How Long Can You Be Without Car Insurance?
Last Updated on October 20, 2022
You’re not supposed to drive without car insurance. But how long can you be without car insurance before it’s a problem?
You need car insurance every time you drive your vehicle on public roads. If you are driving without car insurance, then you are driving illegally according to most state laws.
If your previous car insurance policy has ended, then you need a new car insurance policy to continue driving legally. Although some insurance companies offer a “grace period” after non-payment of premiums, this grace period does not apply to canceled or terminated policies.
Today, we’re explaining everything you need to know about car insurance – including how long you can be without car insurance.
You Must Have Car Insurance to Legally Drive
Virtually every state in America requires you to have car insurance. If you do not have car insurance, then you cannot legally drive.
If you don’t have insurance, then you are an uninsured motorist. If you cause an accident without insurance, then you need to pay for all damages out of pocket – including any medical bills or car repair costs.
Even if you don’t cause an accident, you could face further penalties from law enforcement. If you are pulled over and cannot produce valid insurance, then the police officer could impound your vehicle and give you a fine.
States Where Car Insurance Is Not Required
Two states technically don’t require drivers to have car insurance: Virginia and New Hampshire.
In both of these states, however, you must still take action when driving without insurance. Virginia requires uninsured motorists to pay the DMV a fee of around $500 per year, for example, while New Hampshire requires other proof of financial responsibility.
Certain other states allow you to prove financial responsibility instead of carrying car insurance. However, you cannot simply flash a wad of bills at a police officer to prove financial responsibility: in most states, you must lock up funds by depositing them with a state agency. It’s called a surety bond or proof of financial responsibility, and you must deposit anywhere from $10,000 to $30,000 with the DMV.
Ultimately, even in states where it’s technically possible to go without car insurance, it’s not a valid option for most drivers. Unless you have an extensive car collection or other unique insurance needs, most drivers simply buy car insurance. It’s the safest and easiest option.
For most drivers in most states, you must have car insurance to legally drive.
Is It Ever Legal to Drive Without Insurance?
Generally, you need insurance any time you are driving a vehicle. However, there are some unique situations where drivers technically do not require insurance, including:
- Drivers with learners permits
- Newly licensed drivers
- Military employees
- Drivers who have motorcycle insurance
There are restrictions on these rules. A driver with a learner’s permit can legally drive without insurance in most states, for example, but only if driving with an insured and licensed driver over age 21.
Or, as a newly licensed driver, you might be required to obtain car insurance as soon as possible. Certain states have strict insurance requirements for all drivers, while other states are laxer.
You can find “anti-insurance” advocates online who claim to legally drive without insurance. They might claim it’s their Constitutional right to drive without insurance. In most cases, these challenges have not held up, and these drivers face fines and penalties just like any uninsured driver.
Why Driving Without Insurance is a Bad Idea
Driving without insurance is not a good idea. Consequences vary depending on your state. Generally, you’ll receive at least a fine. In some cases, you could face higher insurance premiums in the future. Some police officers may even impound your vehicle.
It also depends on how you’re caught driving without insurance. If you were pulled over for a DUI and caught without insurance, for example, then you could face steeper penalties than if you were pulled over for speeding 7mph over the limit.
Rules vary by state and situation, but common penalties for driving without insurance include:
- License suspension
- Vehicle impoundment
- Registration revoked
- Other penalties
Some states also require you to obtain a special certificate called the SR-22. This certificate verifies you have valid insurance coverage. If you were caught driving without insurance once, for example, then the DMV may require this certificate as proof that you’re genuinely insured.
Some states also revoke your license and vehicle registration after you are caught driving without insurance. The police officer may revoke your license and registration immediately, then impound your vehicle.
In most states and in most situations, an uninsured driver is asked to pay a fine. If you have multiple instances of driving without insurance, then you could pay a higher fine.
You Are Liable for Any Damage You Cause When Driving Uninsured
Fines, jail time, and vehicle impoundment are bad. However, things can get worse for uninsured drivers. You could cause an expensive accident when driving without insurance.
Typically, car insurance covers the cost of an accident, including any property damage or bodily injury damage you cause. If you hurt another driver or pedestrian while driving, for example, then your insurance will pay for that person’s medical bills and other expenses.
If you have no insurance, then you still need to pay for damages in an at-fault accident. You are now personally liable for these damages – instead of your insurance paying for damages, you must pay for damages.
A costly accident can create tens of thousands of dollars of damages. Some accidents cause hundreds of thousands – or more – of damages. As an insured driver, car insurance covers these damages up to the limits of your policy. As an uninsured driver, you are legally required to pay for these damages – and insurance won’t cover you.
Common Causes of a Car Insurance Lapse
Common causes of a car insurance lapse include:
- You forgot to pay your car insurance bill
- You were unable to pay your bill
- You sold your only vehicle
- Your only vehicle broke down
- Your only vehicle was in an accident
In all of these cases, your car insurance coverage could lapse, leaving you unprotected.
How to Avoid a Car Insurance Lapse
Car insurance lapses are dangerous. If you let your car insurance lapse, then you could be temporarily driving without insurance. That means you’re exposed to all of the risks above.
A lapse in car insurance could also lead to higher insurance premiums. When you go without car insurance, your insurance company has no insured history for that period of time. Your insurance doesn’t know if you were a good driver or a bad driver when your policy lapsed.
The best ways to avoid a lapse in car insurance coverage include the following:
- Shop around for a more affordable car insurance policy
- Borrow money or pay car insurance with a credit card
- Get on a family member’s insurance policy (if living at the same address)
The best way to avoid a car insurance lapse is to plan ahead. Buy a car insurance policy that starts the day your old policy ends. When car insurance policies end, they end at 12:01 am on the listed date. Some drivers naturally start a new car insurance policy the next day. However, this leaves them unprotected for a full day. If your old car insurance policy is scheduled to end on August 15, make sure your new policy is scheduled to begin on August 15.
Final Word – How Long Can You Go Without Car Insurance?
It is illegal to drive without car insurance for any period of time. If you want to drive on public roads in your state, then you must have car insurance. Otherwise, you’re considered an uninsured, illegal driver. That could mean hefty fines and penalties. It could even mean vehicle impoundment.
If you cause an accident while driving without insurance, you are personally liable for any damages caused – including medical bills, lost wages of other drivers, car repair expenses, and other damages.
Ultimately, it’s a bad idea (at the very least) to drive without car insurance. Take steps to avoid a car insurance lapse – and you never have to worry about being without car insurance.