Insurance

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

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One out of 8. That’s the number of uninsured drivers on the road in the U.S., according to the Insurance Research Council. 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’re still financially responsible for any crashes you cause.

And 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.

What you should do immediately after an accident if you're uninsured

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 injuries. Hit and runs have several thousand-dollar fines and possible prison time. So, 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, 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.
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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.

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.

 

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 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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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 in other coverage such as renters, home or life insurance
  • Compare rates from multiple insurers to uncover the most cost-effective
  • Lock in as many discounts as you can qualify for, like the paperless, automatic payments and telematics discounts
  • Raise your deductibles

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 rates and secure the most budget-friendly policy possible. You can go from uninsured to fully protected in minutes. 

Compare insurance rates quickly and easily.

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Courtney RoyInsurtech Writer | Contributor

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 choose the right coverage for their families. Now, he breaks down complicated insurance concepts into actionable content that makes a difference for his readers. He has a P & C insurance license, a life insurance license and a real estate license. His work has been featured by Huckleberry, Liberty Mutual, ReMax, and Benzinga.