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UPDATED: Mar 13, 2020
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Perhaps you’ve been thinking about driving without car insurance because you can’t afford it. Maybe you’re even doing so now, hoping that you won’t be caught as long as you stay out of trouble. In either case, you need to be aware that the risks of driving without car insurance. These include the possibility of hefty fines, license and registration suspension, huge medical and legal bills in the event of an accident, and possibly even jail time.
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You may be thinking that although the consequences of being caught driving without insurance are severe, your chances of being caught are slim because you’re a good driver. Remember that there’s more than one way to get caught.
You don’t necessarily need to be involved in an accident for the authorities to find out you don’t have car insurance.
Different Ways of Being Caught
Obviously, being involved in an accident severe enough to warrant the police being called will almost certainly result in a driver without insurance being found out. But there are several other means by which the authorities discover you have no insurance. Here are just a few examples:
- Random License Plate Checks – In states like New York State you cannot even register a vehicle and obtain new license plates without having a car insurance policy in force. If your policy is canceled or allowed to lapse, the insurance company must inform the Department of Motor Vehicles via electronic notice. That information is automatically entered into the state database and immediately accessible. A police officer choosing to run a random check on your license plate will know within seconds that you don’t have an insurance policy in force.
- Roadside Safety Checks – Roadside safety checks are a common tool used by police to deter drunk driving and catch inspection and registration violations. If you pull up to a checkpoint and seem even a little bit nervous or out of sorts a police officer may ask to see your registration and proof of insurance. If you don’t have them in the vehicle, you’re likely to get a ticket.
- Minor Moving Violations – Many minor moving violations might prompt a police officer to pull you over with the intention of only giving you a warning. Examples of these violations include failing to signal a turn, having a headlight out, or driving with a broken or missing mirror. Despite intending only to give you a warning, the police officer is still required to ask for proof of your coverage during a traffic stop.
- Random State Checks – Ohio is one of several states, which allows for random verification of auto insurance policies. Random verification is accomplished by the state insurance or motor vehicle department sending out random letters requesting drivers provide proof of insurance. The requirement is met simply by returning a photocopy of insurance ID card. Failure to comply could trigger a more thorough investigation that would uncover the fact that you don’t have proper insurance coverage.
License and Registration Suspension
At the very least, most states issue fines to drivers caught behind the wheel without proper insurance. Some include a temporary suspension of vehicle registration and/or license as well. Using New Jersey as an example, insurance companies are required to provide an insurance identification card for every vehicle covered by one of their policies. New Jersey drivers are required to carry these identification cards in their vehicles at all times.
In the event of an accident or traffic stop, a driver is required to show that insurance identification card to the police officer on the scene. That officer will verify the validity of the insurance policy by running your information through a computer database.
If it turns out your insurance card is invalid you could be charged with insurance fraud and fined accordingly. If you simply don’t have a card to present to the officer you will be issued a ticket on the spot. In either case, the court can decide to suspend your license and registration if the circumstances warrant.
Another major risk of driving without insurance is having your vehicle impounded by local police during a traffic stop or after an accident. In most states, impounding regulations are left up to local municipalities rather than state law. Arizona is just one example.
Where state law allows for fines, suspensions, and other penalties for driving without insurance it does not directly address the impound issue.
On the other hand, the town of Gilbert has addressed the issue, stating clearly on their website that your vehicle will be impounded if you’re caught driving without insurance. Other cities known to have similar statutes in place include Dallas, Los Angeles, and Austin. In Anchorage, Alaska your car may be forfeited and sent to public auction in some cases.
While being sentenced to jail time for a first or second violation is rare, some states allow such severe penalties for repeated offenses or when caught driving without insurance in combination with some other offense. For example, knowingly producing a false insurance identification card during a DUI stop could land you in jail if the officer suspects you’re guilty of either or both violations. As previously mentioned some states might even confiscate your vehicle upon conviction and sell it at auction.
Other states allow for jail sentences for repeated insurance offenses. Those who do will typically follow the three strikes principle, which allows for fines and suspensions for the first two violations. On the third violation the fine and suspension is also coupled with a jail sentence of between 30 and 90 days.
Lawsuits after an Accident
If you’re involved in an accident while driving without insurance you will most likely be sued by the other driver if it’s determined you bear any fault for the crash. Being that you don’t have insurance, any award the court gives the plaintiff will have to be paid out of your own pocket.
You can expect personal property that qualifies to be seized and sold to satisfy the obligation. If you don’t have sufficient qualified personal assets, other means will be used. For example, your wages may be garnished by a court until the debt is paid off.
Wage garnishment means your employer is required by the court to take a certain amount of money out of your paycheck every week and submit to them to settle your debt. In theory, wage garnishment could go on for the rest of your life if the bill is large enough. In such cases, your estate might even be required to settle on any outstanding balance after your death.
Some people carry umbrella insurance just in case they’re ever sued after an auto accident.
This is a wise thing to do, but it won’t protect you in cases of driving without auto insurance. Doing so is a violation of the law, and your umbrella insurance provider is not obligated to cover you under those circumstances.
If you live in Ohio or another similar state, being caught driving without insurance will result in the court ordering you to obtain an SR-22 affidavit from your insurance company. That affidavit must remain in force between three to five years depending on your circumstances. The SR-22 is an affidavit that essentially says you now have an auto insurance policy in force and the means to keep it so throughout the lifetime of the affidavit.
Having to file an SR-22 may not sound like a big deal, but it is when you consider that it drives up the cost of your car insurance. When you’re forced to file an SR 22, it means you’ve already demonstrated to your insurance company that you are a higher risk. As long as that court requires you keep your affidavit valid, you’ll be paying higher premiums.
Not Worth the Risk
We’ve outlined just some of the possible penalties you risk by driving without car insurance. Because state and local laws have such variations is quite possible there are other penalties we completely missed.
At the end of the day, we can conclude that it simply isn’t worth the risk to try driving an uninsured vehicle.
Whether we like it or not, auto insurance is a reality we have to face if we want to drive in this country. States take insurance violations extremely seriously because driving without insurance can harm both the uninsured driver and others on the road. As such, there is very little leeway for flexibility available to the driver who is found in violation. If you’re caught driving without insurance will have to pay the price one way or the other.
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