The penalties for driving uninsured -- and why they may be meaningless
State penalties for driving without car insurance
First offense: 45-day license suspension and/or up to a $500 fine; subsequent offense: up to $1,000 and/or suspension of license up to six months.
First offense: 90-day driver’s license suspension; second offense: one-year driver’s license suspension.
First offense: $250 fine, suspension of license up to three months; second offense within 36 months: mandatory fine of at least $500 and up to six-month suspension of license and registration; third offense within 36 months: mandatory fine of at least $750 and mandatory one-year suspension of license and registration.
First offense: $50 to $250 fine; second offense: $250 to $500 fine; subsequent offense: $500 to $1,000 fine and/or one year in jail.
First offense: $100 to $200 fine; subsequent offense within three years: $200 to $500 fine. Judge must impose greater fines if defendant fails to provide proof of insurance in court.
First offense: $500 fine; subsequent offenses: $1,000 fine; sentence of up to 40 hours of community service also possible.
First offense: $35 fine; subsequent offenses: $50 fine.
First offense: mandatory fine of $1,500 to $2,000 and license suspension for six months; subsequent offenses: $3,000 to $4,000 fine and six-month suspension of license and registration.
District of Columbia
First offense: $300 to $500 fine; subsequent offenses: $500 to $2,000 fine and/or up to 90 days in jail.
Suspension of registration and driver's license if you fail to provide proof of insurance in court.
$200 to $1,000 fine and/or up to one year in jail; suspension of registration until proof of insurance is provided and fees are paid.
First offense: $500 fine; subsequent offense: $2,500 fine; judge may suspend first offense fine and order community service at request of defendant.
First offense: $75 fine; subsequent offenses: up to $1,000 fine and/or up to six months in jail.
$500 to $1,000 fine and three-month driver’s license suspension.
First offense: Court may suspend driver's license or vehicle registration for one year; subsequent offenses within five years: suspension of driver's license for one year.
Citation and removal of license plates and registration receipt, possible impoundment of vehicle.
First offense: $300 to $1,000 fine and/or up to six months in jail; subsequent convictions within three years: $800 to $2,500 fine; penalties may include driver’s license suspension and revocation of vehicle registration.
First offense: $500 to $1,000 fine and/or 90 days in jail; subsequent offenses within five years: $1,000 to $2,500 fine and/or 180 days in jail.
First offense: license plate impoundment and $50 reinstatement fee; second offense: $150 fine; subsequent convictions: $500 fine.
$100 to $500 fine and 30-day license and registration suspension.
Registration suspension and $150 fine per vehicle without insurance for one to 30 days; after that, fine increases by $7 per day; maximum penalty of $2,500 for 12-month period.
Up to $500 fine if no previous conviction or finding; otherwise $500 to $5,000 fine and/or up to one year in jail.
$200 to $500 fine and/or up to one year in jail.
First offense: $200 to $1,000 fine and/or up to 90 days in jail; subsequent conviction within 10 years: $200 to $3,000 fine and/or up to one year in jail.
$500 fine and up to one-year license suspension.
Suspension of driver's license or assessment of four points on driver's license.
First offense: $250 to $500 fine and/or 10 days in jail; second offense in five years: $350 fine and/or 10 days in jail, surrender and suspension of registration and license plates until proof of compliance is furnished; third or subsequent offense within five years: $500 fine and/or up to six months in jail, surrender and suspension of registration of license plates until proof is furnished; fourth offense: surrender and suspension of driver's license.
Driver's license suspension.
Up to $1,000 fine; civil penalties of $600 to $1,000, suspension of license and registration.
First offense: $300 to $1,000 fine, community service and forfeiture of the right to operate a motor vehicle for one year; subsequent convictions: 14 days in jail and forfeiture to operator motor vehicle for two years, up to $5,000 fine and 30 days community service.
Up to $300 fine and registration suspension.
$150 to $1,500 fine and/or up to 15 days in jail, plus $750 civil penalty.
First offense: $50 fine and revocation of vehicle registration of 30 days; second offense within three years: $100; third offense: $150.
First offense: minimum $150 fine and revocation or suspension of registration until proof of insurance is provided; subsequent offense within 18 months: minimum $300 fine.
First offense: revocation of registration, $75 fine and three-month driver license suspension; second offense in five years: one-year license suspension; subsequent violations: two-year license suspension.
Up to $250 fine and/or up to 30 days in jail; suspension of driving privileges until reinstatement fee is paid and proof of insurance furnished.
