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Cited for Driving with No Insurance? It's Serious, But Don't Panic. Here's What You Can Do

UPDATED: February 20, 2013

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There is a sickening feeling in your stomach when you get a letter from your insurance company that says they didn’t receive your last payment… and, by the way, they just canceled your motor vehicle liability insurance policy, you now have no insurance. Preoccupied by the thought that you should have signed up for the "auto-deduct program" your insurance company advertised last month, you don’t pay attention as you roll through a stop sign. Unfortunately, as your ongoing bad luck would have it, a cop is sitting near-by waiting to pull you over... and when he asks for proof of insurance, you don't have any. The officer in this situation will cite you for failing to maintain automobile liability insurance. So, what do you do when you are cited for driving with no insurance?

The resolution of your case will depend greatly on your state’s traffic code and your local prosecutor’s enforcement policies. 

  • Some states treat “driving without liability insurance” as a strict liability offense. This means they don’t care what your intent was (i.e. you actually thought you had coverage); they can convict solely based on the fact that you did drive without insurance.  
  • Other states have an intent requirement. This means that, in order to be convicted, the State must show that you committed the offense on purpose, versus accidentally. So, in the example above, you may have a defense to your ticket for driving without insurance because you lacked the intent to violate the traffic code. 

Affirmative Defenses

Some state traffic codes also provide for affirmative defenses. This is where instead of disputing that an offense occurred, you argue that a circumstance existed that justified the violation. In Texas, for example, the state traffic code exempts vehicles that are possessed solely for purposes of repair from the insurance requirement. This means that if your friend asked you to work on his car and you had no ownership interest in the car, you would have a defense if you are charged with failing to maintain motor vehicle insurance. Some states also provide exceptions for vintage cars that are not used for “regular transport.” 

Reducing or Dismissing the Charges for Driving With No Insurance

Even if you do not qualify for a defense, your state may still have provisions for dismissing or reducing the charges. 

  • Some states reward drivers that proactively respond to a citation by quickly obtaining vehicle liability coverage. Even if your state does not contain a specific provision, your local prosecuting office may have adopted this type of policy. Essentially, if you can show that you quickly corrected the problem, you may be eligible for a dismissal, a reduction in your fine, or a deferred sentence. Any of these can reduce the eventual negative impact on your finances and your insurance rates. 
  • Similarly, if you do have insurance, but merely forgot to carry your proof of financial responsibility, many states and prosecutor offices will dismiss or reduce sentences upon verification that you did have valid insurance in effect at the time of your citation.

Penalties for Driving With No Insurance

Assuming that you are guilty and you have no defenses,  a number of things can occur.

  • A majority of citations for failing to maintain motor vehicle liability insurance are resolved with a fine.  
  • Some do include periods on probation.  
  • If your history is particularly bad, your sentence could involve serving time in your county jail.

Your traffic citation history and your state’s traffic codes will thus dictate the terms of the penalties and control whether or not you are able to arrange a plea bargain or not. In this situation, seeking an attorney that is familiar with local practices will usually improve your chances for a better deal because your lawyer is going to know who and what to ask for to get you the best deal possible. 

Not panicking is your best strategy. For whatever reason, your motor vehicle liability insurance fell off your radar. Your citation for failing to maintain insurance cannot “fall off.” Failing to appear as directed in your citation and take care of the matter will only provoke more problems including a warrant being issued for your arrest and possibly additional charges for “failing to appear as promised.” There are solutions. Contact an attorney in your area today to learn what options in your jurisdiction are available for your situation.

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