What Happens if You Drive Without Insurance?

Quick Answer

If you get caught driving without your state's minimum insurance requirement, you could lose your license, have your car impounded, receive a fine or even face jail time.

Portrait of young man in car

Car insurance isn't always cheap, but if you're caught driving without the minimum coverage set by your state, you could face some serious consequences, including a fine, suspension of your license or even jail time.

What's more, buying a new policy will get more expensive due to the lapse in coverage. Here's what you need to know and how to ensure proper coverage for your vehicle.

Can You Drive Without Car Insurance?

Nearly all states require you to have car insurance to be able to drive on public roads. That said, coverage requirements can vary depending on where you live. For example, most states require a minimum amount of liability coverage, but the figures can differ.

Some states may require you to also have uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage, personal injury protection or medical payments coverage.

New Hampshire is the only state without a blanket mandate, but drivers who don't want to pay for coverage must be able to prove that they can meet the state's financial responsibility requirements in the event that they cause an accident.

In Virginia, drivers can opt out of the legal requirement by paying a $500 uninsured motorist fee every year.

What Happens if You Drive Without Insurance?

The penalties for driving without coverage can vary depending on where you live and how many times you've been caught. In general, though, here's what you can expect:

  • Fine: You may face a penalty of anywhere from $50 to $5,000, with higher amounts typically reserved for subsequent offenses.
  • Suspension: You could have your license or registration suspended or your vehicle impounded, which can add extra costs to getting back on the road.
  • Jail time: Driving without insurance can be considered a misdemeanor or even a felony in some cases, with jail time ranging anywhere from 10 days to a year.
  • SR-22: An SR-22 is a form your insurance company must file with your state's department of motor vehicles to prove that you have coverage. Not all insurers offer coverage to drivers who need an SR-22, and those that do typically charge higher rates due to the extra risk—roughly twice as much on average. It can take a few years for an SR-22 to no longer be needed.

Legal penalties aren't the only consequences you may face, however. If you have an outstanding loan on your vehicle, your lender will typically require full coverage, including liability and other state-required coverages, as well as collision and comprehensive insurance. If you don't have the required coverage, you've breached your loan agreement, and the lender could repossess the vehicle.

Getting Pulled Over Without Insurance

If you get pulled over for a moving violation, the police officer will typically ask you for your license, vehicle registration and proof of insurance.

If you don't have proof of insurance, you'll likely receive a citation, which will be added to your driving record and also include a fine and possibly some jail time. You may also have your license suspended for a set period of time or until you obtain insurance, usually with an SR-22.

In some cases, the officer could call a tow truck and impound your vehicle, which you'll typically need to pay to retrieve. Additionally, your lender could opt to repossess the vehicle.

Getting into an Accident Without Insurance

If you cause an accident while driving without insurance, you'll typically face the same penalties as getting pulled over, but the consequences will typically be harsher.

What's more, you'll also be fully or partially responsible for paying for any damages or injuries you caused in the accident. Depending on the severity of the accident, you could be on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars. If you can't pay, the other driver or their insurance company could sue you.

How to Get Car Insurance

To avoid the potential consequences of driving without coverage, it's important to get at least the minimum amount required by your state. Here are some steps you can take:

  1. Shop around. It's best to request an online quote from at least three to five insurers to improve your odds of getting a low rate. With the Experian auto insurance comparison tool, you can compare personalized quotes from multiple providers in one place.
  2. Choose your coverage amounts. While comparing your options, determine which types of coverage you need to satisfy legal and lender requirements. Then, consider how much more to get above the minimum requirements to ensure you're fully protected if you get in an accident. For certain types of coverage, you'll have an out-of-pocket deductible before the insurance kicks in. A higher deductible can reduce your premium, but make sure you can afford it in the event of a claim.
  3. Look for discounts. Insurance companies offer several discounts that can reduce your costs. You can visit each insurer's website to get more information and find out what you're eligible for.
  4. Choose a carrier and buy the policy. Once you've determined which provider offers the best value, you can submit a full application and purchase the policy through its website. You can then print your proof of coverage or request it in the mail.

The Bottom Line

If you own a vehicle or drive one regularly, it's crucial that you have insurance coverage in place, not only to avoid legal and other consequences but also to protect yourself in the event of an accident.

While auto insurance can be expensive, there are ways to save on coverage by shopping around, getting discounts, reducing coverage amounts, dropping optional add-ons and increasing deductibles. In many states, improving your credit score can also help lower your insurance premiums.