License suspension or registration revocation.
$300 fine, three-month suspension of driver's license and registration.
First offense: $100 to $500 fine and up to three-month license and registration suspension; second offense: $500 fine and up to six-month suspension; third and subsequent offense: $1,000 fine and up to one year suspension.
First offense: $100 to $200 fine or up to 30 days in jail; second offense within five years: $200 fine and/or 30 days in jail; third or subsequent offense within five years: 45 days to six months in jail.
30-day to one-year driver's license suspension.
Up to $100 fine.
First offense: $175 to $350 fine; subsequent offenses: $350 to $2,000 fine.
First offense: $400 fine; subsequent offense within three years: $1,000 fine and driver's license suspension until proof of insurance furnished.
$100 fine and driver's license suspension until supplying proof of insurance.
Driver license and vehicle registration suspension.
Up to $250 fine or community restitution.
First offense: $200 to $5,000 fine, 30-day driver's license suspension, revocation of vehicle registration until proof of insurance provided; subsequent offense: $200 to $5,000 fine and/or 15 days to one year in jail.
Up to $5,000 fine.
Sources: PCI and Insure.com research
Driving without car insurance is risky business.
If you cause an accident, you're personally liable for injuries and damage to others -- not to mention your own medical and car-repair bills.
But unless you live in New Hampshire -- the only state that doesn't require drivers to carry auto liability insurance -- you're subject to legal penalties if you drive without it.
The severity of the penalties depends on your state law and how tightly its laws are enforced. According to the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI), potential punishment for driving uninsured varies widely. Most states will penalize you with a fine. But some could suspend your driver’s license, require you to do community service or sentence you to jail.
While state officials say they're serious about cracking down on uninsured drivers, some insurance industry insiders assert that states’ efforts are mostly for show.
"It's a joke," says Alex Hageli, PCI's director of personal lines, of the systems in place to catch and punish uninsured motorists.
Still, it's important to keep in mind the consequences for driving uninsured, both financial and legal. Don’t count on a soft-hearted judge if you get caught driving without insurance.
Car insurance laws vary
Delaware has some of the toughest fines on the books. If you’re convicted of driving without auto insurance, you face a fine between $1,500 to $2,000 for a first offense and $3,000 to $4,000 for each subsequent offense occurring within three years -- as well as possible license suspension.
Other states are more lenient. If you live in Tennessee, you will be fined up to $100 for the first offense. In Idaho, a first offense is punishable by a $75 fine. Penalties for subsequent offenses in Idaho, though, are considerably tougher -- up to a $1,000 fine and/or six months in jail.
Second and third offenses generally carry stiffer penalties in most states. In Colorado, the minimum penalty for a first offense is $500 and $1,000 for subsequent offenses. A possible sentence of up to 40 hours of community service can also be added. On the other side of the spectrum, North Carolina will fine you $150 for a third offense within three years.
In other states, penalties don't include fines. Drivers caught without car insurance in Missouri, for instance, could see four points added to their driver's licenses or face license suspension.
Many states also spell out penalties for falsifying proof of insurance. Altering or forging proof of liability insurance to register a vehicle in Alabama is considered a felony with a penalty of $500 to $5,000 and possible imprisonment.
Your chances of getting caught without auto insurance
But just how likely are you to face punishment? That depends on whether you get caught and what sort of judge you get if you end up in court.
On paper, some of the penalties look scary. In the real world, fines for many offenses are often reduced in court, Hageli says. Some people also try to cheat the system by buying a cheap car insurance policy to show proof of insurance in court and then cancel it, he adds.
While it may appear that the insurance industry supports compulsory auto liability insurance laws, it has actually fought against them. Hageli says he lobbied on behalf of PCI for Wisconsin lawmakers to reject a bill requiring drivers to carry insurance. But the legislation passed and the law became effective June 1, 2010.
The auto insurance industry opposes compulsory insurance laws because they require car insurance companies to report information on who has insurance. Conforming to each state’s reporting system is time-consuming and costly.
"We're the ones paying for the system, and the costs get passed down to consumers," Hageli says.
That means higher car insurance rates for everybody.
Hageli says that unless states can better enforce the laws that require people to buy car insurance, PCI favors repealing them. It also favors laws that would prevent judges from reducing the penalties for those that break the law.
"If you're not going to enforce the law, why have it on the books?" he says.
More from Barbara Marquand here