How Proof of Insurance Works and Why You Need It

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In most of the United States, drivers must have automobile liability insurance to legally drive a vehicle. Most states also require drivers to carry proof that they are covered. To make sure you have the right documentation when you’re behind the wheel, here’s what you need to know about proof of insurance.

Key Takeaways

  • Drivers in the United States are usually required to have bodily injury and property damage liability insurance.
  • State laws require drivers to have proof of insurance in their car.
  • Most states allow you to use electronic forms of proof of insurance.
  • Driving without proof of insurance puts you at risk of tickets and fines.

What Is Proof of Insurance? 

Uninsured motorists are a major problem in the United States, where nearly 13% of drivers are estimated to lack insurance. If you’re hit by an uninsured driver, you could be on the hook for your own hospital bills and car repair costs. 

In an attempt to reduce the number of uninsured drivers, 49 states require drivers to carry at least a certain minimum amount of bodily injury and property damage liability coverage. It can pay the other driver’s medical bills, vehicle repair costs, and other expenses if the policyholder is found to be at-fault in an accident.

In Ohio, for example, drivers must carry a minimum of $25,000 in bodily injury coverage per person, $50,000 in bodily injury coverage per accident, and $25,000 in property damage coverage. This is expressed in an insurance policy as 25/50/25. Drivers can buy more liability coverage than the minimum if they wish to, and that’s often a good idea if they have significant assets to protect in the event of a lawsuit.

Some states also require that drivers carry other types of insurance, such as medical payments coverage or personal injury protection, which can cover injuries to the policyholder and any passengers.

New Hampshire is the one state that doesn’t require drivers to buy auto insurance, although it strongly recommends it.

To prove that you comply with your state’s law, you are supposed to carry proof of insurance with you whenever you’re behind the wheel. If you are stopped by police, they can ask to see your proof of insurance along with your license and registration. You will also need it if you are ever in an accident.

Proof of insurance can be in the form of an insurance ID card or other document from your insurance company. To meet the proof of insurance requirements, your ID card or form must show the policy number, policy effective dates, covered vehicle, and policyholder name. 

What Is an SR-22? 

In addition to the standard proof of insurance, some drivers will need an SR-22 form, also known as a certificate of financial responsibility. In Virginia and Florida, the form is known as an FR-44. 

For example, you could be ordered by the state or a judge to get an SR-22 if you’ve been convicted of a DUI or DWI, have had several speeding tickets in a short time, or have a hardship license.

The SR-22 isn’t a separate insurance policy. It’s a form that must be filed with your state to prove that you meet its minimum auto liability requirements.

Your insurance company will typically file the SR-22 form for you electronically, though in some cases, it may need to be sent through the mail. 

How to Get Proof of Insurance

When you purchase a car insurance policy, the insurance company will typically send you proof of insurance right away. You may also be able to download a temporary insurance card to use until the hard copy arrives. 

You’ll receive a new insurance card every time your policy renews, or whenever you make changes to your coverage. When you receive a new insurance card, shred and throw out your old card and put the new one in your vehicle so you can prove that your insurance is up-to-date. You may also want to photograph or make a photocopy of your latest card and keep it apart from your car, just in case.

In most states, proof of insurance is also available in electronic form. So if you’re stopped by law enforcement, you can show them a digital insurance card on your smartphone.

What to Do if You Lose Your Insurance Card

If you lose your insurance card and need to get proof of insurance, you have a few options: 

  • Download the insurance company’s app: Many insurance companies have apps that allow you to access digital copies of your insurance cards. 
  • Access your account online: If your insurance company doesn’t have an app, you may be able to download and print out a card by logging into your account on its website. 
  • Contact your agent: Call your insurance agent and ask them to send you an updated copy of your insurance card.

Penalties if You’re Caught Without Proof of Insurance

If you are stopped by police and don’t have proof of insurance with you, the officer can write you a ticket. Depending on your state, you could be subject to fines and other penalties.

For the specifics, visit your state’s department of motor vehicles website for information about its minimum insurance requirements and the penalties for not having proof of insurance.