How Do Police Know If a Car is Insured?

Last Updated on October 9, 2020

All states require drivers to have some type of insurance. If a police officer catches you driving without insurance, then you could face penalties. But how do police know if a car is insured?

Police use various strategies to check the insurance status of a vehicle. Some police officers simply check paperwork. Other police officers check your insurance immediately after pulling you over. Some check your insurance against a public database, while others don’t check insurance at all.

Today, we’re explaining how the police know if a car is insured.

How Do Police Know If a Car is Insured?

It Depends on Your State

Different states have different insurance systems. In some states, law enforcement officers can simply check your license plates or driver’s license to verify your car insurance.

In other states, law enforcement has special equipment in their vehicles to verify an insurance policy.

DMV policies vary between states. In some states, the DMV immediately notifies the police when a car insurance policy is canceled. In other states, insurance policies may or may not alert the DMV about policy non-renewal.

33 states, for example, have a database of uninsured drivers. In these states, insurers track data about which drivers are uninsured and which drivers are actively insured.

However, even in states that have a database of uninsured drivers, most insurers do not give police instant access to this database. Police cannot instantly check this database after pulling over a vehicle, for example. Instead, police officers must call the 1-800 number on a driver’s insurance card to verify.

In other states, the process is more high tech. Approximately 10 states use automatic license plate recognition (ALPR) cameras to detect uninsured drivers. In these states, police run your plates automatically after you are pulled over, and the system checks whether or not you are insured. This allows the police officer to check and verify insurance more easily. Instead of manually checking each driver, the police officer can check hundreds of drivers in one shift.

In Most States, Drivers Call your Insurer to Verify

In most states, the process of checking your insurance documentation is low-tech. The officer asks for your insurance card, verifies the date and name, then contacts your insurer to verify your policy.

The process works like this:

Step 1) You are pulled over by a police officer

Step 2) The police officer requests proof of insurance

Step 3) You provide proof of insurance documentation to the police officer

Step 4) The police officer checks your proof of insurance documentation, verifies the name and date, then hands it back if everything is in order

If the officer suspects you do not have insurance, or if the officer believes the document is fake, then the officer may call your insurer to verify your policy.

Alternatively, in some states, the officer may not need to call your insurer to verify your policy status; instead, your insurance status is connected to your license plate, and the police officer already knows whether or not you have insurance.

Do Police Officers Always Call Your Insurer?

In many cases, a police officer will not call your insurer to verify insurance information. If you have documentation showing you have a policy from your insurer, and that policy is active within the stated dates, then the police officer will accept that documentation as proof of insurance.

If the officer is suspicious, however, or believes you are committing insurance fraud, then the officer may call your insurer to verify your policy. If you have faked documentation, then you could face severe penalties.

In other cases, however, the police officer will never call your insurer to verify the information. If you have documentation proving you have an active policy, then the officer may believe you.

Driving Without Insurance is a Secondary Violation in Most States

In most states, a police officer cannot pull you over for not having insurance. In most states, driving uninsured is a secondary violation. That means police officers can ticket you for not having insurance, but they cannot pull you over primarily because you had no insurance.

If you are pulled over for speeding, for example, and the police officer finds you have no insurance, then you will receive a ticket for speeding and driving without insurance.

If you drive past a police officer at a normal speed limit, however, and have no insurance, and the officer runs your plate and finds you are uninsured, then the police officer cannot pull you over (assuming you are obeying all other traffic laws). As a secondary violation, driving uninsured cannot be the primary reason to pull you over in most states.

Penalties for Driving Without Insurance

Driving without insurance is illegal in all states. Some states do not technically require auto insurance (including Virginia and New Hampshire), although these states still require proof of some type of insurance – like a surety bond.

If you are caught driving without insurance, then you may pay a fine for your first conviction. Most states charge a fine of $500 to $1,000 for the first offense, although some states charge as much as $5,000 even for the first offense. You might also have to pay the DMV hundreds of dollars in reinstatement fees.

You might also face higher insurance premiums in the future. If you are caught driving without insurance, then your insurer will consider you a high-risk driver. If you try to buy a policy, then you might pay significantly higher rates than a low-risk driver. You have a history of driving without insurance, and that means you’re considered a higher risk.

Obviously, there’s another cost of driving without insurance: you might have to pay accident costs out of pocket. If you cause an accident as an uninsured driver, then you still have to pay for any medical bills and vehicle damage. Typically, car insurance would cover these costs. As an uninsured driver, you must cover these costs yourself. That could mean paying thousands – or hundreds of thousands – of dollars to the other driver after an at-fault accident.

For all of these reasons, driving without insurance is rarely worth it.

Final Word on How Police Verify Insurance Coverage

Approximately 1 in 7 drivers across America are uninsured. That means millions of drivers across the country have no car insurance.

Driving without car insurance is illegal, and police officers can issue a fine or seize your vehicle if you’re caught driving without insurance.

How do police officers know if you’re uninsured? In some states, it’s difficult for police officers to catch you driving without insurance, as they must manually contact the insurer to verify your policy. In other states, it’s easy for police officers to verify your insurance: your license plate is automatically scanned and checked against an insurance database immediately after you are pulled over.

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