Penalty for No Auto Insurance

The penalties when you have no car insurance can be quite severe, though it varies from state to state. In some states, driving without auto insurance is treated as a moving violation while in others it can result in license suspension or even jail time. Driving without car insurance can result in higher auto insurance rates, fines, and other financial penalties as well. If you have an auto accident while driving without insurance, you will be personally liable for any damage or injuries you are responsible for. In some states, if you don't have insurance, your recovery from an accident that isn't your fault can be limited, too.

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Lauren Blair has been practicing law for more than 25 years. Lauren has been a licensed member in good standing of the Illinois bar since 1994, the year she graduated from Illinois Institute of Technology’s Chicago-Kent College of Law. Prior to law school, Lauren obtained a Bachelor of Arts in government from Cornell University. For the first 20 years of her practice, she worked in mid-size l...

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UPDATED: Feb 8, 2021

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Overview

  • 49 out of 50 states have laws requiring car insurance with steep penalties for uninsured motorists.
  • The legal penalties for no insurance range from moving violation citations to suspension of driving privileges to jail time.
  • The financial penalties for driving without insurance include expensive fines, increased insurance premiums, costly legal fees, and high money judgments for personal injuries and property damages if you were at fault in a car accident.
  • If you were in an auto accident that was the fault of the other driver, not having insurance may not prevent you from being compensated for your loss, unless you live in a “No Pay, No Play” state which limits the type of compensation uninsured drivers can receive for car accident injuries even if they were not at fault.

Car insurance may seem like a hassle or an unnecessary expense, but the penalty for driving with no car insurance is steep. Many motorists think you just get a ticket for no insurance, but driving while uninsured can have really bad short and long-term consequences. Driving without auto insurance can result in costly fines, suspension of driving privileges, and even jail time. If you get in a car accident with no insurance, you could be sued for hundreds of thousands of dollars if you’re at fault, or be limited in the amount of money you can recover even if you’re not at fault.

To avoid the legal and financial penalties that come from driving without insurance, read the guidance below and then click here to find the auto coverage you need at rates you can afford.

If you were in an accident or caught driving with no car insurance, click here to find an experienced car accident attorney in your area.

Why You Need Car Insurance

Before discussing what happens if you get caught driving without insurance, you may be wondering why you need car insurance in the first place. As explained below, all states have laws and public policies that require motorists to take financial responsibility for property damage and personal injuries that result from driving accidents.

Most States Require Auto Insurance

The top reason you need car insurance: it’s likely required by law in the state where you live and drive. According to the Insurance Information Institute (III), all U.S. states have financial responsibility laws, and 49 out of 50 states have minimum mandatory car insurance requirements.

The only exception is New Hampshire, but that doesn’t mean that motorists in that state are off scot-free. New Hampshire drivers who do not obtain general liability insurance are required to submit proof of sufficient assets and they assume total responsibility for any damages and injuries they cause in a car accident.

If you think you can get away with not having car insurance, think again. Even if you have a perfect driving record, have never been in an accident, and consider yourself a safe driver, chances are if you’re driving without insurance you’ll eventually get caught by the police and your state’s verification system.

As the III points out, the majority of states have begun to develop and implement online auto insurance verification systems to identify uninsured motorists. The laws in these states require various state agencies to develop and implement online insurance verification systems that require insurance companies to maintain up-to-date databases of insured motorists. Police can access these systems via the internet when motorists are stopped for traffic infractions or accident investigations.

Public Policy Favors Insured Motorists

There’s also an important public policy behind requiring car insurance. A study conducted by the Insurance Research Council (IRC) found that about one out of every eight drivers does not carry auto coverage. Serious car accidents can have catastrophic outcomes for both the at-fault driver and accident victims. Insurance associations and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimate that U.S. motor vehicle crashes cost upwards of $1 trillion in loss of productivity and loss of life.

States wanted to solve the two-pronged problem caused by uninsured motorists. States needed to solve the growing problem of uninsured drivers who left accident victims without any means to recover for property damage and personal injury losses. At the same time, states also wanted to shield at-fault drivers from facing financial ruin for severe crashes costing hundreds of thousands of dollars in property damages and medical bills.

With general liability auto insurance, your insurance company is responsible for paying property and injury claims filed by accident victims. But if you don’t have insurance, then you’ll likely be sued by the victim. You’ll have to hire an attorney to defend you and spend months, if not years, embroiled in stressful litigation. If you’re found to have been at fault in the accident, then on top of your expensive legal fees you could also be stuck paying the victim for car repairs (or replacement if totaled), medical bills, pain and suffering, lost wages, and other potential damages or losses to the victim and the victim’s family.

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Penalties for Driving With No Insurance

So, what is the penalty for driving without insurance? The penalties for driving uninsured tend to be serious, even for a first offense driving without insurance. Uninsured motorist penalties are, after all, designed to deter motorists from driving without insurance.

Citations, fines and punishments for driving with no insurance vary from state to state, but penalties typically include any of the following, which often overlap:

  • Citations and Fines
  • Points on driver’s license
  • Suspension of driver’s license, registration, and/or plates
  • Impounded vehicle
  • Criminal conviction/Jail time
  • Yearly SR-22 filing

Citations and Fines

If law enforcement catches you driving without insurance, you’ll get a traffic ticket or citation for a moving violation. Moving violations are more serious than non-moving violations like parking tickets.

So, how much is the fine for driving without insurance? The average fine for driving without insurance is hundreds of dollars, but depending on where you live and the circumstances, fines can range between $30 in Florida up to $5,000 in West Virginia. To find out the maximum fine for driving without insurance, consult your state’s law or with an attorney in your area.

