The risks of driving with no car insurance
Driving with no car insurance (or some other form of financial responsibility) is illegal in most states. The penalties if you get caught can be quite steep, even for a first offense. But some states may dismiss your ticket or reduce your sentence under certain circumstances.
The mandatory requirement for insurance in most states
Most states have laws requiring drivers to maintain some minimum level of financial responsibility in case they cause an accident and/or hurt somebody. That usually means carrying liability insurance. Some states allow drivers to take other steps—getting a self-insurance certificate or surety bond, for example—to show responsibility.
Either way, drivers need to have some kind of financial liability protection.
Driving without insurance coverage is usually different from having insurance but not carrying valid proof with you (your insurance ID card, for example). However, not all states recognize the difference, and some may fine you specifically for lack of proof.
Possible penalties for driving with no car insurance
Penalties you may face depend on your state laws and whether it’s your first offense. Even your first offense can result in harsh penalties, including one or more of these:
- Fines. Most fines for a first offense range from $100-$1000, although some states are higher or lower.
- Jail time. Where used, it’s usually up to three months.
- Suspension of license. Usually for 90 days.
- Suspension of registration. You’ll generally have to pay a reinstatement fee once eligible.
- Proof of insurance filings. You may have to file proof of insurance forms (often called SR-22s) with the state for at least a year, and often up to 3 years. If you let your insurance lapse during this time, the state can suspend your registration and/or license.
Fines, jail time, and the amount of time your license and/or registration may be suspended often increases with subsequent offenses.
In some states the court may also order you to perform community service or have your car impounded, even for a first offense.
Finally, insurance companies often charge higher premiums to people who apply for insurance after being caught driving without it.
Consequences if you cause an accident while uninsured
If you’re in a car accident without insurance things may only get worse for you. You’ll be liable for property damage or injuries due to an accident you caused. You may have to pay for:
- Repair bills
- Medical bills
- Lost wages and other expenses
If you don’t agree to pay these things, the other driver can sue you for them. If you lose in court, you may also be responsible for the other person’s legal costs. If you don’t have the money to cover these things, you may have to give up other assets to get the money, possibly even your house.
How to handle a lapse in your insurance
If you’ve let your insurance lapse, whether by accident or on purpose, keep two things in mind:
- Don’t drive until you’ve gotten a new auto insurance policy.
- Get that new policy as soon as possible.
It’s important to avoid large gaps in your auto insurance history because those gaps can increase your premiums. The longer you’ve been uninsured the higher your premium is likely to be. In some cases insurance companies may even consider you uninsurable.
How to handle a ticket for driving with no car insurance
The best way to handle a ticket for lack of insurance depends on your state laws as well as your specific situation.
If you had insurance coverage but weren’t carrying your insurance card you can get the ticket dismissed in many states. If dismissal is not possible, a sentence reduction may still be. In some states you may be able to get the ticket dismissed or your sentence reduced if you get insurance immediately after getting the ticket. This option isn’t common.
Some states will dismiss a ticket for a lack of intent. This means if you didn’t realize you didn’t have insurance, you may have a valid defense for driving without it. An example could be your insurance company canceled your policy for lack of payment (your check never arrived or there was a problem with the electronic transfer) but you didn’t know about it.
Sometimes it’s easiest to simply pay the ticket and move on. If you face more than a fine though (jail, license suspension, etc.), you may want to consider fighting it.
If you’re not sure what your state’s laws say about driving with no car insurance and valid defenses, a lawyer experienced with traffic tickets may be able to help.