Q

Is it illegal to not have car insurance?

A

Driving without insurance is against the law in most states. If you live in a state that doesn’t legally require car insurance and decide to go without it, you still have to comply with financial responsibility laws, like annual vehicle registration fees.

Kara McGinley

Kara McGinley

Published March 9, 2020

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Drivers are legally required to have car insurance in nearly every state. If you drive uninsured you risk fines and driver’s license suspension

  • Different states have different minimum car insurance coverage requirements, but most drivers need more than the minimum amount to adequately protect themselves

  • Virginia and New Hampshire do not legally require drivers to have car insurance, however you will be personally responsible for any medical expenses or bills in damages if you get in a car accident

Driving without insurance is against the law in most states. If you live in a state that doesn’t legally require car insurance and decide to go without it, you still have to comply with financial responsibility laws, like annual vehicle registration fees.

Most states legally require drivers to have insurance for any cars they own. Car insurance protects you from the financial liability of damage that you cause to another person’s car or an injury you cause with your vehicle. An auto insurance policy also covers damage to your own car, including damage from collisions, theft, vandalism, and more.

If you don’t have an insurance policy and you get into an accident, you could end up with a costly bill that you have to pay out of pocket. Depending on which state you live in, you could receive a fine or potentially have your driver’s license suspended for not having an auto policy in force.

Even if your state is one of the two that doesn’t legally require car insurance, driving without insurance is a major risk and could leave you on your own to pay expensive bills (and if you can’t pay them you risk being taken to court over the matter.) Which is why almost all states require drivers to obtain a minimum amount of car insurance coverage — to make sure you can financially pay for accidents or other damages.

In this article:

Why do states legally require car insurance?

States require drivers to purchase a car insurance policy to ensure that motorists can take financial responsibility when it comes to collisions and damages. This is why most states require drivers to at least have liability coverage, which covers bodily injury and property damage that you cause to someone else. Liability coverage is the crucial backbone of your auto insurance policy and every state that requires car insurance will require you to have a minimum amount of liability coverage.

Each state will have minimum car insurance coverages that drivers must meet. If your vehicle is legally registered and will be driven on public roads, then you are required to meet these coverage minimums before you can actually drive your car. However, auto insurance policies are not one-size-fits-all, and you may want to add additional coverage to your policy depending on your own situation.

Some states might require you to purchase different car insurance coverage amounts. Your state might require you to have a certain amount of coverage types, like:

  • Personal injury protection: Covers medical expenses and other costs if you are injured or if your passenger is injured in a collision. This is required in so called “no-fault” states, where drivers get compensation for injuries from a car accident through their own insurance company rather than the insurance company of the at-fault party.
  • Uninsured and/or underinsured motorist insurance: Covers you if you get into an accident with someone who is uninsured or has only a limited amount of auto insurance.
  • Collision and comprehensive coverage: Optional coverage that protects your vehicle when it is both on and off the road, like if a tree falls and damages your car during a storm or if you back into a pillar by accident.
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What happens if I get caught driving without car insurance?

If you get in a car accident and you don’t have a current car insurance policy, depending on what state you live in there can be a variety of consequences. The penalties range from fines to a suspended driver’s license. If you get pulled over while driving, you are required to show police proof of insurance and your vehicle registration. If you have neither, this can also result in serious consequences.

Depending on your state’s laws, if you fail to prove that you have an auto insurance policy you could be facing:

  • Suspended vehicle registration
  • License or registration reinstatement fees
  • Your vehicle could be towed or impounded
  • Community service fine
  • Higher auto insurance rates in the future
  • Arrest and potential jail time

What documents should I keep in my car?

You should keep your insurance info and other documents in your car because you will be required to provide them if you get in an accident or if you’re pulled over by a police officer. You should also have these documents handy when you are filing an auto insurance claim.

According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, drivers should keep the following documents in their cars:

Most car insurance companies have smartphone apps that let you easily pull up your policy information.

Do I need car insurance if I don’t have a car?

In short, no you do not. If you drive someone else’s car once in a while, you will be covered by their policy under what is called “permissive use.” If you drive a car that belongs to someone in your household, you should get listed as a named insured on their policy. However, there is also such a thing as non-owner car insurance..

Non-owner car insurance is something you should consider if you:

  • Frequently borrow a friend or family member’s car
  • Use car-sharing services like Zipcar or Car2go

Non-owner car insurance will provide you with liability coverage, giving you extra protection and coverage if you cause an accident and are found liable for damages.

How much car insurance is legally required in your state?

Nearly every single state requires motorists to have car insurance. However, each state has different amount of coverage requirements for drivers. For example, Alabama requires drivers to have a minimum of $25,000 in bodily injury liability coverage per person, whereas Alaska requires drivers to purchase a minimum of $50,000 worth of that same coverage.

If you lease your vehicle or bought it with a loan, then the company you lease from or your lienholder may require you purchase more coverage to meet their lease requirements, in addition to what your state requires.

Only two states do not require drivers to carry a minimum amount of auto insurance: New Hampshire and Virginia. However, that doesn’t mean there are no consequences for going uninsured in those states — New Hampshire requires drivers to pay up to a certain limit out of pocket if you go uninsured or else you will face penalties and Virginia requires an annual payment to the state if you decide to forgo auto insurance.

Find out your state’s required car insurance minimums.

Financial responsibility laws in states that don’t require car insurance

If you live in Virginia or New Hampshire, you are not legally required to have car insurance. However, there are still financial responsibility laws that you must comply with. Like state required car insurance coverage, financial responsibility laws will change depending on which state you live in.

  • Virginia: Drivers without car insurance must pay a $500 uninsured motor vehicle annual registration fee. Uninsured drivers are also responsible for paying out of pocket for medical expenses or property damage after a car accident.
  • New Hampshire: Uninsured drivers who are determined to be at fault for a car accident are required to get insurance coverage for at least three years after the accident.

Of course, drivers can buy an auto insurance policy in both Virginia and New Hampshire to meet each state’s car insurance coverage minimums, and then the above caveats will not apply to them. In fact, if you own a car and you plan on driving it at all, car insurance is a good investment that can save you thousands of dollars that you might otherwise have to pay out of pocket.