How Police Catch Uninsured Drivers

Police can’t pull you over for not having insurance—yet. New technology may change that in the future.
Written by Sarah Gray
Edited by Pat Roache
Police officers can identify uninsured drivers in routine traffic stops before they even leave their patrol cars thanks to recent developments in automatic license plate recognition software. They may also use checkpoints, proof of insurance, and other strategies to catch uninsured drivers.
  • Driving without
    car insurance
    is a secondary offense in most states, meaning you can’t be pulled over for it.
  • Police use several methods to catch uninsured drivers, including routine traffic stops and checkpoints.
  • The penalties for driving uninsured are expensive and long-lasting in all 50 states.

How police catch uninsured drivers

Since driving without insurance is a secondary offense in most states, police must use other methods to detect and detain uninsured drivers. These methods include:
  • Routine traffic stops: When you’re pulled over, you’ll be asked for your license, vehicle registration, and
    proof of insurance
    . All they have to do is call the number on the back of your insurance card to make sure it’s valid. 
  • Visual checkpoints: Police officers have the right to set up checkpoints in the interest of public safety. Any driver that passes through a checkpoint will typically be asked to present their driver’s license,
    vehicle registration
    , and proof of insurance.
  • Data from insurance companies: Certain states require auto insurance companies to submit policy numbers and license plate numbers to an insurance database that police are given access to. This makes it easier for an officer to look up a registered car’s insurance information and check coverage levels and expiration dates.
  • Automatic license plate recognition systems (ALPR): ALPR systems are a new technology that makes it much easier for police officers to utilize their local insurance database. These systems use cameras to automatically run license plate numbers and pull up a car’s insurance information.
Systems like ALPR make catching uninsured drivers easier.
Texas
is one of the first states to use the system, and the state says its uninsured driver rate dropped from 22% to 11% in just six years.
Looking forward: With success rates like these and the increasing availability of ALPR systems, driving without insurance could soon become a primary offense you can be pulled over for in some states.

What happens if I get pulled over without insurance?

Driving without car insurance
or proof of financial responsibility is illegal in all 50 states, and carries the following consequences:
  • Fines
  • License suspension
  • Registration suspension
  • Vehicle impoundment
  • Community service hours
  • Jail time
Car insurance companies also label anyone caught driving without insurance as a
high-risk driver
. This will result in you receiving much higher insurance premiums when you eventually buy car insurance—especially if your state has required you to
file an SR-22
.
The bottom line: Penalties vary by state, but you can expect the consequences of driving uninsured to be expensive and long-lasting. For example, the basic
penalty for
driving without insurance in California
is a $360 to $720 fine for first-time offenders.
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FAQs

Yes: but, they typically won’t check your insurance unless you’ve been pulled over for a different reason. That said, new technology, like ALPR, is making it easier for police to verify insurance without a traffic stop.
Yes: most police officers have access to insurance databases that include insurance information for all registered vehicles. That said, police will most likely look for the expiration status of your policy rather than the full details.
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