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What happens if you get in an accident without insurance?

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Nearly every state in the country requires drivers to carry a minimum amount of car insurance coverage on their vehicles. That’s because having the right auto insurance policy can protect you financially if you cause an accident. If you have a full coverage auto policy, your insurance may also protect you in other circumstances as well, whether or not you are not at fault.  However, recent data from the Insurance Research Council shows that one in eight drivers is uninsured, despite the state requirements in place for car insurance.

Driving while uninsured isn’t just breaking the law, though. It can come with a host of consequences, too, especially if you cause an accident resulting in injuries or property damage to others. The consequences of being an uninsured driver range in severity, and may depend on the state you live in, who was at fault for the accident and other factors. Understanding the possible penalties of getting into an accident without insurance, which may include the suspension or revocation of your license, paying out-of-pocket for accident-related expenses, expensive tickets and more, 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. Sometimes the 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 that includes coverage for your vehicle, 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.

Accidents in states that don’t require car insurance

Though most states in the U.S. require car insurance, there are two states that don’t require car insurance: New Hampshire and Virginia. These are the only states in the country that don’t require you to carry a minimum amount of car insurance.

It’s important to note, though, that while you may avoid being penalized by these states for not having car insurance coverage, there may be certain parameters you must meet. Plus, you can still face certain consequences if you get into an accident or are an at-fault driver.

At-fault auto accidents

If you opt to drive uninsured in New Hampshire but cause an accident as the at fault driver, you are still liable for the damages and injuries. If you are unable to pay for the injuries, property or vehicle damage you cause, it can result in license and registration suspension. You may also be responsible for your own medical costs if you are injured in the accident.

In Virginia, drivers can choose not to purchase auto insurance but must instead pay a $500 uninsured motorist vehicle (UMV) fee each time the vehicle registration renews. If you do not pay the fee and are caught driving while uninsured, your licenses and registration may be suspended. You may then be required to pay a $600 noncompliance fee, file an SR-22 and pay to reinstate your driving and registration privileges. Like New Hampshire, Virginia requires you to pay out-of-pocket for any injuries and damages you cause.

Not at-fault accidents

If you are involved in an accident where you are not the at fault driver in either state, the at-fault party’s insurance company will typically pay for your injuries and vehicle damage. However, if their coverage is not sufficient and you do not have coverage, you could end up paying out of your own pocket for the rest of your medical bills and vehicle damage.

If you do not comply with either the state’s insurance or the state’s financial responsibility requirements, you risk having your license and registration suspended, whether or not you’re at fault in the 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.

Drive safely

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

Written by
Kacie Goff
Personal Finance Contributor
Kacie Goff is a personal finance and insurance writer with over seven years of experience covering personal and commercial coverage options. She writes for Bankrate, The Simple Dollar, NextAdvisor, Varo Money, Coverage, Best Credit Cards and more. She's covered a broad range of policy types — including less-talked-about coverages like wrap insurance and E&O — and she specializes in auto, homeowners and life insurance.
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