Q

What happens if you get into a car accident without insurance?

A

The consequences will depend on three factors: where you live, who was at fault, and how much damage was caused — but driving without insurance is never a good idea.

At least some amount of car insurance coverage is legally required in most states in the U.S. If you live in a state where car insurance isn’t legally required, you still need to be able to pay for any damage or injuries you cause with your car. The best way to make sure you can do that is, well, to have car insurance. But what happens if you get into an accident without insurance?

The severity of the consequences will depend on where you live, who was at fault, and how much damage the accident caused. But no matter what, getting into an accident when you don’t have insurance isn’t going to be a simple fix.

Key Takeaways

  • If you’re the at-fault driver in a car accident and you don’t have insurance, you’ll be on the hook financially for any damage you cause

  • The consequences for driving without insurance vary based on where you live, who was at fault, and how much damage was caused in the accident

  • If the other party is at-fault for causing an accident, you can file a third-party claim through their insurance company to get compensation for the damage, but you may still face consequences for driving uninsured

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If you live in a state that requires car insurance

Most states require at least a minimum of car insurance coverage, and getting caught driving without insurance, even if you haven’t had an accident, can lead to serious consequences. Some of the penalties for driving without insurance can include:

  • License suspension

  • License revocation

  • Fines

  • Jail time

And that’s just for driving without insurance. What if you get in an accident?

1. If you’re at fault

If you have an accident and you’re the at-fault driver, you’ll face penalties for driving uninsured and be on the hook financially for any damage you cause. The driver can also sue you, and you’d have to pay all your legal fees out of pocket too.

If you don’t have the money to pay for the damage and injuries you caused, the court may allow the other driver to recoup those costs through wage garnishment, which means the money you owe them would come directly out of your paycheck. The combined costs for causing an accident could be thousands, maybe even tens of thousands of dollars — much more than you’d save by not paying for car insurance.

But this also depends on where in the U.S. you are. There are 12 states that are called no-fault insurance states, where drivers must get compensation for damage and injuries from their own insurance company, no matter who was at fault in a car accident. If you were driving uninsured and caused an accident in one of those 12 states, the other driver will be paid out from their own insurance. Unless you cause above a certain threshold of damage, you may not owe them for the damage and injuries you caused, although you may still face consequences for driving uninsured.

2. If the other driver is at fault

What about if you were driving without insurance and another driver caused an accident? If you don’t have your own car insurance, your state may place limits on what you’re able to get from that driver and their insurance. And you’ll still face penalties for driving without insurance.

If you live in a state that doesn’t require car insurance

There are two states that don’t legally require you to have car insurance: New Hampshire and Virginia. In Virginia, you must pay the state Department of Motor Vehicles a $500 fee to be able to drive uninsured. And in both states, if you’re driving without insurance, you’re still financially responsible for any property damage or injuries you cause.

So if you get into an accident without insurance in either of those states, a few things can happen.

1. If you’re at fault

If you were the at-fault driver in the accident and you don’t have insurance, you’ll have to pay out of pocket for any damage or injuries you caused — even though you don’t have coverage, the other driver has the right to recover damages from you, meaning they can sue. Car insurance will cover legal fees, but if you’re uninsured, that would also be an out-of-pocket expense.

Depending on the severity of the accident, you may also have to report the accident to your state’s DMV. You also risk having your license suspended and other serious consequences.

2. If the other driver is at fault

If the other driver is at fault, you’d file a third-party claim with their insurance, and that should cover the damage or injuries they caused. If they also don’t have insurance then they’re still responsible for paying you for any damage or injuries they caused.

You also have the right to take them to court — but you should check your state’s statute of limitations. Most states give you three years to file a lawsuit against another driver after an accident, so if you drag your feet too long, your window of opportunity may close.

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How to find affordable car insurance

Insurance companies use many different factors to determine your car insurance rates, including your location, your driving history, and the make and model of your car. But some of these factors (including having lapses in coverage) can really raise your rates, making it difficult to find affordable car insurance. When looking for the cheapest car insurance policy, you should:

  • Compare quotes at multiple companies to find the cheapest rates

  • Look for discounts, like for going paperless or driving a car with certain safety features

  • Maintain a clean driving record

  • Raise your deductible

If you have a history of lapses in your car insurance coverage, you may need to look into what’s called high-risk auto insurance, or nonstandard auto-insurance. Most major carriers will insure high-risk drivers, but at a higher cost than standard policies. However, if your record is especially poor, you may to check out smaller companies that specialize in writing policies for high-risk drivers. 

If car insurance seems too expensive, or if you’re worried that a poor driving record will make it hard for you to find affordable insurance, a Policygenius expert can help you find a policy that fits your budget and your needs.

Frequently Asked Questions

What happens if someone hits me but I don't have insurance?

If someone hits you with their car, their insurance (specifically their liability coverage) will pay for the damage to you and your car. You can file a third-party claim directly to the other party’s insurance company and their insurance will deal with making a settlement. But if you live in a state where insurance is required, you may still face consequences for driving without insurance.

What happens if another driver hits me and they do not have insurance?

If you’re hit by an uninsured driver but you have car insurance, you can file a claim under your uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage (UM/UIM). UM/UIM pays for your medical expenses and vehicle repairs if you’re hit by someone without insurance or not enough to cover the full extent of the damage. If you have collision coverage, you can also file a claim to get your vehicle repaired after the accident, regardless of who caused it.

What is the cheapest car insurance company?

After comparing quotes from five of the largest auto insurance companies in the U.S., we found that Progressive had the cheapest rates for a full coverage policy, at $864 per year for our sample driver. This is hundreds of dollars cheaper than the national average cost of car insurance in the U.S. which is around $1,190 per year, but remember that rates can vary widely from driver to driver.