What happens if you have an accident when you’re uninsured?

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Courtney Roy

Insurtech Writer | Contributor

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  • Licensed Insurance Agent — Property and Casualty
  • Licensed Insurance Agent — Life
  • Real Estate License

Courtney Roy is an insurtech writer and expert in multiple lines of insurance. As an insurance agent, he sat across the kitchen table to help people …

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Ross Martin

Insurance Writer

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  • 4+ years in the Insurance Industry

Ross joined The Zebra as a writer and researcher in 2019. He specializes in writing insurance content to help shoppers make informed decisions.

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Susan Meyer

Senior Editorial Manager

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  • Licensed Insurance Agent — Property and Casualty

Susan is a licensed insurance agent and has worked as a writer and editor for over 10 years across a number of industries. She has worked at The Zebr…

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One out of seven. That’s the number of uninsured drivers on the road in the U.S.[1] So if you fall into the group, you’re certainly not alone, but you may still have questions.

For example, is driving without insurance against the law? Yes, in fact, it’s illegal in every state but New Hampshire. But even there, you still hold the financial responsibility for any crashes you cause.

Getting into an accident is always upsetting, but it can be especially scary if it happens when you aren’t protecting. If you are driving without insurance and get in an accident, here’s what’s most important:

  • Who is at fault is the key factor, and your uninsured status doesn’t matter when determining fault.

  • If you’re found at fault, you’ll likely be on the hook for any collision-related injuries and vehicle damage.

  • If the other driver is deemed at fault, being uninsured could limit what compensation you can receive for injuries and other losses.

If you’ve been in an accident and you don’t have insurance, read on to learn what you should do and what options you have. We also have some advice on acquiring affordable insurance, so this doesn’t happen again. 


What you should do immediately after you’re in a car accident without insurance

The first thing to do is stay put.

Even though there are penalties for driving without insurance (more on that below), they are minuscule compared to the repercussions of fleeing the scene of an accident. This is especially true if there were bodily injuries. Hit and runs have several thousand-dollar fines and possible prison time.

So, regardless of who is the at-fault party, please remain at the scene of the accident until you’ve completed the appropriate steps:

  1. Check yourself and your passengers for injuries.

  2. Get to a safe place.

  3. Call 911 (regardless of the accident’s severity).

  4. Exchange information with other drivers involved, including:

    • Full name

    • Contact information, including phone numbers, email addresses and other details. 

    • Insurance company and policy number

    • Driver’s license number

    • License plate number

    • Make, model and color of vehicle

    • Location of accident

    • Officer’s name and badge number

    • Witness contact information

  5. Document the accident with pictures and talk to witnesses to gather their statements.

  6. Consider consult with a law firm who specializes in uninsured motorist cases. 

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What are the consequences of being in an accident without insurance?

Once again, it depends on fault. Sometimes assigning blame is rather obvious, and other times, it’s a tad trickier. For instance, it’s possible to be partially at fault. But to make things simple, one driver will likely be more responsible than the other. Below are the two most common scenarios.

 

 

 

 

If you’re at fault

You could experience a range of significant consequences, including:

  • Fines: You’ll likely have to pay a fine, and the penalty can be steeper depending on the accident’s severity.
  • Jail time: In most cases, a single violation won’t result in jail time, but multiple instances of driving without insurance may.
  • Legal fees: If you can’t pay for the other driver’s losses, they may sue you for damages, including legal fees.
  • License suspension: Your state will probably suspend your license or revoke it if you’ve been caught driving without insurance multiple times.
  • Medical costs: If the other driver, their passengers or a pedestrian was injured, you would likely need to pay for their medical bills. Hopefully, your health insurance will cover your injuries.
  • More expensive insurance: Insurance companies see drivers with a history of accidents and coverage lapses as higher risk. As a result, a high-risk driver will pay more for car insurance than the average driver.
  • Property damage: You are responsible for paying for any damaged property, such as other vehicles, light poles, mailboxes, etc.
  • SR-22 or FR-44: Your state may require you to file an SR-22 or FR-44 form with the DMV. The paperwork is readily available from your insurance company when you buy a policy that proves you have coverage. 
  • Vehicle impounding: The law enforcement officer may decide to have your car towed away from the scene for uninsured driving.
  • Wage garnishment: If you can’t afford to pay the other driver’s damages, they may seek deductions from your paycheck until the debt is paid.

Where you live matters

If you live in a no-fault state, you’ll likely avoid a lawsuit for the other driver’s medical expenses unless it was an extremely severe accident. Why? In no-fault states, each driver must seek compensation from their own insurance company for injuries.

There are currently 12 no-fault states in the US:

If the other driver is at fault

Lack of insurance might still pose problems for you even if you didn’t cause the accident (for example, you’re rear-ended). You still may face the following issues:

  • Fines: Your state may require you to pay penalties for uninsured driving regardless of fault.

  • License suspension: Even without causing the accident, your license will probably be suspended for driving without insurance.

  • Vehicle impounding: The officer on the scene can choose to have your car towed.

If you live in a No-Pay, No-Play” state, you could still be required to pay for your medical injuries and property damage. Furthermore, in the dozen or so “No Pay, No Play” states, you are limited in how much you can recover for losses. The state may forbid you from suing for “pain and suffering” or “non-economic” damages.

The following are No-Pay, No-Play states:

The thinking behind “No-Pay, No-Play” laws is that drivers who don’t buy insurance shouldn’t receive benefits from those who do.


How to find affordable car insurance after an uninsured accident

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After you’ve been in an auto accident without it, you can appreciate the importance of having auto insurance coverage. Here’s how to help find an affordable insurance policy. Insurance companies use a variety of factors to set your rate, such as your age, credit score, vehicle and driving history. Regardless of your driving history, here are some strategies to lower your car insurance premiums:

  • Bundle: Combine in other coverage such as renters, home or life insurance through the same provider for savings. 

  • Get a variety of quotes: Compare rates from multiple insurers to uncover the most cost-effective

  • Leverage discounts: Lock in as many discounts as you can qualify for, like the paperless, automatic payments and telematics discounts

  • Raise your deductibles: This can give you a lower monthly payment.

  • Drive safely: While not all accidents are avoidable, the longer you can show a clean driving record, the better the chance of lowering your rates. 

Suppose your driving record has lapses or an uninsured at-fault accident. In that case, you might need to consider high-risk car insurance, also known as non-standard car insurance. High-risk drivers can buy coverage from most major insurers at a higher cost than average.

If your car insurance options seem excessively pricey, The Zebra can help you compare auto insurance rates and secure the most budget-friendly policy possible. You can go from uninsured to fully protected in minutes.

Frequently asked questions

Here are some frequently asked questions about driving and getting in accidents while underinsured. 

This depends on where you live. All states but New Hampshire require you to carry a certain amount of coverage. Some states only require liability insurance. Others also require a certain amount of personal injury protection. The consequences if you are caught without these minimums also vary by state, but can include hefty fines, the suspension of your license, potentially impounding your vehicle and even jail time.

Collision coverage protects your vehicle from damage caused by other drivers or objects you hit. Liability coverage pays for injuries and damages you cause, if you are determined to be the at-fault party. Uninsured motorist coverage can protect you if you are in an accident with an uninsured or underinsured driver.

In an accident or if you’re pulled over, you may be asked to provide proof of insurance. This is a paper or electronic document provided by your insurance company when you buy an auto insurance policy. It contains the policyholder’s first and last name, the insured vehicles make, model and VIN, the policy number and the effective date and expiration date of the policy.

Sources
  1. Facts and statistics: Uninsured motorists. [Insurance Information Institute]