Under VTL 319, New York State requires all drivers to have auto insurance. New York is a “25/50/10” state; this means that drivers are required to have coverage up to $25,000 per person and $50,000 per incident in bodily injury liability, as well as $10,000 in property damage liability. Driving without insurance in NY is against the law and drivers who are caught driving without insurance could be ticketed and charged.
Penalties for Driving Without Auto Insurance in New York
Revocation of License: Persons convicted of driving without insurance in New York can face a one-year revocation of their New York State driver’s license.
Fines: NY courts can impose a fine of $150 to $1,500 on drivers convicted of driving without auto insurance. The amount depends on the court’s discretion and whether the driver has been previously convicted of driving without auto insurance.
Surcharges: In addition to the fine, New York State imposes a mandatory surcharge of $88 or $93 depending on whether the driver was ticketed in a town/village or other court jurisdiction.
Civil Penalties: If one’s license is revoked, an additional civil penalty of $750 can be assessed by the DMV before the license or registration can be issued.
Civil Lawsuit: Uninsured drivers in New York can be held personally accountable for any damages or injuries which result from a car accident. Fixing a car can cost thousands of dollars and the cost of personal injuries occurring from an auto accident can be even more. The civil court system can require drivers with no car insurance to pay these damages.
Auto insurance premium increase: Individuals who are convicted for driving without automobile insurance coverage can be forced to pay higher premiums when they do finally sign up for a policy. On average, a driver can expect to pay 29% more for auto insurance.
Jail time: While most drivers are not sentenced for driving without auto insurance, in extreme cases judges have the discretion of imposing 15 days of jail time on top of other penalties.
Hiring an Attorney
Drivers who think they are saving money by not paying auto insurance will be shocked to learn just how expensive it can be to be convicted of driving without the minimum coverage. Insurance companies will still jack up rates as a result of a gap in coverage, but avoiding a conviction can keep the increase to a minimum, as well as avoid fines, surcharges, and DMV-imposed civil penalties.
There are several ways drivers can avoid a conviction for driving without auto insurance. These defenses work only if there is substantial evidence to back them up. An attorney can assess one’s situation and the facts to determine if any of the following defenses will hold up in court. It should be noted that none of these defenses will work against a civil lawsuit brought by other drivers in the event of an accident.
Using a borrowed vehicle. If the vehicle did not belong to the driver, then the driver is not liable for lack of coverage. Using this defense will put the legal onus on the actual owner of the vehicle.
The vehicle was insured under a different policy. If another policy was in effect then the charge of driving without auto insurance can be dismissed. Similarly, if the driver can provide enough evidence that it would be reasonable to assume that another policy was in effect, this could result in an acquittal.
The vehicle that was listed on the ticket was not being operated. It is important to note that having the engine on and the key in the ignition is generally considered sufficient to prove intent to drive. Also, if the vehicle was found parked anywhere other than a driveway or residential street (e.g. on the highway shoulder or in a supermarket parking lot), there will have to be a good explanation for how it got there.
The insurance company didn’t provide notice of cancelation. This defense is difficult to prove as insurance companies usually go to great lengths 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 the insurance company might not have contacted him/her, this defense can work.
Drivers licensed in other states who are pulled over by police in New York can be asked to provide proof of auto insurance. Drivers who are unable to provide this proof can be ticketed under VTL 319 for driving without auto insurance. One bit of good news is that most auto insurance issued in one state is valid in another. Another is that in many states, basic liability insurance covers car rentals in other states.
The bad news is that if the driver is unable to provide proof of auto insurance and is convicted of the charge, this conviction will most likely follow them home. The Driver’s License Compact is an interstate agreement that allows states like New York to share details of traffic convictions issued to drivers from other states. That means, an out-of-state driver will have to face the full brunt of a conviction, including the fines, surcharges, and possible revocation of driving privileges.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Can you go to jail for driving without auto insurance?
Yes, but it’s not likely for a first offense. Repeat offenses can incur stiffer punishments, possibly including jail.
- Is driving without auto insurance a criminal offense?
No. However, it is a serious traffic violation that can result in a one-year revocation of one’s driver’s license.
- Can my child drive my car if he/she is not on the insurance policy?
Teenage drivers with a learner’s permit do not need to be on an insurance policy if the parent is in the car supervising. However, once the teen is able to drive on his/her own, they must be added to the parent’s policy to avoid being charged with driving without auto insurance.
If one’s child is an adult (18+) and does not live the parents, then they are no longer obligated to be on the insurance policy. In such cases, the child can borrow the parent’s car the same way any other adult can with the same liabilities and restrictions (see below).
- Can I be charged for driving without insurance when driving another person’s car?
An adult who borrows another person’s car with permission is not liable for having auto insurance on the vehicle. In addition, a person is not legally required to have auto insurance if he/she does not own a vehicle.
- Do I need to buy insurance when I rent a car?
In New York, coverage for short-term rentals is almost always included in compulsory auto liability policies. This is true even if the driver doesn’t have optional physical damage coverage on his/her own car.
You can read more about auto insurance and driving without auto insurance on the NY DMV website.
Data on Driving Without Auto Insurance in New York
In 2018, there were 11,280 instances of drivers being charged with leaving the scene of an accident in New York. This is slightly less than the number of tickets issued for leaving the scene in 2016 (11,389). Over the past 10 years, the number of tickets issued for such an offense has remained fairly consistent, with approximately 11,000 such tickets being written each year.
Suffolk County issued the most such tickets in 2018, with 1,093. It is followed by Erie (949), Westchester (753) and Nassau (717).
Statewide, leaving the scene of an accident represents about 0.3% of all traffic tickets issued in the state each year. However, it is slightly more common in some counties. For example, in 2018 just shy of 1% of all tickets written in Orleans, Schenectady and Niagara counties were for violations of VTL 600.