Consequences of driving without insurance

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Before you get behind the wheel of your car, you need more than just a driver’s license. You also need to have protection in place in the event you get into an accident. 

Insurance requirements vary state by state, but is it illegal to drive without insurance?  The short answer is: almost always, yes. In 49 out of 50 states and Washington, D.C., you’ll need to have some form of auto insurance in place. Even in New Hampshire, the sole state that doesn’t legally mandate auto insurance, you need to have enough money to be financially responsible if you’re found at-fault in an accident. 

All told, driving without insurance is as risky as driving without a license or driving with a suspended license. When you put a car in drive without the right coverage in place, you risk fines, license suspension, getting towed and jail time. 

What if I get caught driving without insurance? 

What is the maximum fine for a conviction of driving without insurance? Just like insurance requirements, the consequences of driving without insurance vary from state to state. Still, though, the penalty for driving without insurance is serious (New Hampshire aside, of course). 

The most common consequences of driving without insurance include:

  • Fees and fines: Usually ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, fines are some of the most common consequences of driving without a license. In many states, the financial penalty increases if this isn’t your first time getting caught driving without insurance too. 
  • License suspension: This consequence means you’ll have to pay to reinstate your license.
  • Community service: A few states have this is a consequence whether it’s your first time or a repeat offense. 
  • Impoundment: With this consequence, you’ll have to pay to get your vehicle back. Most states don’t impound vehicles until a second or third offense, but some states like California and Iowa can occasionally impose this punishment based on the judge’s discretion. You usually have to pay for storage and retrieval fees too. 
  • Registration suspension: If your registration is suspended, you’ll usually have a period of time before your registration can be activated again. It’s usually a year or less. Some states like Minnesota only suspend your registration until you can prove that you have insurance.
  • SR-22 requirements: This means you have to get special proof that you have sufficient auto insurance and carry it for a certain amount of time.
  • Imprisonment: Jail time is usually for six months or less. It is usually longer for repeat offenders. Some states do have a few months of jail time for first offenders.
  • Service/restoration fees: These fees to reinstate your license depend on the state but they are are usually $25 like in Michigan.
  • Probation: Probation generally only applies in North Carolina. It lasts 1-45 days and can include jail time.
  • Misdemeanor conviction: In most states, driving without a license is a misdemeanor on repeat offenses. However, some states like South Carolina can apply it on a first offense.

The Consumer Federation of America, a nonprofit consumer organization, put together this PDF so you can look up the penalties for first, second and third offenses in your state. 

Will my license be suspended if I drive without insurance? 

It depends on your state, but the answer is probably yes. Of the 49 states that require auto insurance, 43 will suspend your license or registration until you pay a reinstatement fee or prove financial responsibility or for a set time (between 30 days and one year) if you’re caught driving without insurance. The states where you risk license or registration suspension as a penalty for driving without insurance on even your first offense include:

  • Alabama (registration suspension)
  • Alaska (license suspension)
  • Arizona (license and registration suspension)
  • Arkansas (registration suspension)
  • Colorado (license suspension)
  • Connecticut (license and registration suspension)
  • Washington, D.C. (license and registration suspension)
  • Delaware (license suspension)
  • Florida (license and registration suspension)
  • George (license suspension)
  • Hawaii (license suspension)
  • Idaho (license suspension)
  • Illinois (license suspension)
  • Indiana (license suspension)
  • Iowa (registration suspension)
  • Kansas (license and registration suspension)
  • Kentucky (registration suspension)
  • Louisiana (registration suspension)
  • Maine (license and registration suspension)
  • Maryland (registration suspension)
  • Massachusetts (license suspension)
  • Michigan (license suspension)
  • Minnesota (license and registration suspension)
  • Mississippi (license suspension)
  • Missouri (license and registration suspension)
  • Nebraska (license and registration suspension)
  • Nevada (registration suspension)
  • New Jersey (license suspension)
  • New Mexico (registration suspension)
  • New York (license and registration suspension)
  • North Carolina (registration suspension)
  • North Dakota (license suspension)
  • Ohio (license and registration suspension)
  • Oklahoma (license suspension)
  • Pennsylvania (license and registration suspension)
  • Rhode Island (license and registration suspension)
  • South Carolina (license and registration suspension)
  • South Dakota (license and registration suspension)
  • Tennessee (license and registration suspension)
  • Utah (license and registration suspension)
  • Vermont (license suspension)
  • Virginia (license and registration suspension)
  • West Virginia (license and registration suspension)

Will my car get towed if I am caught driving without insurance?

Long story short: it might. If you’re driving without insurance in a state that requires it, you’re breaking the law.

On top of all the other ramifications we’ve talked about, you’re probably not going to drive away from the scene. Just like an officer isn’t going to let you get back behind the wheel if you’re caught driving under the influence, they’re not going to send you on your way if you’re behind the wheel without sufficient insurance coverage. In many cases, this means they’ll tow and impound your vehicle. 

Some states will let you have your vehicle back quickly if you can prove insurance of the driver. Other states will impound your vehicle for a set period of time.

How can an officer know if I have insurance or not? 

In our digital age, it’s easy for local law enforcement and highway patrol offices to find out if your vehicle has the right amount of insurance coverage. Most states keep an online database that tracks insurance. Your insurance carrier is probably required to report your insurance to the state, including whether or not you choose to renew your policy. So, don’t assume that buying coverage when you register your vehicle is enough. You have to keep your policy current. 

If you’re pulled over, you’ll need to present proof of insurance. Even if you don’t make any other mistakes on the road, you can still get caught driving without coverage. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) reports that 23 states are using some sort of data verification system to find uninsured drivers. 

What if I get in an accident without insurance? 

While getting caught driving without insurance is always a headache — and usually a pricey one — it’s almost better than getting into an accident without insurance. If you do and you’re the at-fault driver, you’ll be on the hook for the cost of repairing any affected vehicles, paying for property damage and covering the medical bills for any injured people. 

The average cost of basic auto insurance is just over $1,500. The Insurance Information Institute (III) reports that in 2018, the average liability claim for bodily injury was $15,785 while the average property damage claim was $3,841. In other words, the cost of your annual coverage could be anywhere from three to a whopping 15 times cheaper than paying out-of-pocket for the cost of an accident you cause. 

On top of that, getting caught without insurance makes you a high-risk driver, meaning you’ll pay more for your car insurance from that point forward. If you want to keep more money in your pocket, get the auto insurance your state requires. 

The takeaway

At the end of the day, no one likes paying auto insurance premiums. Still, having insurance can help you avoid serious issues like jail time, license suspension and the headache of having to get an SR-22. Plus, considering the cost of most car accidents, carrying basic insurance is a great way to ensure you’re not suddenly on the hook for thousands of dollars of damage. 

Kacie Goff

Kacie Goff is an insurance writer for Coverage.com. She loves taking complex concepts and distilling them down to make it easier for people to understand their coverage options. Over the last five years, she’s written about personal and commercial coverage for Bankrate, Freshome, The Simple Dollar, local insurance providers and more.

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