Updated Oct. 12, 2020: Because I make my living giving money advice to people, you might be surprised to learn that I can be complacent about a lot of small stuff. I leave cabinets open, I don't always make my bed and yes, when my car insurance company sends my new ID card, I often forget to put it in my car.
Luckily, my state, New Jersey, has accepted electronic proof of insurance since 2015 (though I somehow did not know this until last year — like, I said, complacent). Every state now accepts electronic proof of insurance. Every major auto insurer now allows customers to display their ID cards using a mobile app.
This hasn't always been the case. As recently as 2011, no states allowed electronic proof of insurance. Today, all 50 states and Washington, D.C., allow drivers to show proof of insurance on their phones, according to the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America.
The states without laws
Massachusetts doesn't require you to show a car insurance card as proof of coverage. There, vehicle registration certificates include insurance information, so residents have one less document to worry about. New Hampshire doesn't require most drivers to carry auto insurance, so no need for electronic ID cards there either. (You can find a state-by-state guide to car insurance requirements here.)
Being able to present an electronic ID isn't just convenient — it's a money and time saver. Getting pulled over without proof of insurance will earn you a ticket in most places, and you'll probably have to go to court to show a judge you're actually covered. That often means paying a court fee and taking time off work (source: This happened to me).
As of 2019, when D.C. and New Mexico became the last areas to accept electronic ID, you'll be fine as long as you download your car insurer's app on your phone. And as I mentioned earlier, basically every car insurer has a mobile app now, though you should check with your insurer to be sure. And hopefully New Mexico, Connecticut and Washington, D.C. get with the times.
Want to know more about car insurance? We've got a FAQ here.