New Jersey law requires all drivers to have insurance on their motor vehicles. At minimum, a driver must have the following insurance coverage:
- $15,000 for the injury or death of a person
- $30,000 for the injury or death of more than one person
- $5,000 for property damage.
The penalties for driving without insurance in NJ are severe. For a first-time violation of N.J.S.A. 39:6B-2 (driving without liability insurance), one can be fined between $300 and $1,000, as well as community service, and a mandatory license suspension, among others. Those who have been accused of driving without auto insurance in New Jersey should hire an attorney to fight the charge and avoid the worst possible consequences.
Penalties for Driving Without Insurance in NJ
- Fines: A driver who operates an uninsured vehicle must pay a fine of at least $300 and no more than $1,000. For subsequent convictions, one can face a fine of up to $5,000.
- Surcharge: In addition to the fine, a person will be required to pay a surcharge of $750 ($250 per year for 3 years) to the NJ Motor Vehicle Commission for driving without insurance.
- Points: A first offense of driving without insurance carries no points. Second or repeat offenders will be assessed 9 insurance eligibility points. This can make it very difficult for a person to acquire auto insurance, and if he/she can, it is usually very expensive.
- Community Service: A judge can also choose to sentence a person to community service upon conviction for driving without auto insurance.
- Driver’s License Suspension: Driving without auto insurance can result in a license suspension of at least 1 year or 2 years for a second offense.
- Jail Time: A second offense of driving without auto insurance carries a mandatory jail term of 14 days.
Should I Hire an Attorney if I’m Being Charged with Driving Without Insurance?
Proving that a person’s auto insurance coverage has not lapsed seems like it should be easy enough to do without the help of an attorney, but this is not always the case. Many drivers are charged with driving without auto insurance because they are unaware that the policy lapsed, and proving that one had no way of knowing this is far from simple.
Defenses to Driving Without Auto Insurance in NJ
There are several ways to defend oneself against a charge of driving without insurance in NJ. Which defense will work depends on the facts of the case. It is always best to consult with an attorney, who will have the skills and ability to assess the situation to determine the defense that is most likely to succeed based on the facts.
- Insurance coverage had not lapsed. If the driver can provide evidence that coverage had been continuous throughout the time period in question, it could potentially get the ticket dismissed. This would include proof of another auto insurance policy other than the one that is alleged to have lapsed.
- Using a borrowed vehicle. A driver is not liable for a lack of coverage on a vehicle he/she does not own. Note that this will shift the legal onus to the actual owner of the vehicle, who may be charged instead.
- The vehicle in question was not being operated. This may be difficult to claim if the vehicle is found to be anywhere other than a private driveway.
- The insurance company didn’t provide notice of cancelation. This is one of the more complicated defenses to prove. Insurance companies are required by law to inform drivers that a policy cancellation is imminent and, once the policy is canceled, that it is no longer in effect. However, if the driver can provide a reasonable explanation for why he/she may not have received such notices, this defense can work (see below).
The judge in State v. Hochman, 188 N.J. Super. 382 reversed a conviction for driving without insurance after the prosecution failed to prove that the driver was adequately informed that insurance was lawfully canceled. In this case, the insurance company had mailed the cancellation notice to an incorrect address of (313 Park Street rather than 314 Park Street). Therefore, the judge ruled that proof of mailing the notice was not conclusive.
In an earlier case, Matland v. United Services Automobile Association, 174 N.J. Super. 499, the defendant’s husband had canceled the policy without telling his wife, the defendant. The court held that the cancellation was void as the notice had been sent to the husband but not the wife, who had left the marital home and was the registered owner of the vehicle she was operating. The husband failed to inform the insurance company that the defendant no longer resided in the home, so notice of cancellation was not sent to her new address.
Out-of-State Drivers Without Insurance
New Jersey police can potentially tell if a driver from out of state is not properly insured. There are several ways an officer can determine this. One is if the driver’s home state allows law enforcement to access a database of uninsured vehicles (not all states provide this access). The only other way is for the officer to call a 1-800 number on the driver’s insurance card to determine if the policy is current. This is time-consuming so the officer will rarely do this unless he/she has a good reason to suspect that the driver is uninsured.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Can the police tell if you have no insurance?
Yes, police run license plate numbers during a traffic stop to determine if a vehicle is properly insured. In fact, officers can sometimes scan vehicles without stopping them using automatic license plate recognition (ALPR) cameras.
- Do you get points for not having insurance?
A first offense of driving without insurance in NJ does not carry points, but a second offense can result in 9 insurance points.
- Is driving without insurance a criminal offense?
Driving without insurance in NJ is considered a traffic violation in New Jersey, but that does not mean the penalties are light.
- Can my child drive my car if he/she is not on the insurance policy?
A parent is only required to add a child to the family insurance policy if he/she plans to allow the child to use one of the insured vehicles.
- Do I need to buy insurance when I rent a car in NJ?
This will depend on one’s auto insurance policy. It is best to contact one’s insurance provider to determine if the regular policy extends to rentals. If so, then it is not necessary to purchase additional insurance. New Jersey does not require those renting a car to buy new insurance just for the rental.