In most states, at least minimum levels of certain car insurance coverages are required, making it illegal to drive without insurance. The liability portion of an auto insurance policy pays for injuries and damages that you cause to others. Auto insurance can help to protect you from financial devastation if you cause an accident. Even so, the Insurance Information Institute (III) estimates that more than 12 percent of drivers were uninsured as of 2019, the most recent year with available data.
The repercussions of car accidents without insurance vary depending on the severity of the accident, the state in which you live and whether or not you caused the accident. Understanding the penalties of getting into an accident without insurance could help you make an educated decision about your own coverage.
Driving without insurance
Auto accidents can range in severity from minor to devastating. Most people know that if you do not have insurance when you cause an accident, there are repercussions. But even if the other driver caused the collision, driving without insurance can still have consequences.
At-fault accidents without insurance
Depending on the facts of the accident you were in, you may be found at fault. If police are called, they will help to determine fault, as will any insurance companies involved. Sometimes fault is relatively clear and sometimes things are a bit more complicated. Regardless, if you are found at fault or partially at fault for an accident, not having insurance can make things difficult.
If you cause an accident and you were driving without insurance, you may face a number of serious consequences:
- Repair and replacement costs: You are typically responsible for paying for the damages you caused. That means repairing or replacing any vehicles and property that you damaged.
- Medical expenses: If the other driver, their passengers or anyone outside your vehicle like a pedestrian was injured in the accident, you will likely be responsible for paying for their medical expenses. That might include an ambulance ride, emergency care, surgeries, physical therapy and more.
- Legal fees: If you cannot pay for the damages you caused, the other driver could potentially sue you for compensation, including the cost of their legal fees.
- License suspension or revocation: Most states will likely suspend your license for driving without insurance. If you have been caught driving without insurance before, your license could even be revoked entirely.
- Required forms: Some states may require that you have an SR-22 or FR-44 form on file with your DMV before reinstating your license. These forms prove to the state that you are maintaining the required levels of auto insurance coverage. You will need to obtain car insurance at this point, since these forms are filed directly by insurance companies.
- Vehicle impounding: The officer who arrives on the scene may choose to tow your vehicle if you were driving without insurance.
- Fines: You may have to pay a fine if you were caught driving without insurance, which could be steeper depending on the details of your accident.
- Jail time: Generally, a first offense will not land you in jail, but multiple incidents of driving without insurance could lead to jail time.
- More expensive insurance: Insurance companies tend to view drivers who have caused accidents as higher-risk, as well as drivers who have had a lapse in coverage. The two factors combined could mean you will pay more for your policy than the average driver pays.
Although the other driver may have medical payments coverage or PIP coverage that could pay for some of their medical expenses, if you are found liable for their damages, you will likely still be responsible for paying their bills. Every state is different though, so talking with an insurance professional in your state could be a good way to confirm that you understand how these coverages work.
Not-at-fault accidents without insurance
Even if you do not cause an accident — perhaps you are rear-ended by another driver — not having insurance can still cause issues for you.
- License suspension or revocation: Even if you were not the at-fault driver, you could still lose your license. If police are called to the scene, your state will most likely require you to submit proof of insurance. If you are unable to do so, your license could be suspended.
- Fines: If your state fines drivers for forgoing coverage, you will likely need to pay the fine even though you did not cause the accident.
- Vehicle impounding: Again, a law enforcement officer may decide to impound your vehicle once they discover that you were driving without insurance.
- Out-of-pocket expenses: Vehicle damage is not always the result of collisions on the road. A tree limb could fall on your vehicle, for example, or your car could be stolen. If you do not have an insurance policy, you will be responsible for the necessary repairs or replacement vehicle.
Driving without insurance can create difficulties even if you are not the at-fault party in an accident.
How to find affordable car insurance
Auto insurance may not be the most exciting purchase, but it is an important part of your financial plan. Although choosing to go without insurance may save you money, the outcome of causing an accident without insurance can be catastrophic to your financial health. If budget is your primary concern, there are ways to save on your car insurance.
Compare multiple policy quotes
Getting quotes from several different insurance providers may help you find the coverage you need at a price that fits your budget. In addition to price, you can also compare the available coverages, discounts and customer service scores of each company.
Ask about discounts
Most companies offer at least a few discounts. You may be able to save on your policy by bundling it with your home, condo or renters insurance, driving a vehicle with specific safety features or signing up for paperless statements, for example. You may be able to view auto insurance discounts on a company’s website, but talking to an agent is often the best way to identify savings opportunities.
Safe drivers generally pay less for insurance than drivers with accidents on their records. This is because if you have had an accident in the past, insurance companies find it more likely that you will cause another one in the future. Maintaining a clean record can help you avoid surcharges on your policy.
Raise your deductibles
If you have full coverage, you have two deductibles on your policy: one for comprehensive and one for collision. In general, the higher your deductibles, the lower your premium. Your collision deductible tends to have a bigger impact on your premium than your comprehensive deductible. A higher deductible means you will have more to pay out of pocket if you file a claim for damage to your car, so be sure to choose a level that makes sense for your financial situation.
Frequently asked questions
What is the cheapest car insurance company?
Rates vary by provider and depend on individual rating factors like the state you live in, your driving history, the car you drive and what coverages you choose. The cheapest company for one person may not be the cheapest company for someone else. Getting quotes from several companies could help you find a lower priced policy, though, so that you can switch your insurance to a cheaper provider.
What happens if another driver hits me and they do not have insurance?
The outcome of an uninsured motorist claim depends on the specifics of each accident. The driver who hit you may offer to pay out of pocket for your damages. If they do not reimburse you, you may want to talk to a lawyer about taking legal action. If you have uninsured motorist coverage on your policy, your own insurance may step in to help pay for your injuries and damages.
Is it illegal to drive without insurance?
Yes, in any state that has a requirement for minimum coverage, it is illegal to drive without insurance. However, some states have “financial responsibility laws” that allow drivers to prove they are able to handle the financial aftermath of an at-fault accident without insurance. Typically this involves a bond or self-insurance. In these states, car insurance is just one way to satisfy the requirements of the law, and if often the easiest and most common way.