Did you know about one in eight American drivers are uninsured? According to the Insurance Research Council, this number has been steadily creeping up since 2010. Florida has the most uninsured motorists, at 26.7%, and Maine has the fewest uninsured drivers, only 4.5%.
The first question is why do they take the risk? And second, do they realise how much trouble – and debt – they could get into?
Why take the risk?
The most common reason why people drive uninsured is because they can’t afford insurance. While there is a link between poverty and uninsured vehicles, it’s not consistent across all states. California and Hawaii and New Jersey even offer low-income auto insurance programs for people who can’t afford it.
Another reason given for driving uninsured is they think it’s cheaper to risk a ticket. Yet in some states, it costs less to buy minimum liability insurance than it does to get a ticket.
Your chances of getting caught uninsured are greater than they have ever been. Some 22 states use electronic monitoring to capture registered vehicles without insurance. If an officer stops you for driving without insurance, there are all kinds of consequences.
The trouble with driving uninsured
Here are seven good reasons why you don’t want to get caught:
Tickets and fees for having no proof of insurance
Suspension of driver’s license and fees to reinstate it
You are subject to an SR22
Your vehicle is towed and impounded
You go to jail
An accident costs you thousands of dollars
The price of your auto insurance goes up.
Of course, nobody wants to have to face the situation where they have an accident and the other driver is uninsured. So 20 states and District of Columbia mandate that all drivers have insurance that extends to cover uninsured and underinsured motorists.
1. Tickets and fees
There are two types of ticket – one for failing to provide proof of insurance and one for not having auto insurance at all. This article looks at failure to have any auto insurance, which is considerably more expensive.
If you live in New Hampshire, this is the only state where you are not financially responsible for any accidents. In Vermont, you may get away with paying nothing or in Georgia and Tennessee, as little as $25. Otherwise, the price could be hefty. In New Jersey, West Virginia and North Dakota, you could pay up to $5,000.
Here is a selection of states, starting with the cheapest minimum ticket for driving without auto insurance.
North Carolina $50-150
North Dakota $150-5,000
West Virginia $200-5,000
New Jersey $300-5,000
Note, you will have to pay admin fees as well as the tickets themselves.
2. Suspension of driver’s license and fees to reinstate
If you are caught without insurance, 44 states will suspend your driver’s license. How this suspension works depends on which state you are in. Some states will suspend your license only in an accident or after a traffic violation, while others suspend it anyway. The period of time also varies between states.
For example, in California, your license is suspended for one year and you can reinstate it only if you have an SR22 for 3 years. In New York, you lose your license for one year and up to 3 years.
Living without a driver’s license not only makes it difficult for you to get to work, but can really hamper your lifestyle in other ways. Then it could cost $25-250 to get your license back.
3. Subject to an SR22
An SR22 is a form your insurer must file to prove to the government you have adequate insurance. You may be subject to an SR22 for 3 years. There are fees for an SR22 and your insurer will also pass on fees for administering it.
4. Your vehicle is towed and impounded
The officer who stops you decides whether or not to tow your vehicle. Then you must pay for auto insurance, and towing and storage fees to get it back.
As long as you are not involved in an accident, 1-4 above are the extent of your penalties for driving uninsured.
5. You go to jail
It would be rare to go to jail for a first offense, but still possible if you cause a severe accident. How long the period in jail depends on your state. While Georgia mandates a full year in jail, New York states it is 15 days. Some states, like Colorado and New Jersey, expect you to do community service.
Here is a selection of jail periods by state:
15 days – Missouri, New York, West Virginia
30 days – Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Dakota
90 days – Alaska, Connecticut, DC, Kentucky, Minnesota
6 months – Maryland, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming
1 year – Georgia, Massachusetts, Michigan.
For most of us, even one day in jail would be too long.
6. An accident costs you thousands of dollars
Having an accident while uninsured is vastly worse than an accident with insurance. While it is always an unpleasant experience, nobody wants to have to pay for it too. However, the other driver is likely to sue you for medical bills and damage to their vehicle. This is on top of any damage or medical bills that you sustain.
If insurers cannot recoup the payments they make, they can even look at assets, such as your house. California, Texas and Florida demand you have 100% liability for the other driver’s medical bills and all damage, if the accident is your fault.
7. The price of your insurance goes up
If that’s not enough to deter any uninsured driver, making any kind of claim on an insurer means your insurance goes up next time.
The punishments for driving uninsured in the US are severe. It makes sense to get insurance, even if it’s the bare minimum, because that sting on your wallet is better than what could happen.