What Happens If You're Involved In A Car Accident Without Car Insurance?

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Even if you're not at fault, being involved in a car accident without insurance can have serious consequences

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Driving without car insurance in the USA is risky business, as not only is having car insurance - or proof of financial responsibility - a strict legal requirement in all 50 states and Washington D.C., but getting into an accident, whether you're at fault or not, could also result in some pricey consequences. This could include fines, lawsuits, and medical bills. In some cases, you could even be charged with jail time.

According to a report compiled by the Insurance Research Council, nearly one in eight drivers did not have car insurance in 2021, and with more than 12 million vehicle accidents recorded in just 2019 alone, it's clear that the serious consequences of driving a car without insurance still need to be stressed.

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Not Having Car Insurance vs Not Being Able To Provide Proof of Insurance

There is a difference between not having car insurance at all, and simply not being able to produce the proof that you are insured. While having auto insurance is mandatory in all states, some vehicle owners may be driving without insurance or it may have lapsed. The penalty for not having insurance is generally more severe than having insurance but not being able to prove it on the spot. Penalties for not being able to produce proof vary between states and are also dependent on the number of infractions you have against your name. Examples of penalties for being caught driving without proof of insurance include:

  • Fines or tickets (From $360 to $1,750 depending on the state)
  • Suspension of your license if you cannot produce proof within a specified timeframe
  • Being charged a reinstatement fee for your license
  • Vehicle impounding
  • Potential jail-time
  • SR-22 requirements

Consequences of Causing a Car Accident When Driving Without Car Insurance

A much more serious situation is being involved in an accident while being uninsured. Not having insurance and causing a crash will have severe implications legally and can be financially devastating if the other driver involved doesn't have uninsured motorist coverage either.

The severity of and the types of consequences do depend on the state, but here's what you could potentially face:

  • License suspension: A mandatory one-year suspension is given in states like California, with reinstatement only if the driver maintains SR-22 for a period of three years. In Texas, the suspensions can be for up to two years, and up to three in New York.
  • Registration Suspension - The court may order your registration revoked and you will not be able to drive the vehicle again until submission of SR-22/valid proof of insurance. There are also reinstatement and processing fees involved.
  • Vehicle Impoundment - Together with the above, your vehicle may be impounded (unless totaled in the car accident) with legal requirements and processes to follow in order to get it back. All fees related to this process will be your responsibility.
  • Jail Time - Driving while uninsured can lead to prison time, although it's less likely for first-time offenders. If you've caused a serious accident, however, especially if someone has died or been severely injured, there is a good chance you will have to serve jail time. Subsequently, repeat offenders will have a criminal record.
  • Repair Bills - If you're the cause of a car wreck and have no insurance, you'll be held personally liable for covering the repair or replacement costs for all the vehicle damage incurred, as well as for any property damage incurred, not just for your own vehicle, but any third party involved.
  • Medical Expenses - This is where things can get really expensive. If anybody is injured as a result of your accident and you're not insured, you'll be held responsible for the compensation of all of the medical costs associated with the injuries incurred as a result of the accident. This can include the cost of various emergency medical services including the ambulance ride, emergency care, surgery, and even post-accident therapies or loss of income.
  • Increased Insurance Rates - When a driver is the cause of an accident, insurance companies will typically view that driver as a high-risk factor. That means the driver will have to pay higher premiums for their coverage than the average driver.
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Driving A New Car Without Insurance unsplash.com

What Happens If You Have a Car Accident Without Insurance And You’re Not At Fault?

The police are usually involved when a road accident occurs, and if the police do show up at the scene of an accident you're involved in and find that your vehicle is not insured, you will still be in trouble even if you're not at fault. You will likely face similar consequences even if you're not at fault for a car accident and you're without insurance, but for first-time offenders, you may be slapped with:

  • Community service
  • Penalty assessments
  • Probation
  • SR-22 requirement
  • Re-take a driver's license exam and pass it

For a useful guide on what to do after being involved in an accident, check out our handy guide here.

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Conclusion

It's never a good idea to take chances and try to save money by forgoing vehicle insurance - there's a reason why this is a legal requirement in the USA. If you're looking at buying a car and are new to automotive insurance, read up on how to find the right insurance for you, here. Always make sure you are familiar with federal requirements in your state.

FAQs

Is it against the law to drive in the USA without insurance?

Driving without car insurance is a punishable offense, but the severity of the punishment is dependent on which state that offense occurred in. Only New Hampshire doesn't require insurance as long as you are able to provide proof of financial responsibility covering at-fault damages. Michigan requires that you have personal injury protection cover for covering medical expenses, regardless of who is at fault, at the very least.

Can I test drive a car without insurance?

Test driving a car without personal car insurance is legal as the seller or dealership will have insurance to cover any damages incurred as a result of an accident during the test drive. This shouldn't be an invitation to drive the BMW M2 you're testing like a maniac, however, so remember to be cautious.

Can I have a car without insurance and not drive it?

If your car is registered, then you will legally require insurance. If you own a car that is not registered and does not have any license plates, you are legally allowed to store the car on your own property or in a garage without it being insured, and won't have to worry about being penalized. If your car will be on the road, it is legally required that you insure it - lapsed insurance or failure to insure the car will have consequences ranging from fines to jail time.

What happens if the other driver doesn’t have insurance?

If your vehicle is hit by an uninsured driver, you can claim from your own insurance and make use of uninsured driver coverage to cover your repair costs and other bills. You could also sue the driver personally for any damages you incurred as a result of the accident.

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