Most states require motorists to carry auto insurance, and the penalty for driving without it can include a fine and a suspension of your driver’s license, vehicle registration or both. In some states, you can also have your vehicle impounded or even face incarceration. Here are the most important things to know about driving without car insurance.
In this article:
It is illegal to drive without insurance
It is illegal to drive without car insurance in every state except New Hampshire, Virginia and parts of Alaska. However, many states waive the insurance requirement if you demonstrate your ability to pay for potential car accident injuries or damage through other means, such as posting a bond.
State insurance requirements are often called financial responsibility laws. They are designed to make sure that anyone who causes a car accident can pay the costs of treating those they injure and repairing property they damage.
Almost every state requires liability coverage for bodily injury and property damage. Seventeen states also require personal injury protection (PIP) or medical payments (MedPay) coverage. Since PIP and MedPay cover medical bills for you and your passengers, regardless of fault, they are often called no-fault coverages.
In Virginia, you can avoid the insurance requirement by paying a $500 uninsured motorist fee when you register your vehicle and renew your registration each year. New Hampshire only requires you to carry car insurance under certain circumstances, such as if you have a prior conviction for driving while intoxicated or have previously caused an accident while uninsured.
However, if you cause a car accident in New Hampshire or Virginia, you can be held liable for the medical treatment and auto repairs of others. This is why officials in both states highly recommend purchasing car insurance, even though doing so is not mandatory.
If you live in a region of Alaska that does not require you to register your vehicle, you don’t have to insure it, either.
What happens if I get caught driving without insurance?
From a financial point of view, the worst thing that can happen if you drive without insurance is that you’ll have to pay a potentially huge claim if you are involved in an accident. This is nothing to sneeze at.
In most states, if you cause an accident, you are responsible for medical bills of those you injure and repair costs of property you damage. In many states, you can also be held responsible for an injured person’s lost income and, in severe cases, pain and suffering.
If your state has no-fault insurance requirements, you may be responsible for your own medical bills and, potentially, those of your passengers, even if the other driver was at fault.
Aside from the risks of having to pay an accident claim, the penalties for driving without insurance can include the following, depending on your state:
- A fine.
- Points for violations or accidents added to your driving record.
- The suspension of your driver’s license or vehicle registration until you obtain insurance.
- Fees to reinstate your license and/or registration.
- Your vehicle may be impounded.
- In states where driving without insurance is a misdemeanor, the penalties can include incarceration or court-ordered community service.
- Several states require you to file an SR-22 form to reinstate your license and/or registration after you are caught driving without insurance.
- You might also see higher rates on future insurance coverage.
What is the penalty for driving without insurance?
Here’s an overview of the potential range of penalties for driving without insurance in each state, with the most severe punishments typically applied to repeat offenders.
|State||Range of penalties*|
|Alabama||Registration suspension, $500 to $1,000 fine.|
|Alaska||License suspension (in areas where insurance is required).|
|Arkansas||Registration suspension, $100 to $250 fine.|
|Colorado||Points, license suspension, $500 to $1,000 fine, possible community service.|
|Connecticut||Registration suspension, $200 fine.|
|District of Columbia||Registration suspension, $150 to $2,500 fine.|
|Delaware||License suspension, $1,500 to $3,000 fine.|
|Hawaii||License/registration suspension, $500 to $1,500 fine, community service; for multiple violations, steeper fines, vehicle impoundment, jail time.|
|Idaho||$75 to $1,000 fine, possible jail time for multiple violations.|
|Illinois||License plate suspension, $500 fine.|
|Indiana||License suspension, fine.|
|Iowa||Fines, possible vehicle impoundment.|
|Kansas||$300 to $2,500 fine, license suspension, possible jail time.|
|Kentucky||Registration revoked, $500 to $1,000 fine, possible jail time.|
|Louisiana||License/registration suspension, $500 to $1,000 fine, vehicle impoundment.|
|Maine||License/registration suspension, $100 to $500 fine.|
|Maryland||Registration suspension, $150 to $2,500 fine.|
|Massachusetts||License suspension, $500 to $5,000 fine.|
|Michigan||License suspension, $200 to $500 fine, possible jail time.|
|Minnesota||License/registration suspension, fine of at least $200.|
|Mississippi||License suspension, $1,000 fine.|
|Missouri||Points on your driving record, license suspension.|
|Montana||License suspension, $250 to $500 fine, possible jail time.|
|Nevada||License suspension, fines.|
|New Hampshire||License suspension.**|
|New Jersey||Fines, license/registration suspension, possible jail time.|
|New Mexico||$300 fine.|
|New York||License/registration suspension, $1,500 fine, vehicle impoundment.|
|North Carolina||License plate revocation, $50 to $150 fine, other fees.|
|North Dakota||$150 fine.|
|Ohio||License/registration suspension, $100 to $600 fine.|
|Oklahoma||License/registration suspension, $250 fine, vehicle impoundment, jail.|
|Oregon||License suspension, $130 to $1,000 fine.|
|Pennsylvania||License and registration suspension, $300 fine.|
|Rhode Island||License/registration suspension, $100 to $1,000 fine.|
|South Carolina||License/license plate/registration suspension.|
|South Dakota||License/license plate/registration suspension, $100 fine, possible jail time.|
|Tennessee||Registration suspension, fines.|
|Texas||License suspension, $175 to $1,000 fine, vehicle impoundment.|
|Utah||License/registration suspension, $400 to $1,000 fine.|
|Virginia||License/registration suspension, $600 fine.***|
|Washington||$550 fine, possible license suspension.|
|West Virginia||License/registration suspension.|
|Wyoming||Registration suspension, $250 to $1,500, possible jail time.|
*Does not include license/registration reinstatement fees; additional fees or penalties may also apply
**Only applies to those required to carry insurance.
***Only applies to those who do not pay the uninsured motorist fee with vehicle registration.
Are there additional penalties for driving without insurance?
Along with the penalties listed above, at least two states place additional sanctions on those who don’t meet financial responsibility requirements.
- Louisiana: A No Pay, No Play law prohibits an uninsured motorist from receiving the first $25,000 from a property damage claim and the first $15,000 from a bodily injury claim against an insured motorist who causes an accident.
- Michigan: Uninsured motorists injured in a car accident have to pay their own medical bills and cannot sue an at-fault driver for pain and suffering.
How do states verify insurance coverage?
Most states require you to show proof of insurance during a traffic stop or when you register your vehicle, and several also use electronic insurance verification systems. These verification systems typically compare customer data provided by insurance companies to state vehicle records, though the details vary by system.
In New York, for example, insurance companies notify the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) when a customer obtains a policy and when coverage ends. If the DMV discovers that a registered vehicle is not insured, the department issues a letter to the owner demanding proof of insurance. Owners who do not provide such proof or fail to respond can be penalized.
States with electronic insurance verification systems:
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
- West Virginia
How to get car insurance
In addition to fees, most states require those caught driving without insurance to get car insurance as a condition for reinstating a suspended license and/or registration. Fortunately, it’s easier than ever to shop for insurance. Your best bet is to compare quotes from multiple carriers to find the one that offers the best coverage and rates for your unique needs.
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