The short answer to the question ‘Can you legally drive uninsured in the US?’ is no. Almost all states require you to buy and maintain at least a minimum amount of liability insurance on your vehicle. Therefore, you should always assume you need insurance when you drive your car.
However, there is a longer answer to the question; it depends. Under certain circumstances, in certain states you may be able to drive without buying insurance. However, please be very aware that these programs are not for everyone and come with substantial risks. You are strongly urged to buy and maintain auto insurance coverage even if you are not legally required to do so.
You are still legally responsible for all accidents you cause. As a result, if you do not have insurance you will have to pay compensation from your own bank account and/or from other assets.
Three states have programs that can allow you to drive uninsured, but you have to meet certain requirements. Always assume you need to buy insurance unless explicitly told otherwise. Moreover, be aware that it is illegal to drive in another state if you don’t have an insurance policy. So if you do opt for one of these programs, be aware that you will have to purchase insurance if you want to drive out-of-state.
New Hampshire is the only state in the US where you may be able to drive uninsured and not have to pay a fee to do so. However, you can only do so if you meet the New Hampshire Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Requirements. Basically, you need to be able to demonstrate that you have the money to instantly pay for claims against you if you are found at-fault in an accident.
Thus, only people with a spare $75,000+ lying around should even consider doing this. The irony of course is that those with this kind of extra cash lying around, are exactly the people who benefit the most from having a good auto insurance policy. As always buying insurance is the smart choice.
Similar to New Hampshire, Virginia does allow some drivers to drive without insurance. However, if you go this route you’ll have to pay the $500 annual Virginia Uninsured Motor Vehicle Fee. The $500 does not offer any insurance protection whatsoever. All you are doing is paying for the right not to buy insurance.
Virginia’s program has been around since 1958. According to the latest figures from a Fox Business article, only 2,425 out of 5.4 million drivers have paid the fee. This means only 0.045% of drivers are currently using it. When you think about it, it doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense to pay $500 a year for no insurance when you can often buy a cheap policy for the same amount and sometimes even less.
South Carolina‘s program is modeled on Virginia’s. Since 1999, drivers can pay a $550.00 annual Uninsured Motorist Fee to legally be allowed to drive without insurance. However, if Virginia’s program is little used, South Carolina’s seems utterly pointless. Currently, only 41 people a year use the program. Again, why pay for the right not to buy insurance when you can just buy a policy for roughly the same price?
If you don’t live in one of the three states above, you may still be wondering if there is any way for you not to buy insurance. The truth is that some states, such as California and Ohio, will allow you to self-insure, but you have place a large sum of money with your state’s treasurer and/or state DMV. For example, in California you need to place $35,000 with the DMV and in Ohio you need to place $32,500 with the State Treasurer.
Given that most people don’t have $30K+ to leave with the government, most people sensibly choose to buy insurance from a licensed insurance company. This is a good thing as it protects both you and other drivers on the road.
Finally just a word of caution, no matter where you live you can be fined and possibly even imprisoned if you fail to buy and be able to show proof of auto insurance. Each state sets it’s own penalties, but it is not worth testing them. If you think insurance is too expensive then take advantage of our free auto insurance quotes below: