Which States Monitor Uninsured Drivers – And What’s the Penalty If/When They Get Caught?
All states, with the exception of New Hampshire, have mandatory insurance laws for vehicles driven by their residents in an attempt to decrease the number of uninsured drivers. As of January 27, 2017:
- Active Monitoring: 22 states now electronically monitor whether or not vehicles registered in their respective states are currently insured and issue fines for lapsed coverage
- Passive Monitoring: 28 states rely on monitoring insurance compliance through traffic stops, after accidents, or at registration renewal
- Database: 27 states currently have a system in place to verify – on the spot – whether a vehicle is insured (although not all states actively monitor their databases)
- Penalties: Penalties vary state to state and may or may not result in additional penalties outside of fines and license suspensions.
|State||Requires Insurance?||Database||Monitoring Method||Penalties|
|Alaska||Yes||No||Passive monitoring||$500/license suspension|
|Arizona||Yes||Yes||Active monitoring||$500-$1,000/license suspension|
|California||Yes||Yes||Active monitoring||$100-$200/license suspension|
|Colorado||Yes||Yes||Active monitoring||$500/license suspension|
|Connecticut||Yes||Yes||Active monitoring||$50-$200/License suspension|
|Delaware||Yes||No||Passive monitoring*||$1,500-$3,000/license suspension|
|Florida||Yes||Yes||Active monitoring||$150-$500/license suspension|
|Georgia||Yes||Yes||Active monitoring||$25-$185/license suspension|
|Hawaii||Yes||No||Passive monitoring||$500-$5,000/license suspension|
|Idaho||Yes||No||Passive monitoring||$75-$1,000/license suspension|
|Illinois||Yes||No||Passive monitoring *||$500-$1,000/license suspension|
|Indiana||Yes||No||Passive monitoring||$250-$1,000/license suspension|
|Iowa||Yes||No||Passive monitoring||$250/license suspension|
|Kansas||Yes||No||Passive monitoring||$1,000-$2,500/license suspension|
|Kentucky||Yes||Yes||Active monitoring||$1,000/license suspension|
|Louisiana||Yes||Yes||Active monitoring ***||$100-$700|
|Maine||Yes||No||Passive monitoring||$100-$500/license suspension|
|Massachusetts||Yes||Yes||Passive monitoring||$500-$5,000/license suspension|
|Michigan||Yes||No||Passive monitoring||$200-$500/license suspension|
|Minnesota||Yes||No||Passive monitoring||$200-$3,000/license suspension|
|Mississippi||Yes||No||Passive monitoring **||$500/license suspension|
|Missouri||Yes||No||Passive monitoring *||$500/license suspension|
|Montana||Yes||Yes||Passive monitoring||$250-$500/license suspension|
|Nebraska||Yes||No||Passive monitoring||$50/license suspension|
|Nevada||Yes||Yes||Active monitoring||$250-$1,000/license suspension|
|New Hampshire||No||No||Passive monitoring||License suspension only after accident|
|New Jersey||Yes||Yes||Active monitoring||$300-$5,000/license suspension|
|New Mexico||Yes||Yes||Active monitoring||$300-$1,000|
|New York||Yes||Yes||Active monitoring||$150-$1,500/license suspension|
|North Carolina||Yes||Yes||Active monitoring||$50-$150/license suspension|
|North Dakota||Yes||No||Passive monitoring||$150-$5,000/license suspension|
|Ohio||Yes||No||Passive monitoring *||$160-$660/license suspension|
|Oklahoma||Yes||Yes||Active monitoring||$250/license suspension|
|Oregon||Yes||No||Passive monitoring *||$130-$1,000/license suspension|
|Pennsylvania||Yes||Yes||Active monitoring||$300/license suspension|
|Rhode Island||Yes||No||Passive monitoring *||$100-$1,000/license suspension|
|South Carolina||Yes||Yes||Active monitoring||$100-$550/license suspension|
|South Dakota||Yes||No||Passive monitoring||$100-$500/license suspension|
|Tennessee||Yes||Yes||Active monitoring||$25-$300/license suspension|
|Texas||Yes||Yes||Active monitoring||$175-$4,000/license suspension|
|Utah||Yes||Yes||Active monitoring||$400-$1,000/license suspension|
|Vermont||Yes||No||Passive monitoring||$0-$500/license suspension|
|Virginia||Yes||Yes||Active monitoring||$500/license suspension|
|Washington||Yes||No||Passive monitoring||$450-$1,000 license suspension|
|West Virginia||Yes||Yes||Active monitoring||$200-$5,000/license suspension|
|Wisconsin||Yes||No||Passive monitoring||$510/license suspension|
|Wyoming||Yes||Yes||Passive monitoring||$250-$1,500/license suspension|
**Legislation is pending for July of 2017 which will create a database for insured vehicles that will be actively monitored by the state.*Designates a state that uses random auditing of vehicles registered in that particular state to monitor compliance with insurance laws.
***Restricts uninsured drivers’ rights to seek compensation, regardless of fault, after an accident.
So, do you need car insurance in every states? The consensus in most states is: If your vehicle is registered then it must be insured.
Why Wouldn’t You Have Insurance?
The profiles of uninsured drivers usually have a few things in common: poverty and disenfranchisement. Certainly some people driving without insurance are careless and irresponsible, but to a large extent, many do so because they can’t get auto insurance, not because they don’t want it. In fact, studies show that states with the highest rates of uninsured drivers also have the highest rates of poverty.
To prevent uninsured driving, states adopt a variety of (mostly punitive) measures. In many states, drivers are required to show proof of insurance before registering their vehicles and renewing their licenses. Other states impose hefty fines right off the bat—in New York, for example, the penalty for a first-time offense of driving uninsured is $1,500. Some states that have adopted “no play, no pay”—laws which limit the amount of compensation someone can receive from another party’s insurer if they themselves were uninsured—have seen their uninsured ranks drop, says Insurance Journal.
Always keep your policy current, and review it on a regular basis to make sure it’s meeting your coverage needs. The experts at The Zebra can help you find a policy to fit your life and your budget.