Use your phone to prove you have car insurance
Getting pulled over by a cop will always get your heart pumping, but a growing number of states are making at least one part of the process less stressful.
More than half of states have passed laws to allow drivers to show electronic proof of insurance on their smartphones at traffic stops, and more are considering it. That means no more frantic searching through a messy glove compartment to find the paper slip. Instead, you can show a downloaded version of the insurance card on your phone. The move toward digital proof of insurance is the biggest insurance legislative trend of the year.
Colorado was the first state to allow electronic proof of insurance -- but its original rule applied only to showing insurance for registering vehicles. Idaho last year became the first state to enact a law letting drivers show proof of insurance on their phones at traffic stops. A handful of other states followed in 2012, including Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana and Minnesota. Alabama approved rules allowing digital proof of insurance at both traffic stops and for vehicle registration.
States that have passed laws letting drivers show digital proof of insurance at traffic stops
A digital electronic proof of insurance law is awaiting the governor's signature in Illinois.
Source: Property Casualty Insurers Association of America
Many more states, including Colorado, jumped on the bandwagon allowing e-cards at traffic stops this year. As of July 12, 20 states have passed laws in 2013 alone, according to the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI). Similar legislation is awaiting the governor's signature in Illinois, and e-card bills are wending their way through legislatures in Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Drivers and auto insurance companies agree
This is one of those rare laws that attracts support from car insurance companies and consumers.
Insurance companies are behind the trend because it saves them the cost of printing and mailing ID cards to policyholders.
"It makes good sense to allow consumers and insurers to use increasingly ubiquitous technology to comply with the law," Alex Hageli, PCI director of personal lines policy, said in a prepared statement.
Consumers like it because they can avoid tickets for not having the paper insurance card in their cars -- or if they forgot to replace an outdated card with a new one.
Most states require vehicle owners to have car insurance and to be able to prove it. Penalties for driving without insurance vary by state, but generally include fines for a first offense. Delaware has one of the toughest penalties: If convicted for driving without insurance, a driver is fined $1,500 for the first offense and $3,000 for each subsequent offense occurring within three years.
Some state penalties for subsequent offenses also include potential driver's license suspension, community service -- even jail time.
Even if you have insurance but can't prove it when you're pulled over by police, you can still be ticketed. Generally you can get the violation dismissed if you show the court you actually had insurance when you were cited. But you still might have to pay a dismissal fee and take time off work to appear.
The new laws vary in wording. California and Arizona, for instance, simply state you can show evidence of financial responsibility using an electronic device. Generally a downloaded copy of the insurance card using your insurer's app or a PDF of the image should suffice, but it's a good idea to check with your state to see what's acceptable.
You can still show a paper copy of your insurance card, and it's not a bad idea to keep one in your glovebox in case you forget your phone or the battery dies.
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