Driving without car insurance

Driving without car insurance is illegal in most states, and can lead to tickets and fees, license suspension, and even potential jail time.

Stephanie Nieves author photo


Stephanie Nieves

Stephanie Nieves

Property and Casualty Insurance Expert

Stephanie Nieves is an insurance editor at Policygenius in New York City, specializing in home and auto insurance. Her work has appeared in Business Insider, PayScale, Fairygodboss, and The Muse.

Published May 3, 2021|7 min read

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In most U.S. states, it’s illegal to operate a vehicle without car insurance. There are only two states where car insurance is not legally required, but even then, drivers are financially responsible for the damage and injury they cause in an accident (and the best way to protect yourself financially is, well, car insurance).

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If you’re thinking of driving a car without insurance, it’s worth considering the consequences. Penalties for being caught driving uninsured can include tickets and fees, the suspension or revocation of your license or registration, and in the worst case scenarios, jail time.

Key Takeaways

  • Driving without car insurance is illegal in most states, and can lead to tickets and fees, license suspension, and potential jail time

  • If you’re responsible for causing an accident and you don’t have insurance, you’ll have to pay for the damage and injury you cause out of pocket

  • If another driver causes an accident, you can file a third-party claim with their insurance to cover the damage and injury they caused, but you would still face penalties for driving uninsured

Is driving without car insurance illegal?

Yes, driving without car insurance is illegal in almost every state. New Hampshire and Virginia are the only two states where car insurance isn’t required by law. In Virginia, you can pay the DMV an “uninsured motor vehicle fee” of $500 in lieu of car insurance, and in both states, drivers without car insurance are still responsible for any bodily injury or property damage they cause with their vehicle. 

That means that even in the two states that don’t require car insurance, if you cause an accident and you’re not insured, you’ll have to pay for any damage yourself, and you may be on the hook for the other driver’s medical bills as well. Not only would you have to cover the costs of the accident you caused (which could easily total tens of thousands of dollars) you may also be sued, and without car insurance, resulting costs and legal fees would be 100% your responsibility. 

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What is the penalty for driving a car without insurance? 

The consequences of driving without car insurance vary from state to state, but can range from getting a ticket to going to jail. In Pennsylvania, for example, if you’re caught driving uninsured you’ll receive a $300 fine, a three-month suspension of your vehicle registration and driver’s license, and will need to pay a restoration fee of $50 each to get them back. 

Some states have more serious penalties than others, like Wyoming, where if you knowingly drive a vehicle without insurance, you may be fined $750 and imprisoned for up to six months. 

CaliforniaIn California, you can receive a fine of $100-$200, plus penalty assessments for driving without a license, and your registration will also be suspended until you provide a valid proof of insurance and pay a $20 fee.
FloridaIf you’re a Florida resident, your driver’s license and vehicle registration may be suspended if you don’t have car insurance, and you’ll be required to pay a reinstatement fee of up to $500, depending on whether it’s a repeat offense.
New YorkIf you get into an accident without car insurance in New York, or someone gets into an accident with your uninsured vehicle, your driver’s license and vehicle registration will be revoked for at least a year by the DMV. You may also have to pay a fine of as much as $1,500 for driving while uninsured, and another $750 to get your license back.
TexasIn Texas, drivers who get caught driving without insurance the first time need to pay a fine between $175 and $350. The second time a driver is caught without insurance, they will be fined between $350 and $1,000, and repeat offenders will have their license revoked and their vehicle impounded. Causing an accident while uninsured carries even steeper penalties.

The consequences also depend on the situation in which you were caught driving without insurance — the penalties may be greater if you’re in an accident without insurance rather than if you’re found driving without insurance during a traffic stop. In general, the potential consequences for driving without car insurance include: 

1. License suspension

If you’re caught driving without insurance, in addition to getting a ticket and a fine, your license may be suspended, especially if it’s not your first time getting caught driving without insurance. The duration of this suspension varies based on your state; some suspensions can end as soon as you show proof of insurance while others might end after a certain period of time. When your license is suspended, you’ll typically need to show proof of insurance through an SR-22 or FR-44 form in order to have it reinstated.

2. Loss of registration

Both your license and registration to be revoked if you get into an accident without car insurance. You also run the risk of having your vehicle impounded when driving uninsured. Many states require you to submit proof of insurance through an SR-22 or FR-44 in order to drive your vehicle again.

3. Jail time

In the worst-case scenario, repeat offenders may receive a prison sentence for driving uninsured. Jail time is often accompanied by additional charges and fees, and the amount of time can vary between a week to a year in most states. 

4. Higher car insurance rates

While not technically a legal consequence, driving without insurance means you’ll have a lapse in coverage on your insurance record. This will mean higher rates once you apply for coverage again. If you’re required to have an SR-22 form on your insurance in order to have your license reinstated, you’ll probably have to pay significantly more for coverage, and some insurers may refuse to write you a policy. 

What happens if I get into an accident without insurance?

