Rachael Brennan has been working in the insurance industry since 2006 when she began working as a licensed insurance representative for 21st Century Insurance, during which time she earned her Property and Casualty license in all 50 states. After several years she expanded her insurance expertise, earning her license in Health and AD&D insurance as well. She has worked for small health insuran...

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Chris Harrigan has an economic degree from Limestone College and an MBA from Clemson University. He previously managed auto insurance claims for Enterprise Rent-A-Car. Currently, he is using his business and insurance expertise to provide insurance data analysis and visualizations to enhance the user experience.

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Reviewed by Chris Harrigan
Former Auto Insurance Claims Manager

UPDATED: Aug 9, 2021

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Key takeaways...

  • You can’t drive your car, park your car, or tow your car in public areas without having acceptable insurance
  • If you don’t have auto insurance and you’re caught driving by law enforcement, you can face serious penalties
  • When you’re cited for no insurance you could just pay fines and fees or face criminal misdemeanor charges
  • In some states, when you’re caught driving without insurance multiple times you could be sent to jail
  • If your car is impounded, and you’re arrested for failing to maintain insurance, you must be seen in court by a judge

Driving without insurance is against the law. When you break the law, you have to be willing to accept the fact that you will be assessed penalties when you’re caught.

While some states assess very light penalties on vehicle owners who violate mandatory insurance laws, as a whole, the penalties in the US for driving without insurance are getting stiffer.

Some would say that driving without insurance is a victimless crime. Unfortunately, this is why more than 13 percent of drivers all throughout the country violate the law daily. In actuality, driving without insurance can affect both you and other parties on public roads.

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If you get into an at-fault accident, and you don’t have insurance, it’s the person who has suffered damages who will suffer the worst. Below you can find some of the consequences you could face if you get caught driving without insurance.

Why is insurance required by law?

You don’t legally have to carry renter’s insurance, homeowner’s insurance, or even condo insurance. However, auto insurance is different, and it is a must because it’s required under state law.

Many people who own cars often wonder why one form of property insurance is required under the state’s laws and another isn’t.

One of the main reasons why state officials have made auto insurance mandatory is because of the damage that can be done in a vehicle.

While accidents can happen in your home, is far more likely that you’ll get into an accident that causes damage or even injures someone when you’re operating a car.

Since driving a car is a privilege and owning a car can be a liability, the law says that car owners are liable for maintaining car insurance. Even a lapse in coverage is not okay. Should you change policies it’s imperative that you be sure that the starting date on the new policy is before or simultaneous with the ending of the previous insurance policy.

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Are insurance laws the same in every state?

The short answer here is no.

Insurance isn’t always mandatory but more often than not it is. In fact, there are three states which will allow drivers to pay an uninsured motorist fee if they do not carry insurance. With that said, there are mandatory insurance laws are written into every state’s vehicle code.

It’s the officials responsible for setting insurance laws who will enact laws, modify them, and enforce them. This is why you must change your insurance to comply with different laws when you move to a new state.

Does any state allow their drivers to drive without insurance?

Driving without insurance when you’re the vehicle owner is either a driving infraction or a criminal charge in most states.

There are still a few states that don’t require insurance if you pay an uninsured motorist fee. Currently, Virginia and New Hampshire allow vehicle owners to file their cars as uninsured.

While it’s not common for the state to allow cars to go uninsured, there are alternatives to buying insurance that is acceptable in many states. States with alternatives have modified financial responsibility laws. You should always check the laws in regards to insurance in the state where you live or are moving to.

In some cases, to show evidence that you are financially responsible, you can post a bond, deposit cash, or apply for a self-insurance certificate. You must keep the evidence on file at all times to not be considered uninsured.

Who is responsible for buying insurance on a car?

The vehicle owner is the one responsible for contacting insurance providers and purchasing adequate coverage for their vehicle.

If you’re only a licensed driver and not a vehicle owner, it’s not your legal duty to buy insurance on all of the cars that you’re driving. However, there is non-owners insurance policies available to insure individual drivers, but the vehicle itself should be insured.

By law, the vehicle code says that it’s the registered owner’s legal duty to buy insurance on all of the cars that they own. To comply with the law, the owner must buy insurance in the state where the car is registered.

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Driving Without Insurance Can Be a Misdemeanor

If you operate a motor vehicle without a minimum amount of liability insurance in your state you could be guilty of a Class C misdemeanor.

Just to give you an idea of how serious the charges can be, other crimes that are classified as Class C misdemeanors include:

  • Driving with a suspended license
  • Driving with no license
  • Speeding and other moving violations
  • Driving with suspended plates

Can you be sentenced to jail for a class C violation?

Even though driving without insurance is a misdemeanor, in most states, Class C misdemeanors are punishable by fines only. While there are exceptions to this rule, if you’re pulled over for a minor infraction and then cited for no insurance you’re not going to be hauled off to jail.

It’s when the act that got you the Class C misdemeanor leads to property damage or injury that you could be arrested and face jail time.

So when you’re driving without insurance and you get into an accident where the other party suffers injuries, the officer reporting to the scene can arrest you even though you’re only guilty of a Class C misdemeanor.

Can you get jail time for your first no insurance ticket?

There are states where driving infractions for no insurance are automatically Class B misdemeanors, even when it’s your first offense.

In states with more strict penalties, you could face a jail sentence when you’ve never been caught driving without coverage before. This is most common in states where there are high rates of uninsured motorists.

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Jail Time is More Common for Habitual Offenders

If you’re caught driving without insurance once, the penalty will usually be to pay a penalty and to present proof that you have mandatory insurance in court.

Some states will suspend your license plates and also suspend your driving privilege if you haven’t purchased insurance in a reasonable amount of time.

When you’ve been convicted of the same offense more than once, you’re called a habitual offender.

In many states, the subsequent offense for driving without insurance is taken way more seriously. Jail time is much more likely after you’ve been caught by law enforcement the second, third, or fourth time.

Here are some states where jail time is common:

  • Alaska 10 days in jail for second offense
  • Alabama up to 6 months in jail for second offense
  • Colorado between 10 days and 1 year in jail for second offense
  • Georgia up to 12 months in jail and a fine of $200 to $1000 for second offense
  • Idaho up to 6 months in jail for the second offense
  • Kentucky up to 180 days in jail for the second offense
  • Montana up to 10 days in county jail for second offense
  • Massachusetts up to 1 year in jail for second offense
  • Minnesota up to 90 days in jail, a fine or both for the second offense
  • Missouri up to 15 days in jail for second offense
  • New Jersey up to 14 days in jail for second offense
  • New Mexico up to 6 months in jail, a fine, or both for second offense
  • North Carolina between 1 and 45 days of probation or jail time
  • South Carolina up to 30 days in jail with a fine for second offense
  • West Virginia – jail time for 15 days to 1 year for second offense
  • Wyoming no more than 6 months in jail for second offense

No one wants to go to jail for failing to maintain their insurance. If you don’t have valid insurance, now is the time to buy a policy. Use an online quote comparison tool to get rates, and you can apply for coverage in minutes.

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