One minute you’re talking to your mother, the next minute you see red lights flashing in the rearview mirror.
You reach for your license and registration and cross your fingers, hoping that the officer walking toward your car won’t ask for your insurance card. Don’t get your hopes up. They always ask.
Law enforcement doesn’t care that you were short on funds and couldn’t fit car insurance in your budget this year. They probably won’t believe your card is at home on the kitchen table.
You may wonder what it will cost you if you’re caught driving without insurance.
We understand your concerns, so we’ve put together the answers to your questions. Hopefully, you’ll have your new policy before you even finish reading.
Car insurance isn’t an option in most states. If you drive, you must carry insurance on your vehicle and provide proof of coverage to the authorities.
Drivers who get caught without insurance face serious penalties.
At the least, you may get a slap on the wrist in the form of a warning ticket. Fines that grow larger with each incidence can cost thousands of dollars.
Most states categorize insurance violations under two different types:
- Failure to provide proof of insurance
- Driving without insurance
Two separate violations with two different sets of penalties.
If you misplace your insurance card and can later prove you do have car insurance, the punishment likely won’t be too severe. In some states, penalties are at the police officer’s discretion.
If you can bring proof of insurance within 24 hours (some states allow more time), you may get away with minimum fines and inconvenience.
Drivers who let their insurance lapse usually wish they hadn’t.
For example, in Texas, the first time you get caught driving uninsured, you may pay a fine between $175 and $350. The state adds a $250 charge to your driver’s license fee for the next three years.
If you break insurance laws again, the penalties are more severe. Continue rebelling against the car insurance requirements, and you may end up paying thousands of dollars. Find out more about penalties before you decide that driving without insurance isn’t such a big deal.
Your bank account may suffer, but you may also lose your driving privileges.
Some states suspend your license if you’re caught driving uninsured.
You may lose driving privileges for 30 days or longer depending on the state. Repeat offenders can lose their license permanently.
Don’t forget about the fines. You get hit with a double whammy when you have a revoked license and fines.
Drivers in Massachusetts face license suspension for 60 days. Wisconsin drivers lose driving privileges until they file an SR-22.
An SR-22 is a form filed with the state verifying a driver carries at the minimum the state-mandated amount of insurance. It’s a certificate of financial responsibility underwritten by your insurance company guaranteeing your state that you’re maintaining coverage.
Have you figured out that states are serious about vehicle insurance? Part of the reason is the amount of money that uninsured drivers cost other drivers in the form of higher coverage rates.
If fines and license suspensions aren’t bad enough, what if you lost your car?
You’ll Lose Your Car
What would you do if you were pulled over and as a result of you not having insurance, the police officer called a tow truck? It happens, although in some states the officer has some discretion whether your car gets towed or not.
Now you have fines, towing, and impound fees.
Drivers involved in accidents may have their car impounded, their license suspended, and their registration revoked. Of course, once you’re caught up in this system, you also pay reinstatement and processing fees.
You may not be aware of what’s called active monitoring for vehicle insurance. Certain states electronically monitor the insurance status of all registered vehicles.
You may never get caught driving an uninsured car, but you can still be penalized for simply not having coverage.
If you aren’t involved in an accident, your biggest issue will be paying fines and retrieving your car from the impound lot. And you won’t go to jail for driving without insurance – at least not for a first offense.
Things get serious and more costly if you’re involved in an accident.
The Cost of a Car Accident
Paying a fine isn’t so bad, and most people figure out the insurance issue after the first run-in with the state’s insurance regulations. For others, it takes getting into a car accident for them realize rebellion isn’t worth it.
The penalties depend on your role in the car accident and whether you damaged another driver’s car or your own.
The Car You Hit
When you hit a car – and it’s your fault, your state may require you to pay for the damages. Even if the other driver carries insurance, you may be responsible for the repairs.
Car repairs of any kind are expensive and can add up quickly. Even a small scratch or dent can cost thousands.
Your Own Vehicle
No one pulls out of the driveway with the intention of getting into a car accident. The old saying accidents happen won’t console you when it actually happens to you.
If your car suffers damage, you may have the option of not repairing it. For cosmetic damage that may work, but what if the car isn’t driveable?
You’ll cover the entire bill for repairs. Worst case means you buy a new car. Either might make you regret not purchasing an insurance policy.
Injuries to Real People
One reason people carry insurance on their car is so that they don’t pay out of pocket for damage to the other driver’s vehicle. The other reason has to do with human beings.
No one imagines getting behind the wheel and hurting people. But accidents happen and people do get hurt. Sometimes, the injuries are serious.
Car insurance protects people in your car and the vehicle you hit. Insurance normally pays any medical bills incurred during the accident.
Without coverage, you could be held responsible for their medical bills, lost wages, and their other expenses. The total dollar amount could be enough to wipe out your savings and put you into debt for years.
Further, without car insurance, you may end up being sued.
Most states in the United States are known as tort states. This means that if you cause a car accident where someone suffers injuries, the injured party can sue you.
They can sue for all damages they suffer from the accident. Damages could include:
- Medical bills
- Lost wages
- Property damage
- Pain and suffering
Insured drivers let their insurance companies deal with paying damages. No insurance means you’re financially responsible.
Your financial responsibility doesn’t end with paying damages to the other driver. You’ll pay for your legal costs. You may even pay for theirs.
You may have heard the saying you can’t get blood from an onion. That isn’t the case with personal injury lawsuits.
If the case ends up in court and a judge rules against you, the other driver has multiple options for getting paid. You may even be subject to wage garnishment.
Using the state of Texas as our example, the yearly cost for the average driver is around $1,800. If that seems like a significant chunk of your paycheck, consider the cost of insurance vs. the financial and emotional cost of the most extreme penalty for non-compliance.
Continue reading and learn how the law looks at repeat offenders.
Go to Jail Don’t Pass Go
It’s really not a game – although, for some people, it’s a game of chance.
Maybe I won’t get caught. And if I do, maybe I can find a good attorney who will get my case dismissed.
If these are your thoughts, then you’re truly playing a game of chance. Sure, there are a few lucky people who drive successfully for years without insurance. As far back as 2014, roughly 13 percent of drivers carried no auto insurance.
The chance of an uninsured driver being involved in an accident is the same as it is for one who carries insurance. Ever wondered how many insured drivers spend time in jail due to their involvement in a car accident?
In most states, operating a vehicle without insurance is considered a misdemeanor. In 19 states, a judge can sentence you to time in jail. Two states allow community service as a punishment.
If you’re involved in an accident, you may face the most serious consequences. Expect a combination of fines, revoked license and registration, lawsuits, and a jail sentence.
Don’t Even Think about Driving without Insurance
We don’t tell people what to do or use scare tactics as a way of hitting readers over the head with a bunch of rules and regulations. We do, however, hope that our readers appreciate the benefit of safe driving.
That means we all need car insurance, even if it’s an added financial pressure. And even if we’d rather spend the money on, well, something else.
The penalties for driving without insurance can be life-changing, whether it’s a change in your finances or a change in your freedom.
We hope this post helps you or someone you care about find the motivation to renew that lapsed policy today.
If you enjoyed this article, check out our other posts. Happy driving!