Different states have different legal consequences for getting into an accident without car insurance. Generally speaking, the severity of these penalties depend on where you live, who was at fault, and how much damage was caused in the accident, but the consequences are usually greater if you’re in an accident while uninsured than if you simply fail to submit proof of insurance after registering a new car.

There are also insurance consequences for getting into a car accident without insurance — namely, without insurance, you won’t be able to pay for any damage you caused, and not having insurance can complicate things for you even if the other driver was the one at fault.

If you’re at fault

If you’re responsible for causing an accident and you don’t have insurance, you’ll have to pay for the damage and injury you cause out of pocket. You may also have to report it to your state’s DMV which could lead to fines or a license suspension depending on where you live (the police who respond to the scene of the accident will also likely ask you for proof of insurance). 

Car insurance will cover legal fees if the other driver decides to sue you, but if you’re uninsured, and the other driver decides to sue, you’ll also have to pay those fees on your own. 

If you don’t have the money to pay for the injuries and damage you’re responsible for, the court may allow the other driver to recoup those costs through wage garnishment, meaning money will be taken out of your paycheck and sent directly to the other driver until the debt is paid off. Your assets are also vulnerable when you don’t have car insurance, meaning your car, home and savings might go to paying the costs of the accident you caused.

While you're technically responsible for paying for the damage you caused, the other driver would be covered if they have uninsured motorist coverage, which means their insurance company would pay for the damage but will then reach out to you for reimbursement. 

In the 12 states that are known as “no-fault states,” drivers are responsible for paying for their own damage and injuries. That means that if you’re driving uninsured and get into an accident, the other driver will be paid out through their own insurance no matter who caused the accident. You may be required to pay the damage and injuries you caused once they’ve surpassed a certain threshold of damage, however, and you’ll still face consequences for causing an accident while uninsured. 

If the other driver is at fault

If another driver causes an accident, you can file a third-party claim with their insurance to cover the damage and injury they caused; even if they don’t have insurance, they’d still be responsible for paying. But if you were uninsured at the time of the accident, you’ll still face separate penalties for driving without insurance.

How to find the best auto insurance

1. Decide how you want to buy it.

You have two options when it comes to buying car insurance: you can buy a policy directly through a car insurance company or you can shop through an independent insurance marketplace like Policygenius. We recommend comparing quotes from multiple companies so you can get the most coverage for the cheapest price. That said, an independent insurance agency can pull quotes for you, saving you time and money since you won’t have to submit your information to each company one-by-one. 

2. Determine your coverage needs.

Liability coverage is the backbone of a car insurance policy, protecting you when you cause bodily injury or property damage to someone else. But how much you need depends on a number of factors. Most states require drivers to have a minimum amount of liability coverage, but these minimums are just a starting point for coverage and often don’t cover the full cost of an accident. When you’re shopping around for car insurance, you should consider adding other coverages to your policy (like comprehensive and collision coverage) and increasing your coverage amounts for liability well beyond what’s required by law. 

3. Shop around and compare quotes.

A number of factors come into play when you’re applying for car insurance, including your age, where you live, the make and model of your car, and your driving history. Car insurance companies weigh each of these factors differently, so the same driver could have completely different rates at two different companies for the same coverage. We recommend comparing quotes at multiple companies, so you can find the most coverage for the cheapest price. 

What to do if you can’t afford car insurance

Car insurance can cost thousands of dollars a year, depending on where you live and what providers are available to you. If you can’t find affordable car insurance, you should take steps to find the lowest rates possible:

  • Shop around -  Car insurance rates vary across insurers, and what you would pay with one provider can be dramatically different than what you would pay with another. The best way to get the cheapest coverage is to compare quotes from multiple insurers

  • Look for discounts - Many companies offer discounts for driving safely, bundling policies, and being affiliated with certain groups. When applying for car insurance, see what discounts you’re eligible for and compare those savings across multiple insurance companies

  • Sign up for usage-based insurance - If the option is available to you, you can find insurance that bases your rates on how frequently or how safely you drive rather than factors you can’t control, like your age 

  • Lower your coverage limits - Lowering your coverage limits and raising your deductible (or how much you’ll pay upfront for certain coverages), can save you money on your premiums, although it can leave you with less protection

Some states, like California, offer special programs to help low income drivers afford necessary car insurance coverage. If you’re unable to find affordable car insurance, contact your state’s DMV (or equivalent agency) to find out if your state offers a similar program. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I insure a car without a driver’s license?

You can technically purchase car insurance without a license by applying with the name and license number of the primary driver, but you can’t drive the car without a license. If you own a car and need to buy coverage for it, but are unlicensed and won’t be driving it, shop around to find a company that will work with your specific situation.

How long can I drive without insurance?

If you own a car that’s either parked or being driven on public roadways, you must have car insurance. It’s illegal to drive without your state’s minimum amount of car insurance, for any amount of time, even if you’ve just bought a car.

What counts as proof of insurance?

You can show proof of insurance through an ID card, proof of coverage letter, or an SR-22 form from your insurance company. If you have digital access to any of these documents, you can also show proof of insurance through your insurer’s mobile app, although not every state accepts digital proof of insurance as valid.

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