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What happens if you get in a car accident without insurance?

Fact-checked with HomeInsurance.com

Car insurance is legally required in almost every state, but the reality is, a lot of drivers don’t follow the rules. As of 2015, roughly 13% of drivers in the United States did not have adequate car insurance coverage, according to the Insurance Information Institute (III). Getting into an accident without insurance is complicated, and it can come with heavy consequences. Keep reading to find out what happens if you get into an accident without insurance.

State insurance requirements

Driving a car with no insurance is illegal in almost every state. Depending on where you live, you’re required to carry a minimum amount of insurance coverage, which typically includes bodily injury and personal property liability coverage. If you don’t have at least the minimum amount of coverage required in your state, you’re technically driving underinsured. If you don’t have any car insurance at all, you’re driving completely uninsured. 

The only state that doesn’t require car insurance is New Hampshire. However, that doesn’t mean New Hampshire drivers are completely off the hook for insurance. Drivers in the Granite State are required to carry something called proof of financial responsibility. It’s essentially an alternative form of car insurance that proves you can afford to pay for certain losses if you get involved in an accident.

What to do if you get into an accident without insurance

Accidents without insurance can be scary. You’re probably wondering what happens if the person at fault in an accident has no insurance, whether it’s you or another driver. Here are the steps you should take in either situation:

 If you are at fault

  • If you cause an accident and don’t have insurance, let the other driver or the responding police officer know you are uninsured—you don’t need to give a specific reason why.
  • The other driver will file a claim with their insurance company. You will be financially responsible for paying for the other driver’s losses, which includes everything from vehicle damages to medical bills. 
  • If you caused a serious crash with severe injuries or fatalities, you’ll probably have to report the accident to your state’s DMV.

If you are not at fault

  • If you didn’t cause the crash, you can file a third-party claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company. 
  • Some states have laws that limit the amount of compensation you can get after an accident as an uninsured driver. In most cases, the other driver’s insurance company will compensate you for a portion or the total cost of your losses.
  • If you want to take the other driver to court, find out how long you have to file a lawsuit after the accident. Most states have a three year period of time when you can go to court and settle with the other driver after a crash.

Potential penalties for not having insurance

Driving without car insurance comes with consequences, and it’s something you want to avoid at all costs. However, the penalties vary by state, and depend on who caused the accident. 

If you are at fault

  • In addition to paying the other driver’s losses out-of-pocket, you will also have to pay a fine to the state’s DMV.
  • Your car could be impounded.
  • You could lose your driver’s license for a period of time.
  • If you get car insurance in the future, you’ll pay a much higher rate.
  • Second or third offenders could face jail time or required community service.

If you are not at fault

  • You might have to pay a fine to the state’s DMV.
  • If it’s your second or third offense, you could have your license suspended or your car impounded, even if you didn’t cause the crash.
  • You’ll have to pay a higher car insurance premium when you purchase insurance in the future.

How not having proof of insurance makes a difference

All drivers need to carry proof of insurance in their vehicle at all times. If you get into an accident or get pulled over, a police officer will ask you to provide your proof of insurance documentation. However, some drivers get stuck in a situation where they have insurance, but no proof of coverage. 

Not having proof of insurance and not having insurance at all are two different things. If you carry at least the minimum amount of car insurance required in your state, but don’t have proof of insurance at the time of an accident, the consequences are less severe than being completely uninsured.

If this happens, there are other ways that the police can verify your insurance status. If you don’t have proof of insurance with you, you’ll be given a ticket. When you go to traffic court, you’ll be asked to provide proof of insurance at that time. In many cases, the violation will be dropped if you really do have adequate insurance coverage and documentation. 

The takeaway:

  • Driving without car insurance is illegal in almost every state.
  • If you get into an accident without insurance, the consequences vary based on who caused the crash.
  • Some of the potential penalties of driving uninsured are license suspension, fines and jail time.

Getting into an accident is never a good situation, and it’s even worse when you don’t have car insurance. The consequences of getting into an accident without insurance vary based on whose fault it was, but you can expect to pay a heavy fine and deal with an expensive car insurance premium in the future. Before you start driving, make sure you’re carrying at least the minimum required insurance coverage in your state, and always keep proof of insurance in your glovebox.

Elizabeth Rivelli

Elizabeth is an insurance writer for coverage.com, where she covers insurance providers and reviews policies to help consumers find comprehensive and affordable coverage for every area of their life. She has more than three years of writing experience for top online insurance and finance publications.

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