What Happens if You Drive without Insurance?

Can you drive without car insurance?
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Reviewer: Jeffrey Green Reviewed by Jeffrey Green
Reviewer: Jeffrey Green
Reviewed by Jeffrey Green

Jeff Green has held a variety of sales and management roles at life insurance companies, Wall street firms, and distribution organizations over his 40-year career.  He was previously Finra 7,24,66 registered and held life insurance licenses in multiple states. He is a graduate of Stony Brook University.

Nightime Police Traffic Stop. What Happens If You Drive Without Insurance.

Before you hit the road, it’s important to think about auto insurance. Did you know that in 49 of the 50 US states and the District of Columbia, it’s illegal to drive without insurance?

If you’re caught driving without auto insurance, you could face severe consequences, including fines, losing your driver’s license, or even jail time. Read on to learn more – including how much insurance you’re required to have – and how to get a car insurance policy that fits your needs.

Is It Illegal to Drive without Car Insurance?

The short answer is “yes.” It is illegal to drive without car insurance, with one exception. Unless you live in New Hampshire, you're legally required to have auto insurance for any car registered in your name or for any car you drive, even if you don’t own it. While New Hampshire doesn’t require auto insurance, you must demonstrate financial responsibility for any damage or injuries if you're liable in an accident. Purchasing liability coverage is an easy way to meet this obligation.

Every state requires a minimum level of auto insurance, which is, generally, liability insurance (If you live in New Hampshire and choose to have auto insurance, you’ll need this coverage as well).

Liability insurance covers the costs associated with claims for bodily injury or property damage. Without it, if you cause an accident and injure someone else or damage their property – whether it’s a vehicle, fence, or something else – you could be sued. Liability insurance protects you.

Liability insurance provides coverage for:

  • Bodily injury: Pays for injuries to other people in accidents that you cause, but not injuries to you or passengers in your vehicle
  • Property damage: Pays for property damage in accidents that you cause, but not damage to your own vehicle

The only state that doesn’t require bodily injury liability insurance is Florida. Keep in mind that while it may not be required, it’s valuable coverage that you should consider.

Many states also require drivers to have the following additional coverage:

What Are the Penalties for Driving without Insurance?

Penalties for driving without insurance depend on a few factors, including what state you live in and whether it’s your first offense.

If you get pulled over and can’t provide proof of insurance, penalties can include:

  • Tickets
  • Fines
  • Suspended license
  • Impounded car
  • Loss of registration
  • Mandatory filing of form SR-22. This is filed with your state to prove that you have car insurance that meets the minimum coverage required by law.
  • Insurance rate increase
  • Jail time

Similarly, if you don’t own a car, but either frequently rent or borrow a vehicle, it may make sense for you to look into non-owner car insurance. This type of coverage can benefit you if you are borrowing or renting a vehicle and wind up in a fender bender.

Penalties for Driving without Insurance by State

Each state has its own penalties for driving without insurance. Depending on where you are, getting caught driving without insurance can result in fines of up to $5,000 and potential jail time of up to a year.

Fines by State for Uninsured Drivers

All states, with the exception of New Hampshire, offer steep fines for driving without insurance. First-time offenders in states such as Arkansas, California, New Jersey, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, Wyoming, and the District of Columbia face fees ranging from $50 to $1,000 for driving without insurance. Second offenses incur even higher fines.

Other states lob uninsured drivers with hefty fines right out of the gate, regardless of whether it's your first offense. The states with some of the highest fines for driving without insurance include Alabama, Arizona, Louisiana, and Colorado ($500 to $1,000), Delaware ($1,500 to $3,000), Kansas ($300 to $2,500), and  Massachusetts ($500 to $5,000).

States Where Uninsured Motorists Face Jail

Although the risk of jail time is low for uninsured drivers, there are several states that offer severe penalties. Uninsured drivers can face a jail sentence in the following states:

  • Alabama
  • Arkansas
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Oklahoma
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • West Virginia
  • Wyoming

Jail sentences for uninsured drivers can range anywhere from up to 10 days for a first offense (such as in Montana) to up to one year (as in Georgia).

Additional Penalties for Uninsured Drivers by State

Uninsured drivers can face other penalties, including having their registration and/or license suspended. Most states will suspend both, although some states (such as Wisconsin) will only do so if you’re in an accident, or if you haven’t paid an uninsured motor vehicle (UMV) fee, such as in Virginia.

What Are the Penalties for Causing an Accident without Insurance?

While penalties for driving without insurance can be harsh, they are even more severe if you cause an accident. Penalties vary by state and depending on your situation, you could be subject to fines, loss of your license and registration, and possible jail time.

But that could be just the beginning of your troubles. If you cause an accident and have insurance, your policy will likely cover damage up to the coverage limits. However, if you don’t have insurance, you could be on the hook for major out-of-pocket expenses, like:

  • Repair and replacement costs: You would be responsible for paying for any damage you caused, including repairing or replacing vehicles or property.
  • Medical expenses: You might also be responsible for paying the medical expenses of the other driver or passengers injured in a crash you caused.
  • Legal fees and lawsuits: If you can’t pay for the damage you caused, you could be sued by the other driver for compensation, including legal fees.
  • Bankruptcy or other financial distress: The costs could be so overwhelming that you might need to declare bankruptcy.

How to Get Car Insurance When You Are Uninsured

If you’re currently driving without insurance, don’t panic! That said, make it your mission to get coverage as soon as you can. You don’t want to risk being stopped or pulled over without proof of insurance – or worse, getting into an accident.

The best way to get the insurance coverage you need is by talking to an independent insurance agent. They can answer your questions and help find a policy that best fits your budget and your needs, whether that’s basic liability coverage or full coverage.

FAQs about Driving without Insurance

It’s illegal to drive without insurance In 49 of the 50 US states and the District of Columbia. New Hampshire is the only state that doesn’t legally require insurance, but you must demonstrate financial ability to pay for any damage or injuries if you're liable in an accident.

Driving without insurance is not a felony in any state. However, some states consider driving without insurance a misdemeanor offense that can potentially lead to jail time.

Yes. In most states, your license can be suspended if you are caught driving without auto insurance.

Finding affordable insurance can sometimes be challenging, but it’s your responsibility to have insurance when you drive a car. An independent insurance agent can work with you to find insurance coverage that will fit your budget.

If an accident isn’t your fault, the other driver’s liability coverage should cover the costs of your injuries and the damage to your vehicle. However, if the police are called to the scene, you could have a problem. By driving without insurance, you could still face fines or other penalties because you broke the law.

As long as you don’t drive your car while uninsured, letting your insurance lapse isn’t a crime. However, you’ll likely see your rates go up substantially when you reinstate coverage. It’s best to avoid any potential problems and keep your coverage current.

In most US states, you can’t register a car without proof of insurance. Mississippi, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Tennessee, Washington, and Wisconsin are the only exceptions.

If you’re buying a new car from a dealership, you usually have a couple of days to inform your insurance company and have it added to your policy. That said, it’s best to call your insurance company right away.

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