Driving Without Insurance: What to do When You Get Pulled Over

Jelly's misadventure
Hitting the road without that valuable proof of insurance card in your glove compartment can be dangerous and costly, and yet it's incredibly common. According to USA Today, as many as one in every seven drivers doesn't have auto insurance. In Mississippi, Tennessee, Florida, New Mexico, and Oklahoma, 25 percent or more of licensed drivers are uninsured. Since the recession, the temptation to press your luck and avoid high premium costs has been greater than ever. But very often, the worst happens. A police officer pulls you over, asks for your license, registration, and proof of insurance, and you can't produce the insurance card - or you're driving with an expired one. Should you panic? It all depends on the situation.

Do You Have Insurance, Just No Proof?

The best case scenario for being pulled over with no insurance card is that you just don't have a copy of it on you. Maybe you recently switched companies and have yet to receive your paperwork in the mail. If you tell this to the officer, he or she may stick to issuing you the ticket for the reason they pulled you over, like speeding or a broken tail light. But since many states are cracking down on uninsured drivers, you may still get the ticket for no proof of insurance with the option to have it dismissed. Depending on your state's laws, you can fax a copy of your insurance card or take it into court within a short amount of time - usually 5 days - to prove you were insured on the date you got pulled over. Don't claim that you're insured if you're not because it's an easy thing to check in most states. If the officer runs your license and it says you're in trouble with the DMV for a lapsed policy, you could get caught in a lie.

If You Have No Way to Prove Insurance

If there's no way you can explain this to the officer, you could find yourself in a much more dire situation. In some cases, people have successfully gone home and signed up for an insurance policy online the same day as their ticket - the wonders of modern technology. However, if you can't afford to do that or it's not feasible, you might consider if you can afford to talk to an attorney, because that's the alternative for most drivers. In Dallas, Texas, where they officially have the most uninsured vehicles in the country, it's legal for officers to tow your car if you aren't insured. Most states require you to appear in court and will issue a warrant for your arrest if you don't. The price tags on these tickets vary by state, but since virtually everywhere is cracking down on the rise of uninsured drivers, you could be looking at up to $500. The best you can hope for is a police officer or judge who takes into account your situation. Briefly driving without insurance because you didn't realize it expired is different than habitually driving without insurance intentionally to avoid purchasing it.
I can never get away from the cops.

Long-term Consequences

High ticket prices aren't the only reason many drivers consult an attorney over a charge of driving without insurance. Most states will suspend your license, registration, or both, especially when the judge deduces you haven't been driving insured in a while. This violation will also leave you virtually uninsurable in the future, and once you get your license back you'll be required to enroll under the government's high-risk pool, where you'll pay sometimes 3 times the national average. All of this might seem terrible, but it's still better to be caught during a traffic stop than because you caused an accident. With no insurance company to pay the damages, you could be suffering all these penalties on top of having your wages garnished for years on end to pay for medical and mechanical bills for the other driver.

In many states, it's now common to pass through insurance checkpoints where police can instantly ticket drivers who can't produce an insurance card. It's getting tougher to drive without insurance, but when you consider the huge financial and legal risks you are taking, it's understandable why the police are serious about the problem. Remember, being on the road without a current policy is illegal no matter what the reason.

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