How do the police know if you have car insurance?

Many states have rolled our electronic verification systems that law enforcement can access through their in-car computers. That is how the police know if you have car insurance. Insurance coverage is required in almost every state, and drivers are required to carry proof of insurance with them at all times. Police can ask for this proof, and your ID cards will be how cops know if you have auto insurance or not.

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Tonya Sisler has a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of South Carolina in Journalism and has worked for 15+ years in management. She has also completed a proofreading certification and is currently a professional writer.

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Brad Larson has been in the insurance industry for more than a dozen years. He started out as a claims adjuster for a national carrier. He has since switched to the agency side of the business. Brad is licensed in all P&C lines.

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Reviewed by Brad Larsen
Licensed Auto Insurance Agent

UPDATED: Oct 28, 2020

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Here's what you need to know...

  • Auto insurance is mandatory in almost every state. In each of these states, you can be cited and penalized for failing to maintain the proper auto insurance coverage
  • Some of the penalties for driving without insurance include a misdemeanor conviction, fines, registration suspension, license suspension, reinstatement fees, mandatory court appearances, vehicle impoundment, community service, SR-22 filing requirements, or even jail time
  • Most states now have an electronic verification system in place that allows DMV officials and law enforcement officers to check the status of your insurance coverage at any given moment in time
  • When states have a random verification selection system in place, officers may not have access to your real-time insurance information. If they can’t access your policy status through their computer system, the officer will ask you to provide your proof of insurance
  • While states still require drivers to carry a physical auto insurance ID card with them at all times, many states are now accepting electronic ID cards

The last thing that you want to see in your rear view mirror is police lights. While obeying traffic laws and paying your motor vehicle fees on time can help you avoid unnecessary traffic stops, the average driver is pulled over by law enforcement several times in their lifetime.

Knowing how to carry yourself and what you need to avoid infractions can save you a lot of time and money.

Officers will always ask for your license, registration, and insurance documents when you’re stopped. After the officer verifies the documents, you’ll either be sent on your way or cited for the violation.

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What you might not know is that the officer may know whether you have insurance before you’re even stopped. Here’s what you need to know:

If Insurance is Required, You Must Have Proof of Insurance With You At All Times

Insurance is mandatory in almost every state. In fact, the only states where you can legally drive without insurance are Virginia, Iowa, and New Hampshire. If you live in any other state, you must have insurance to legally drive any vehicle that you have registered in your name.

With so many uninsured drivers on the road, there are requirements that help officers verify the status of your coverage. In every state, you’re required by law to carry auto insurance ID cards with you at all times. By having these, you can always show which carrier you’re insured through.

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Can you present electronic proof of insurance?

In the past, you had to carry a small card that included your policy number, your policy term, your insurance company, your vehicle information, and the VIN. Now, since technology has changed the way people store their information, you may be able to get away with saving your proof of insurance on your phone.

It’s important to check and see if electronic proof of insurance is acceptable in your state. There are currently 24 states that have approved electronic ID cards and several more will soon follow.

Why ID Card Requirements Aren’t Always Enough

While it’s standard for a police officer to ask for your proof of insurance, using the document that you provide to confirm that you have coverage isn’t always effective. The drawback of ID cards is that they are issued for the full term when the term starts.

If your policy cancels for any reason, you’ll still have an ID card that says you have insurance.

States Have Rolled Out Electronic Verification Systems

Since the rate of uninsured motorists is high throughout the country, state officials in many regions have invested money into developing electronic insurance databases.

These databases were rolled out to help the DMV verify the status of a car’s insurance and also to help law enforcement confirm that the ID cards that drivers furnish are valid.

In states where electronic verification systems have been deployed, licensed auto insurance carriers are required by law to notify the state when a policy cancels or does not renew. Companies that don’t electronically notify the DMV of changes to active policies can be fined or lose their license.

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Officers May Be Able to See Your Insurance Status Before You’re Stopped

All police officers have access to an in-car computer. This computer is what the officer uses to check your license, your registration, and even your insurance information.

If you live in a state where carriers report insurance via an electronic system, there’s a good chance that police can see your insurance before you are stopped.

Pulling up your insurance information is as easy as typing in your license plate number. Even though officers can see a lapse before they initiate a stop, the reason for the stop can’t be solely for not having insurance. There must be another offense before the driver can be stopped.

Letting your insurance lapse is risky. If you want to avoid being cited for having no insurance, you should get coverage today. Enter all of your personal information in an online quote system and find affordable coverage in minutes.

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