Car insurance is required for drivers in most states, with the exception of New Hampshire and Virginia. In all other states, drivers need to carry proof of insurance

Proof of insurance is documentation that shows you are covered by an auto insurance company’s policy that meets the minimum insurance requirements in your state. You’ll need to be prepared to show proof of insurance in certain situations, such as when you register your vehicle or if you get in an accident.

If you’ve just signed up for car insurance, you should carry an insurance binder, a temporary document given to you by an insurance agent that will prove you’re insured until you get your official card. 

If you drive without proof of insurance, you can usually supply the proof later with minimal penalties. But if you drive without an active insurance policy, you could face high costs and even jail time. 

Luckily, it’s easy to secure auto insurance at a low rate within minutes. With Insurify, you can compare quotes from up to 20 insurers side by side, so you can rest assured you got the lowest premium for your insurance coverage needs. 

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When do you need proof of insurance

You’ll want to keep proof of your current insurance policy with you anytime you drive since you’ll face hefty fines in most states if you’re caught driving without it. Whether you keep an insurance card in your glove compartment or have your proof of insurance ready to go electronically, you should have a document that includes the following:

  • Name of your insurance company
  • Names of insured drivers
  • Information about your motor vehicle
  • The policy effective date and expiration date
  • The policy number

There are several scenarios when you’ll need to provide proof of insurance:

  • Getting pulled over: If law enforcement pulls you over for any reason, they’ll ask for your vehicle registration and proof of insurance. If you can’t prove that you’re covered, the police officer will typically write you a ticket for being uninsured, which you’ll have to contest with proof of insurance
  • Registering your vehicle: When you go to the Department of Motor Vehicles or renew your registration online, you’ll need to provide proof of your current insurance policy
  • Reinstating your license: While you typically don’t need to show proof of insurance when renewing your driver’s license, most states will require proof of insurance if you need to reinstate your license after it has been revoked or suspended. Your state DMV may require an SR-22 document that shows proof of financial responsibility or auto insurance coverage in order to reinstate your license. 
  • Renting a car: If you don’t want to purchase the rental car provider’s insurance policy, you’ll need to present proof of your existing policy when renting a car. If you plan to purchase insurance at the rental counter anyway, you won’t need proof of insurance
  • Buying or leasing a car: You need to have auto insurance the day you drive your new car off the lot, which means that auto dealers will require proof of insurance before you can complete your purchase. 

Driving Without Proof of Insurance

Driving without auto insurance can come with serious consequences. Depending on the state you live in, you may face fines totaling hundreds of dollars, have your license suspended, or even face jail time. And that doesn’t even begin to cover the costs you could face if you are at fault in a car accident. If the accident is considered your responsibility, the non-guilty driver could go after your money and assets in a lawsuit to cover the damages

If you are caught driving without proof of insurance, in most cases law enforcement will assume you are uninsured and write you a ticket for driving without insurance. Depending on where you live, you could get a ticket for up to $1,500 for your first offense. 

From there, you’ll need to contest the ticket by supplying proof of insurance by mail or at a court hearing. You need to make sure you respond in the time allotted, or you’ll be responsible for the fine and could even have your license suspended or revoked in some states. However, if you do contest the ticket by showing your current insurance information, the charges will likely be dropped. You may still have to pay court fees or a small fine. 

Some people think it’s okay to fake proof of insurance, or to let a policy lapse but still show the insurance ID card as if it’s current. This can be pretty hard to get away with since most states have an electronic insurance verification system that lets police officers run your name through a database of existing insurance policies. If you’re caught, you’ll face fines, possible jail time, and often higher premiums. 

To avoid getting caught without proof of insurance, you should sign up for car insurance before your next drive. Some companies offer instant proof of insurance, so you can get a document to keep in your car within a couple of hours. And it takes just minutes to compare quotes with an insurance comparison site like Insurify. Even if you’ve got a road trip planned tomorrow, you can follow the law and keep yourself safe by getting car insurance today. 

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Where to Find Your Proof of Insurance

Most insurance companies will mail you an insurance ID card once your policy is active, and you can also print one from your online account. Many insurance companies also offer mobile apps, and most states (with the exception of New Mexico) allow you to show electronic proof of insurance. Most DMVs will also accept electronic proof of insurance but check with your local office before you make the trip. 

However, you should have proof of insurance readily available. That means you should make sure you can easily log in and access the document you need from the app. Even then, it might be a good idea to keep a hard copy in your vehicle in case you leave your phone behind or it runs out of charge. 

Finding Car Insurance That Won’t Break the Bank

Rather than risking costly fines or even losing driving privileges, use Insurify to compare insurance quotes and find a policy that fits in your budget. Insurify can help you save hundreds on your annual premium, all while keeping you protected and legal. You’ll just need to enter some personal information and tell us about your vehicle and driving history to get started. It takes just a few minutes to compare premiums from up to 20 different providers, and it’s totally free. 

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Updated July 26, 2021

Lindsay Frankel is a full-time freelance writer specializing in personal finance and insurance topics. Her work has been featured in publications such as LendingTree, The Balance, Coverage.com, Bankrate, NextAdvisor, and FinanceBuzz. For the past year, she has written about car insurance for Insurify.