Driving without insurance guide

Driving without car insurance is never worth it. We explain the severe penalties you could face for driving uninsured.

Even if it’s a genuine mistake, driving without valid insurance is illegal in the UK and carries some serious consequences. We explain the minimum car insurance requirements for driving on UK roads, the penalties for driving without insurance and the rare circumstances when you don’t need car insurance.

What counts as driving without insurance?

Driving without insurance broadly breaks down into two categories.

1. The vehicle has no insurance cover

This is a fairly black and white situation that is clearly in breach of the laws against driving without insurance.

2. The vehicle is insured, but you are not correctly insured to drive it

The latter is an area where it is easier to make mistakes. Not only must you be insured to drive a car, but it also needs to be the right insurance.

Situations where you might fall foul of the second category of driving without insurance include the following:

  • You borrow someone else’s vehicle, believing that you are covered by your own comprehensive insurance on another vehicle. Some, but not all, comprehensive policies cover you to drive other vehicles on a third-party basis, so check before you get behind the wheel of someone else’s car.
  • You let your son or daughter drive your car, believing that your insurance will cover them as standard.
  • You have insurance to drive the vehicle, but the policy does not cover the way you’re using it. For example, if you are using your vehicle for business purposes, but your insurance only covers personal use.

There have even been cases of people being convicted of driving without insurance if they use their car for their regular commute, but their car insurance only covers “social, domestic and pleasure” use.

Is it always illegal to drive without car insurance?

It is illegal to drive your car on UK roads without having at least third party car insurance cover. All drivers must insure their cars at all times as detailed in the Continuous Insurance Enforcement legislation. This legislation has been in force since 2011.

It is also illegal simply to park your car on the road without insurance, even if you do not drive it.

What are the minimum requirements for car insurance?

The minimum car insurance requirement to drive on UK roads is third party cover. This will cover you for injuries to others or damage to their vehicles or property following an accident that is your fault. It won’t cover you for damage to or theft of your own car – to cover both of these, you’ll need comprehensive car insurance.

You will also need to make sure your car insurance policy covers you for how you will be using the car. For example, if you use your vehicle for work purposes (other than a regular commute), you will need business car insurance. If your insurance does not cover how you use the car, this may also count as driving without insurance.

What’s the point of car insurance?

If your car is old and not worth very much, you may regard car insurance as an expense you can live without. But it’s not just about your own car. If you cause an accident, having car insurance protects you from having to pay high repair fees or medical costs if you cause harm to someone else or their property.

That’s why third party insurance is the basic legal requirement – but you shouldn’t opt for this level automatically. Comprehensive car insurance can provide a crucial financial safety net that’s worth having even for low-value cars and often doesn’t cost any more than third party cover.

What are the penalties for driving without insurance?

The penalties for driving without insurance, knowingly or unknowingly, start at a fixed, minimum level and ramp up in line with the seriousness of the offence. Repeat offences are also likely to incur harsher penalties.

Nature of offencePenalties
Driving without insurance – less serious offence/first offence
  • £300 fixed penalty fine
  • 6 penalty points on licence
Driving without insurance – more serious offences/repeat offences (handled in court)
  • Unlimited fine
  • 6-8 penalty points on licence
  • Possible temporary disqualification from driving

As well as the penalties above, police have the power to seize the vehicle, even if it doesn’t belong to you, or destroy it in some cases.

Driving without insurance will go down on your record as an endorsement, with the code IN10. This stays on your record for 4 years and will likely result in much higher insurance premiums or make it harder to get cover at all.

Is accidental policy lapse a legitimate defence?

Unfortunately not. Driving without insurance, even for a day or two if you’re slow to renew your insurance, is what’s known as a “strict liability” offence. This means you are regarded as guilty of the offence, regardless of the reason.

It’s your responsibility to ensure you have continuous cover. Many insurers let you auto-renew your annual policy. If you’re worried you might forget, it’s a good idea to go for this option. Some policies even auto-renew by default. Your insurer should give you a few weeks’ advance notice of this happening, so you’ll have plenty of time to switch to a better car insurance deal if you want to.

How can I check if my car is insured?

The Motor Insurers’ Bureau (MIB) is an insurer-funded organisation that provides financial support to victims of uninsured and untraced collisions. It records details of all cars that are insured in the UK.

If you’re worried you might have missed your car insurance renewal date and your policy documents have gone AWOL, you can check whether your car is currently insured using its Motor Insurance Database.

This service will only tell you whether you are currently insured. It won’t tell you when your insurance expires. Your insurer will send you a renewal notice when time is running out, so keep an eye on emails and letters (if you move house, make sure any post is redirected). If in doubt, check with the insurer directly. If you’re not sure who your insurer is, try checking your bank or credit card statements to see who your last car insurance payment went to.

Are there any circumstances when I don’t need car insurance?

There is a very small set of circumstances when it’s OK for a car not to be insured, including the following:

  • When a car is off the road and registered as SORN
  • When a car is between registered owners
  • When a car has been off public roads since before 1 February 1998
  • When a car has been scrapped, stolen or exported with prior notification.

What is SORN?

If your car isn’t currently being used and is stored away in your garage, you can avoid having to insure or even tax it, but you will need to legally declare your vehicle as being off the road. The DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency) refers to this as “statutory off road notification” or “SORN”.

While your vehicle is registered as SORN, you will need to make sure that your car is not driven or parked on any roads that are open to the public. It will only be allowed to be kept on private land, on a private driveway or inside a garage.

Do I need to insure my car if it’s parked on the road but I don’t drive it?

