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Driving without car insurance
Without insurance, you could be left paying thousands of dollars in fines.
What's in this guide?
- Is it illegal to drive without car insurance?
- What are the penalties for driving without insurance?
- What happens if I'm in a car accident without insurance?
- Can I drive someone else's car without insurance?
- What if I can't afford car insurance?
- Compare liability-only car insurance
- Bottom line
- Questions about driving without car insurance
Is it illegal to drive without car insurance?
Yes, you’re legally required to have car insurance before driving your or another person’s car in most states. That’s because most states require a minimum level of car insurance to protect you and others from paying out of pocket for car accident damage.
Some states like Arizona and Alabama let you forgo car insurance if you deposit money in a state fund or bond that’s used to cover an accident. But these deposits can be as high as $50,000 — higher than what’s typical for car insurance.
What insurance do I need to legally drive?
Bodily injury and property damage liability insurance is nearly always required because they protect other drivers and pedestrians in an accident, but not your own life and property. Each state also lists a coverage limit, like $25,000 for property damage liability.
This liability coverage ranges from $30 to 80 a month, depending on factors like your location, car and driving record. Several states also require personal injury protection to pay your medical bills, lost income and other expenses, and uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage if the at-fault driver can’t pay for the damage.
What are the penalties for driving without insurance?
Every state sets different penalties if you drive without car insurance, and these can vary wildly. Some states give out sky-high fines and license suspensions from the first violation, while others start with small fines. These fines and costs easily cost the same or more than your state’s minimum car insurance.
If you’re caught driving without insurance, you may be facing:
- Fines. For a first offense, most states charge fines from $100 to $500, but some charge over $1,000 on the first offense. Repeat offenses typically see fines from $1,000 to $3,000. For example, California charges $100 to $200 on the first no-insurance violation and up to $500 for the second time.
- Suspended license. Many states suspend your license on the first, second or third offense, though not all states use this penalty.
- License reinstatement. After your license is no longer suspended, you’ll pay a reinstatement fee and have to prove your insurance status. Some states add more fees, like Texas, which adds a $250 surcharge to license renewals for three years from the first offense.
- Impounded vehicle. On repeat offenses, the police may tow your vehicle until you pay fines or meet other requirements.
- Jail time. You might not go to jail the first time around, but many states make jailtime part of the consequences for repeat offenses. Some give cops the option to use jail-time or fines as a penalty at their discretion. That doesn’t include any lost income if you go to jail.
- Tickets. Along with these base fines, most states tack on penalty assessments that can add hundreds of dollars to your overall fine. Penalty assessments are fees that local or state governments assign to pay for court costs like upkeep and administration.
- SR-22 insurance. In most states, you’ll be required to file an SR-22 form to prove that you meet your state’s requirements. Your car insurance company may submit the form for you, or you can call your DMV for instructions on filing it yourself. Having an SR-22 can raise your car insurance rates.
- Higher insurance premiums. Insurance companies see a time gap without insurance or filing SR-22s as extra risk for insuring, leading to expensive rates or denied applications.
- Alternate transportation. If you get a suspended license or your car impounded, you’ll need to hitch a ride with friends or pay for rideshares and rentals until you get these back.
What happens if I’m in a car accident without insurance?
If you’re at fault in the accident, you’re held responsible for damage or injuries that you cause to other people. Without insurance, the other driver may even sue you to get payment from your other financial assets like your savings, investments or your home, assuming you don’t live in one of the 12 no-fault states — like Florida or Kentucky.
That means you’ll be on the hook to pay out of pocket for:
- Damage to the other driver’s car
- Damage to your own car
- Medical bills from injuries caused by the accident
- Legal fees if you’re sued for the other driver’s damage and injuries
If the other driver caused the accident, you may get reimbursed for your damage and injuries by filing a claim with the at-fault driver’s car insurance. However, if you live in a “no pay, no play” state, you’ll be limited from suing for some damage like emotional stress or physical pain.
If you sue for property damage, you’ll probably pay a high deductible first. These states include Alaska, California, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, North Dakota, New Jersey, Oklahoma and Oregon.
Can I drive someone else’s car without insurance?
Technically, yes in most cases. If you borrow someone’s car, their insurance should pay for any damage to their car and liability for you and others on the road.
However, if you borrow the car regularly or take extended trips, that person’s car insurance may not cover any damage. You’ll be liable for damage and injuries that happen in this scenario, and going without your own insurance would be considered driving uninsured.
Car insurance that covers driving someone else’s car
A simple nonowner car insurance policy could work well if you need to borrow a car regularly. This policy pays for bodily injury or property damage liability if you get in an accident while driving someone else’s car.
What if I can’t afford car insurance?
If you’re having trouble paying your car insurance premiums, you have several options:
- Talk with an insurance agent. Reach out to your agent or a broker if you need help dropping coverage, raising your deductibles or switching to a cheaper company.
- Look at pay-per-mile car insurance. You may find lower rates with pay-per-mile insurers like Metromile or Root that charge only for the miles you drive.
- Drop all but the essentials. You can keep the coverage that’s required by your state, though this option may leave you unprotected for some damage.
- Switch to a cheaper car to insure. If you’re looking to buy another car, consider car models that cost less to insure than your current car.
- Use alternative transportation. You can buy multi-ride bus passes in major cities, and car-sharing or ridesharing companies like Uber and Zipcar offer rides without an extended contract.
- Go carpooling. The ultimate free option is to carpool with friends and family who may be happy to help you.
Compare liability-only car insurance
The cheapest car insurance policy covers your state minimum requirements for liability insurance. Compare the cheapest policies to avoid paying uninsured fines.
Driving with no insurance comes with steep fines, and you could be responsible for liability damage if you get in a car accident. Rather than going without coverage, try shopping around for low-cost car insurance or consider cheap options to help you stay insured.
Questions about driving without car insurance
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