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Is it illegal to drive without car insurance?

Do you really need to pay the hefty annual car insurance costs if your driving record is spotless?

Updated

Fact checked

To legally drive your or another person’s car in most states, yes, you do need car insurance. But because state laws and even insurance policies vary, here’s what you should know about keeping your car properly insured.

Do I need car insurance?

Car insurance covers your liability for injuries and damages that result from a car accident, or even theft or fire with additional coverages. Protection can span from coverage of your car alone to add-ons that extend to injuries caused by accidents — even vandalism and driveway dings.

In this way, car insurance functions like any other insurance: You pay into an insurance policy, typically through monthly payments called insurance premiums. And by knowing your insurance policy terms, you know that if the worst case happens, you’re covered by your policy up to an amount before additional money comes out of your pocket.

Why does the law require me to have car insurance?

You won’t find a federal law that requires auto insurance. Instead, it’s states that create mandates requiring at least some level of car insurance for drivers.

In most cases, you’re required to carry at least liability insurance, rather than a comprehensive policy that includes liability and collision. Liability insurance is nearly always required because it protects other drivers and pedestrians in an accident, but not your own life and property.

However, it doesn’t mean that insurance doesn’t benefit your needs: Any damage to your own vehicle is also covered when you extend your coverage to include collision, protecting you from the high repair and medical bills that can result from an accident.

Comprehensive policies also cover damages related to fire, severe weather, runaway grocery carts or other situations beyond your control that don’t involve a collision with another car.

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What do laws say about car insurance?

Laws and penalties vary by state, but nearly all states have legislation in place that makes it illegal to drive without car insurance.

States like Arizona and Alabama allow you to forgo your typical coverage by depositing money into a state fund or bond that’s used as collateral to cover damages resulting from an accident. But these deposits can be as high as $50,000 — often higher than what you’d pay for car insurance.

Where can I find more information about car insurance laws in my state?

Most insurance providers can provide you with specific insurance laws for your state of residence. For a quick breakdown of liability insurance requirements by state, start with our guide to minimum insurance requirements.

What happens if I’m in an accident and don’t have car insurance?

If you don’t have a valid car insurance policy, the aftermath will depend on where you live and who’s at fault in the accident.

What happens if I’m at fault?

If you’re at fault in the accident, you’ll have to pay for damages to the other driver’s car out of your own pocket. And if you don’t live in one of the 12 no-fault states — like Florida or Kentucky — you could even be sued for the damages and injuries of the other driver.

In addition to this expense, your future car insurance rates will be higher from causing an accident while driving without insurance.

What happens if the other driver is at fault?

You may receive coverage for your damages and injuries by filing a third-party claim with the at-fault drivers insurance.

However, if you live in a “no pay, no play” state, you will be limited from suing for certain types of damages like emotional stress or physical pain. And if you do sue for property damages, it’s likely you’ll have to pay a high deductible towards repairs first. These states include Alaska, California, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, North Dakota, New Jersey, Oklahoma and Oregon.

The cost of an accident while driving without insurance

If you’re in an accident and don’t have car insurance, you face legal consequences that can range from the suspension of your license to stiff fees and even jail time, depending on your state.

For example, a first-time offense in California could cost you up to a $200 fine and having your car impounded. But in West Virginia, the same offense could cost you up to $5,000 and jail time.

In a few states, including New Hampshire and Virginia, it’s legal to drive without insurance if you pay a fee for the privilege, and you’ll also pay a range of fees if you’re in an accident.

Compare car insurance policies

Name Product SR-22 Nonowner policy Payment schedule States served
The General
Yes
Yes
12 months, monthly
All states except HI MA MI and NJ
Basic, affordable coverage for almost any driver, including drivers with past claims or SR-22.
SafeAuto
Yes
Yes
12 months, 6 months, monthly (fee applies)
AZ, GA, IL, IN, KS, KY, LA, MS, MO, OH, OK, PA, SC, TN, TX, VA
High-risk drivers can find no-frills policy at a decent price with multiple payment options.
National General
Yes
No
12 months, 6 months, custom
All 50 states
This low-cost provider can make car insurance more affordable with its long list of discounts.
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Bottom line

Almost all states require some form of car insurance, whether it’s a large deposit into a state fund or, in most cases, a traditional insurance policy. Getting into an accident or caught driving without insurance comes with hefty consequences, so make sure you and your car are protected with the right car insurance policy for you.

Frequently asked questions about driving without insurance

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