Do you really need to pay the hefty annual costs required to insure your car, even if your driving record is spotless?
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.
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How does car insurance work?
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 for your car alone to add-ons that extend to other damage 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 a predetermined or adjustable 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 car insurance. Rather, it’s at the state level that mandates 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 and comprehensive, protecting you from the high repair and medical bills that can result from an accident.
Comprehensive policies also cover other accident damages related to fire, severe weather, runaway grocery carts or other situations beyond your control.
What do laws specifically 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.
What happens if I’m in an accident and don’t have car insurance?
If you’re in an accident and don’t have a valid car insurance policy, you face fees and legal consequences that can range from the suspension of your license to stiff fees and even jail time.
Not only could you be slapped with a fine, if you are at fault in the accident, you will have to pay for damages to other driver’s car out-of-pocket. You could even be sued for the damage and any injury sustained by the other driver and passengers. In addition to this expense, your future car insurance rates will be high because of causing an accident while driving without insurance.
The same fines and legal consequences apply if you are caught driving without insurance, say, during a routine traffic stop. Some states can be lenient with first-timers, sometimes resulting in a fine and a ticket, but no jail time or suspension of your license. But there’s no guarantee.
The majority of states take a heavy hand with uninsured drivers, which can mean a suspended license and hefty fines. More severe penalties include suspending your vehicle registration — often for months — and jail time for repeat offenses.
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.
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 for you.