Your driving record and how many prior offenses you’ve had for driving without insurance will impact the amount of the fine for not having car insurance. If your license is already suspended due to a previous insurance violation, you’ll typically have to pay another fine, which can also cost thousands of dollars.

Points

Moving violations not only entail larger fines; they are likely to result in “points” being assessed on your driver’s license. Most state Departments of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and insurance companies have a point system based upon the type and number of moving violations. Points are like strikes on your driving record; if you accumulate too many, you’re out, meaning that your driving privileges could be suspended or revoked.

Having points on your license will also negatively affect your insurance. From an insurance perspective, excessive points will make you a “high risk” driver. High-risk drivers often have difficulty finding (or keeping) insurance, and typically have high insurance premiums and deductibles.

Suspended Driving Privileges

Do they suspend your license for no insurance? As stated above, driving with no car insurance can result in the suspension of your driver’s license. For serious or repeat offenses, it can lead to the permanent revocation of your driver’s license, registration, and/or plates.

If you’re facing a license suspension, it is critical that you adhere to the court’s or DMV’s orders and avoid driving with a suspended license. The best thing you can do is stay off the road until your privileges have been fully reinstated.

Even for states where it’s permissible to drive without general liability insurance, your driving privileges still can be suspended if you fail to provide the required financial assurances. In New Hampshire, for example, if you fail to provide the required proof of assets and assumption of financial responsibility, you could face suspension of your driver’s license or vehicle registration.

Impounded Vehicle

Repeatedly getting caught driving without insurance could get your car impounded, which you don’t want to happen. If your car gets impounded, getting it released will most certainly be a very complicated, frustrating and expensive experience.

Impounded vehicles go to an impound, or holding facility, that is typically operated by a private third-party holding facility. Your impounded car will not be released until the DMV or a court issues an order to that effect. For as long as your driver’s license, license plate or registration is suspended, your car will not be released from impound. The expense from prolonged impound can be devastating because the storage facilities charge by the day.

Criminal Conviction/Jail Time

Can you get arrested for driving without insurance? If you’re caught driving with no insurance, there could be criminal repercussions. More than a dozen states will charge uninsured drivers with a criminal misdemeanor. If found guilty, you’ll have a criminal conviction on your driving record.

Some states consider driving without liability insurance as a strict liability offense, which means your intent does not matter. In strict liability states, uninsured motorists will be convicted solely based on the fact that they operated a vehicle without the insurance required by law. It won’t matter that you truly thought you had coverage or you had coverage but were caught driving with expired insurance.

Do you go to jail for driving without insurance? That depends. Some convictions for driving with no car insurance only require probation. That said, depending on the state, and if the circumstances are serious and the driving history is particularly bad, the sentence also could involve serving time in county jail.

SR-22 Filing

An SR-22, sometimes called a certificate of financial responsibility or proof of insurance, is a document filed by your insurance company with the state that proves you have car insurance. It is not the underlying insurance and does not provide coverage itself.

SR-22 certificates are typically required to reinstate driver’s licenses that have been suspended or revoked for driving violations, like driving without insurance coverage or other “high risk” reasons. If you’re required to have an SR-22, you’re considered a high-risk driver, which means your insurance will be much more expensive. On average, high-risk drivers are required to maintain SR-22 certification with the state for up to three years

Car Accidents With No Insurance

There are two situations involving car accidents and having no car insurance. The most obvious one is where the at-fault driver has no insurance. But what if you’re the driver who didn’t cause the accident? Can having no insurance affect your ability to recover money for your property damages or personal injuries? Whether or not you’re at fault in an accident, if you don’t have car insurance, the consequences can be negative.

At-Fault and No Insurance

There are expensive consequences if you have no insurance and you’re sued for causing a car accident. If you’re found to be the driver at fault, i.e., the one who caused the accident, then you’ll be liable for damages and a judgment will be entered against you for a specific sum of money.

Putting aside the tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees and costs, you could be looking at a judgment of hundreds of thousands of dollars for serious crashes with major injuries and car damages. If you fail to pay the full amount of the judgment, regardless of the reason, you will likely be sued again in a collection action, which costs more legal fees and can lead to garnishment of wages, a freeze on your bank account or a judgment lien on your home.

Not At-Fault and No Insurance

Can having no insurance affect your ability to be compensated for injuries or damages you suffer from a car accident that was not your fault? The answer varies by state but, generally speaking, if you don’t have car insurance, you still may be able to recover money for your injuries and/or damages so long as you aren’t the driver at fault.

No Pay, No Play States

In some states, you may be prevented from receiving full compensation for car accident bodily injuries if you were driving without insurance. These states have “no pay, no play” laws, which limit the amount of money you can recover if you suffer damages in a car accident that was the other motorist’s fault but you were driving without insurance.

For example, California doesn’t permit uninsured drivers to be compensated for pain and suffering even if the other driver was at fault. The driver not at fault is limited to recovering money for medical bills and other special damages, like lost wages.

Get Help

You now know that no car insurance penalties are serious. The key takeaway for all drivers is to at least have basic general liability auto insurance. Car insurance may seem expensive but it’s the protection you can’t afford to be without. There are hundreds of insurance providers, so shop around to find a policy you can afford. Look for insurers that specialize in low-cost policies. Some states even have programs to assist lower-income drivers to obtain coverage, so check with your state’s insurance division to see if they offer assistance. In the long run, having basic car insurance is essential for your own financial protection.

If you were involved in a car accident without insurance, whether or not you were at fault, it’s a good idea to consult with a car accident attorney who can advise you on your rights and responsibilities and how to proceed. Click the link and enter your ZIP code into our attorney search tool to find an experienced car accident attorney in your area.

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