What happens if you get into an accident and don't have insurance?

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You know the routine -- another month, another auto insurance payment. Then the thought hits you as you press the stamp to the envelope: ''What would happen if I let my auto insurance policy lapse and got into an accident?''

It's a question that one in every seven drivers in the country should ask themselves. According to a 2011 report by the Insurance Research Council, 13.8 percent of drivers in the country are uninsured [source: Insurance Research Council].

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First, let's talk about what it means to not have insurance. A typical auto insurance policy might include six types of coverage that apply in different circumstances:

  1. Bodily injury liability pays for injuries you cause to other drivers and passengers as a result of an accident.
  2. Property damage liability covers repairs to others' vehicles, buildings, fences or other property that you damage during an accident.
  3. Collision reimburses you for damages caused to your vehicle, regardless of whether or not the accident was your fault.
  4. Personal injury protection covers the cost of injuries to you (the driver) and the passengers in your car.
  5. Comprehensive covers damages to your vehicle from accidents other than collisions, such as vandalism or natural disaster.
  6. Uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage covers injuries and damages to your vehicle if you're hit by a hit-and-run driver, a driver without insurance, or a driver lacking enough insurance to pay the costs of an accident.

When we talk about an ''uninsured driver,'' we're primarily talking about the first two types of insurance. As of February 2012, every state except New Hampshire requires drivers to carry certain amounts of liability insurance to pay for injuries and property damage in accidents that they've caused [source: Insurance Information Institute]. (New Hampshire has financial responsibility laws that compel drivers without insurance to pay for accidents when they're responsible.) Many states require additional types of coverage before you can legally get behind the wheel.

What's going to happen if you don't have the right kinds of insurance coverage? Read on to find out.

The Consequences of Driving Uninsured

A small fender bender without insurance can lead to much bigger problems down the road.
A small fender bender without insurance can lead to much bigger problems down the road.
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The consequences of driving uninsured vary from state to state. Most states require drivers to carry proof of insurance at all times. Even if you aren't involved in an accident, getting caught without auto insurance can result in fines as high as $5,000, a suspended license or even jail time [source: Insurance Information Institute]. The good news is that if you're driving someone else's car with their permission, and that person is insured, you'll likely be covered in the event of an accident, and vice versa [source: Farmers Insurance Group].

But let's say you were driving alone -- in your own car, completely uninsured -- when you were involved in an accident. If you didn't cause the accident to take place (meaning you are not ''at-fault'') and an insured driver hit you, you can still collect money from the at-fault driver's insurance company. If an uninsured driver hit you, on the other hand, you'll most likely have to sue the driver for compensation. However, at least 20 states have proposed or implemented laws that limit uninsured drivers' legal recourse or completely bar them for suing for noneconomic damages like pain and suffering [source: Insurance Information Institute].

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If you're deemed at-fault in the accident, passengers in the car that you hit can receive compensation by going after any number of your assets, depending on the state you reside within. These assets could include your savings, a portion of earnings from all of your future paychecks -- even your home. Also, you'll have a hard time buying auto insurance ever again without joining an assigned risk pool, which is a collection of motorists whose serious infractions have rendered them incapable of buying insurance on their own, so the state connects with insurance agents who charge them costly premiums.

"Most people realize that the potential liabilities of a major auto accident are something you can't necessarily save for," says Michael Barry of the Insurance Information Institute [source: Barry]. So, while ditching your car insurance might seem like a simple way to save money, at some point it's probably going to cost you.

For lots more information on car insurance, see the links on the next page.

Sources

  • Barry, Michael. Vice President of Media Relations at the Insurance Information Institute. Personal interview. March 12, 2012.
  • Farmers Insurance Group. ''Auto Insurance FAQs.'' (March 8, 2012) http://www.farmers.com/auto_insurance_faq.html
  • Insurance Information Institute. ''Can I drive legally without insurance?'' (March 7, 2012) http://www.iii.org/individuals/auto/a/canidrive/
  • Insurance Information Institute. ''Compulsory Auto/Uninsured Motorists.'' February 2012. (March 7, 2012) http://www.iii.org/issues_updates/compulsory-auto-uninsured-motorists.html
  • Insurance Information Institute. ''Uninsured Motorists.'' 2011. (March 7, 2012) http://www.iii.org/facts_statistics/uninsured-motorists.html
  • Insurance Information Institute. ''What is covered by a basic auto insurance policy?'' (March 7, 2012) http://www.iii.org/articles/what-is-covered-by-a-basic-auto-policy.html
  • Ladika, Susan. ''Can You Drive Without Car Insurance?'' Fox Business. November 9, 2011. (March 6, 2012) http://www.foxbusiness.com/personal-finance/2011/11/09/can-drive-without-car-insurance/
  • Texas Department of Insurance. ''Young Drivers Auto Insurance FAQ.'' Oct. 21, 2011. (March 8, 2012) http://www.tdi.texas.gov/auto/youngfaqauto.html#4