All states require motorists to carry motor vehicle liability insurance or another form of proof of financial responsibility. Financial responsibility laws ensure that drivers have the ability to pay for property damages and injuries that result from motor vehicle accidents.
The consequences for driving uninsured (or without adequate financial responsibility) vary significantly by state. Generally, driving without insurance is a traffic infraction or a misdemeanor and potential penalties include:
In most states, the penalties are more severe if the motorist was involved in an accident or has subsequent violations within a certain time period (usually three to five years).
Typically, state laws impose a fine when a motorist is convicted of uninsured driving. However, fine amounts differ significantly. Depending on the state, fines can range from $50 to $2,000. The amount of the fine generally increases if the motorist is involved in an accident or has prior driving uninsured convictions.
In addition to a fine, some jurisdictions require offenders to pay a fee or civil penalty to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), Secretary of State, or other licensing authority. In some states, the offender must pay a one-time civil penalty. In other jurisdictions, the DMV assesses the owner of the vehicle a fee and after a certain amount of time, the fee increases each day the owner doesn’t have the minimum required insurance coverage.
Most states don’t impose mandatory jail time for a first uninsured driving conviction. But in some states, imprisonment is a potential penalty, even for a first offense. In these states, the maximum sentence ranges from about 15 days to one year.
In other jurisdictions, judges can’t impose jail time unless the offender has at least one prior uninsured driving conviction or the current offense involved an accident.
In many jurisdictions, the DMV will suspend a motorist’s license and/or vehicle registration for driving without insurance.
Duration. In some states, the duration of the suspension is a set period of time, which generally ranges from 30 days to one year for a first conviction. In other states, the suspension continues until the offender provides proof of insurance and payment of all applicable fees. The duration of the suspension typically increases with subsequent convictions.
Reinstatement requirements. To reinstate a license and/or registration following a suspension, the offender is generally required to provide proof of current insurance coverage and pay a reinstatement fee.
Additionally, many states require the motorist to get an SR-22 certification as a precondition for license and/or registration reinstatement. An SR-22 certification provides proof that the driver has at least the minimum required insurance coverage. A motorist who’s convicted of driving without insurance might be required to maintain an SR-22 on file with the DMV for one to three years, depending on the jurisdiction.
Some states allow judges to impose community service work—sometimes, in lieu of a fine—as a penalty for driving without insurance.
In a number of states, vehicle impoundment and/or license plate removal and confiscation is a possible penalty of driving uninsured. However, impoundment and license plate removal are generally only for cases where the motorist drives while the registration is suspended.
An offender can typically claim an impounded vehicle by providing proof of insurance coverage and payment of applicable fines, fees, and the costs of towing and storage of the vehicle. The DMV destroys the confiscated license plates and normally issues new plates only after the motorist pays a fee and provides proof of current insurance coverage.
Most jurisdictions assess demerit points to a motorist’s driving record for an uninsured driving conviction.