Yes. Under the Road Traffic Act, parking on the road counts as “using” a car on the road, so it needs to be insured even if you don’t drive it.

Can I drive on private land in an uninsured vehicle?

Yes, provided that the land you’re driving on can’t be accessed by the public – for example, a private estate with locked gates that prevent entry. If the public can get onto the private land, you will still need insurance. This might include car parks, campsites or some private estates where there is nothing to stop the public entering.

Cars that are only driven on inaccessible private land will need to be registered as SORN.

Are there any special reasons for driving without insurance?

When a person is found to be driving without insurance, there are some “special reasons” that may apply, which could reduce their punishment. This is because there may be times when a person may be legally at fault but may, on a personal level, be morally innocent. Examples of “special reasons” can include the following:

  • When an insurer cancels an insurance policy without informing the policyholder
  • When a person genuinely believes that they have insurance, even though they do not
  • When a person is told by the owner of the vehicle or the insurance policyholder that they can legally drive the car.

How can police tell if a car is uninsured?

The MIB records details of all insured vehicles in the UK in its Motor Insurance Database. It shares this with UK police forces.

When the police monitor cars on the road, they can use Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras to tell if a vehicle is insured almost instantly.

What happens if I’m stopped by the police for driving without insurance?

If you’re stopped by the police and asked for your documents, you have 7 days to provide an insurance certificate that was valid at the time you were stopped and that covers the way you were using the car.

Should you be unable to do so, you are likely to be convicted of driving without insurance and penalised accordingly.

If you are certain you have insurance, double-check that your insurer has added you to the Motor Insurance Database.

There is a chance that this process could reveal that your policy has been cancelled without your knowledge. If this is the case, and the insurer had not taken reasonable steps to inform you, this is a “special circumstance” that could reduce your punishment.

What if I have an accident while I’m uninsured?

At the very least, you’ll face the standard penalties for driving without insurance. Plus, you’ll be liable for the cost of any damage caused by the accident.

If you’re involved in an accident while driving without insurance, and this causes a fatality, the consequences can be even more severe than if you’re caught during a police stop. You may even receive a prison sentence.

The risks just aren’t worth it.

Does comprehensive car insurance cover me to drive any vehicle?

Maybe, maybe not. Some comprehensive policies include third party only insurance to drive other cars (sometimes known as DOC insurance). A handful may even offer comprehensive cover as standard. However, in many cases, DOC cover is an optional extra that requires an additional premium.

Always check the terms of your insurance carefully before driving someone else’s car. You may need to find an alternative form of cover, such as temporary car insurance or asking the main driver to add you to their policy as a named driver.

What if I’m hit by an uninsured vehicle?

We’d like to say that this is unlikely, given that car insurance is a legal requirement for drivers. But, unfortunately, according to the Motor Insurers’ Bureau (MIB), 130 people are killed and 26,000 injured each year following collisions caused by uninsured drivers in the UK. The MIB says this is nearly 1 in every 5 road collisions.

If you are involved in a collision, you may not know until much later whether the other driver is insured, especially if they hit and run. But, as with any accident, do the following:

  • Gather as much information as you can, including driver and vehicle details if possible
  • At a minimum, take photos and videos of the damage to and the position of your own car to use as evidence
  • Make a complaint to the police if the other driver refuses to give you their insurance details
  • Let your own insurer know about the incident as soon as possible. As long as you’ve been able to get sufficient details of the other driver and vehicle, it will be able to check whether the other driver is insured or not via the Motor Insurance Database (MID).

Usually, following an accident that was not your fault, the other driver’s insurance will pay for any damage. If the other driver was uninsured, and you have comprehensive cover, you can claim on your own insurance. With many insurers, claims caused by uninsured drivers will not affect your no-claims bonus.

If you only have third party or third party, fire and theft cover, your own insurance won’t pay out. However, you may be able to make a claim through the Motor Insurer’s Bureau.

What if I can’t afford car insurance?

Unfortunately, the inability to afford car insurance is not a valid excuse. The police are likely to give this argument short shrift on the basis that if you can’t afford insurance, you shouldn’t be driving at all.

Skimping on car insurance cover is a false economy. If you’re caught without appropriate insurance, you’ll face costs that could far outweigh any insurance charges, including the following:

  • A minimum financial penalty of £300 and the potential for much bigger fines
  • Significantly higher insurance premiums in the future thanks to having an endorsement on your record
  • The cost of damage repairs if you’re involved in an accident.

And there’s a good chance that you will be caught. According to the MIB, in 2019, 137,410 vehicles were seized for not having insurance – that’s 1 every 4 minutes.

At Finder, we get that the cost of car insurance can sometimes be hard to stomach. But there are ways to keep costs as low as possible, for example by opting for a cheaper, less powerful car; choosing a higher voluntary excess; and – crucially – shopping around for the cheapest cover. Take a look at our guide on cheap car insurance for more money-saving tips and to find the best deal.

Bottom line

The bottom line here is quite simple: don’t risk driving uninsured. Whether it’s intentional or not, uninsured drivers face serious financial penalties. Before you get behind the wheel of any vehicle, always make sure you have the insurance cover you need.

Frequently asked questions

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Written by

Ceri Stanaway

Ceri Stanaway is a researcher, writer and editor with more than 15 years’ experience, including a long stint at independent publisher Which?. She’s helped people find the best products and services, and avoid the pitfalls, across topics ranging from broadband to insurance. Outside of work, you can often find her sampling the fares in local cafes. See full profile

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