How do the police check for car insurance?

Police check for car insurance using an electronic system connected to your state's DMV. Driving without car insurance is illegal in 48 states, but police check for car insurance details in all 50 states. If you're worried about a police check for auto insurance, get yourself covered ASAP. Enter your ZIP code below to start comparing car insurance quotes for free.

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A former insurance producer, Laura understands that education is key when it comes to buying insurance. She has happily dedicated many hours to helping her clients understand how the insurance marketplace works so they can find the best car, home, and life insurance products for their needs.

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Joel Ohman is the CEO of a private equity backed digital media company. He is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, author, angel investor, and serial entrepreneur who loves creating new things, whether books or businesses. He has also previously served as the founder and resident CFP® of a national insurance agency, Real Time Health Quotes. He has an MBA from the University of South Florida. Jo...

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Reviewed by Joel Ohman
Founder & CFP®

UPDATED: Jan 19, 2021

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Here's what you need to know...

  • Auto insurance is required by state officials in every state except for New Hampshire, Virginia, and Mississippi
  • Some states have compulsory auto insurance laws and others have financial responsibility laws with alternatives to buying auto insurance
  • In states with mandatory insurance laws, you must present proof of liability insurance or no-fault insurance whenever you register your vehicle and when you’re pulled over by law enforcement
  • With new advanced electronic verification systems, both the Department of Motor Vehicles and police officers can verify whether or not your policy is active

Unless you live in Virginia, New Hampshire or Mississippi, driving without insurance is against the law. Taking the risk to violate the law can not just put your assets at risk, it’s also a decision that comes with some very serious consequences.

It’s only natural to wonder just how a police officer might check your car insurance. After all, they don’t pull out their cell phones and call your insurance company to see if you have coverage and what your limits are.

As you compare insurance quotes, it can be helpful to learn just how modern insurance verification works.

To compare car insurance rates now, enter your zip code in our FREE tool above!

Why is car insurance required by law?

You have a choice to purchase home insurance, boat insurance, and recreational vehicle insurance, but auto insurance is a form of property insurance that’s required by law.

It’s only natural to wonder why it’s your decision to buy one product and not the other, but in the eyes of the law, the potential for harm is much greater when you’re driving a car.

 Most state officials require vehicle owners to buy third-party protection.

This protection doesn’t necessarily protect the owner but will pay for property damages and bodily injury that they might be responsible for.

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What are the state insurance laws?

Insurance laws, limit requirements, and systems vary by state. Some states have mandatory insurance laws where there’s no choice but to have auto insurance to pay for vehicle damages.

Other states have a different type of law called a financial responsibility law.

In this state, carrying auto insurance is just one of the options to satisfy the law.

What are alternatives to satisfying a financial responsibility law?

If you’re in a state where you can bypass insurance requirements by presenting other proof of financial responsibility, you might not need to worry about presenting police officers with an auto insurance ID card.

Here are some ways that you can comply with the law without buying insurance:

  • Depositing cash with your state treasurer
  • Purchasing a surety bond in an amount required by the state
  • Putting up collateral for a self-insurance certificate

What are the consequences of driving without insurance?

It’s extremely dangerous to drive without insurance. Before you’re worried about how the police verify your coverage, you should find out what could happen when the police find out your policy isn’t active.

Learning about potential penalties and the other indirect consequences of driving insured might steer you away from taking the risk.

The consequences for driving uninsured vary by state.

States with higher rates of uninsured motorists tend to have much more stiff penalties than those with lower rates.

Here’s a comprehensive list of some of the most common penalties assessed when you’re caught driving without insurance:

  • Fine of up to $1000 for first offense
  • Suspension of registration
  • Suspension of driver license for up to 90 days
  • Impoundment of your vehicle enforced by the court
  • Community Service at the discretion of the court
  • Mandatory court appearance
  • Misdemeanor conviction
  • Imprisonment of up to six months

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How to Prove That You Have Car Insurance

Typically, it’s your duty as the registered owner of your vehicle to show that you have insurance at all times by keeping your ID cards in your glove box.

If you don’t have your ID card with you, you can be cited even if you do have coverage.

Some states accepted both the traditional printed ID cards and digital ID cards.

See if your company offers digital cards to policyholders for convenience.

You should verify that your state allows digital proof of insurance before you assume that it’s acceptable.

Why States Use Electronic Verification Systems

In the past, all you needed was a valid ID card to show that you had insurance. Now, police officers have real-time access to verification systems that show whether or not your coverage is in fact, active.

The reason for this advance in procedures is because so many drivers tried passing off fraudulent auto ID cards to police to avoid a citation.

How does an electronic verification system work?

An electronic verification system is one that auto insurance companies report to and one that the state can access.

In states where insurance status is reported electronically, companies are required by law to report when the status of policy changes or when a new policy is purchased.

It’s report by entering a vehicle’s VIN and the term dates.

On the other side of the system, state officials with the DMV and police officers can access what’s been reported.

Officers can enter a car’s plate number in their computer and it will show the VIN and insurance status.

This status is reported real-time so that the officer can accurately cite uninsured drivers.

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Can you get pulled over just for having no car insurance?

Officers can check your auto insurance status while you’re driving on public roads, but they can’t actually pull you over just because you don’t have coverage.

Instead, you have to be doing something else wrong before you can get pulled over.

No insurance violations are secondary offenses that can’t be the primary reason for any traffic stop.

You would have to be speeding, violating a traffic law, riding without a seat belt or in violation of another law before you could be penalized for no insurance or fake ID cards.

Insurance isn’t just the law, it’s a financial product that can really protect you.

The quickest way to price the cost of a full coverage auto insurance policy is to use an online comparison tool.

Enter your zip code below in our FREE tool to compare car insurance rates instantly!

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