If you drive a car in Virginia, you’ll need to understand the state’s laws about auto insurance. You’ll want to know how much insurance the state of Virginia requires. Also, you’ll want to understand what the penalties are for failing to provide insurance.
There can be some confusion about what you can be charged with. Even police officers sometimes get them mixed up. So, let’s discuss the details of driving without insurance in Virginia.
Virginia Auto Insurance Requirements
The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) monitors auto insurance coverage for drivers who register in Virginia. When you register your vehicle, you are required to provide proof that you have the minimum amount of insurance by law.
That means you must have:
- $25,000 per person for bodily injury.
- $50,000 for two or more people for bodily injury.
- $20,000 per accident for property damage.
Remember, Virginia only requires liability insurance (payment for damages to the other car). Virginia doesn’t require comprehensive insurance (payment for damages to your own car), though you should probably still get it.
Also, Virginia is a “fault” state (as opposed to no-fault), which means that the driver who is at fault is 100% responsible for paying the damages. In the same vein, if you are at all at fault, you cannot recover damages in the event of an accident.
Do I Need Insurance?
No. Though, again, it’s highly recommended that you have an insurance policy in case you’re in an accident.
In Virginia, the DMV offers an “uninsured motor vehicle fee” (UMV) which you can pay in place of buying insurance. Paying this fee allows you to legally register and drive your car without insurance for 1 year. After that year, you will have to register your car and pay the fee again, or provide proof of insurance.
Note, however, that the uninsured motor vehicle fee is not insurance. Instead, think of it like a small fine you need to pay if you don’t have proof of an auto insurance policy. If you pay the UMV fee and then have an accident where you are at fault, you will have to pay out-of-pocket for the damages. This can get incredibly expensive, and is a fate you’ll want to avoid.
In addition, there’s a way for you to get this fee back. If you prove to the DMV that you’ve purchased insurance before the year is up, they’ll prorate the $500 fee and refund you the appropriate amount. So, if you bought insurance 6 months into your UMV, you’ll get back $250.
Penalties for Driving without Insurance in Virginia
Let’s say you are driving without auto insurance. You’re hoping you can get by without paying the $500 fee. If you are pulled over, or are involved in an accident, you’ll face serious consequences.
If the police officer determines that you don’t have insurance, you will be guilty of a class 3 misdemeanor. That means a fine of up to $500 and a mark on your criminal record.
In addition, at the discretion of the prosecution or judge you may also face other penalties including:
- Losing your driving privileges.
- Having your registration and plates suspended.
- Being forced to file a Financial Responsibility Insurance Certificate with DMV for 3 years.
- Paying a reinstatement fee to get your driving privileges back.
Know your Rights
Like most traffic laws in Virginia, the auto insurance laws are pretty strict. You should make sure you understand both the law and your rights when you’re involved in an accident or pulled over. We’ll list two of these rights below.
Providing Proof of Insurance
Even police officers can be confused by auto insurance laws.
These lawyers agree that the law requires that a car is insured. But they disagree that the law states that the proof of insurance has to be readily available in the car.
Even so, police officers have given many tickets for failure to provide proof of insurance at a traffic stop.
In most cases, however, if you insist that you have insurance but can’t provide proof immediately, the officer will allow you to produce proof later for the court. If you can provide proof that you had active insurance on the date of the traffic stop, they will drop the charges (although you may still have to pay some court fees).
Finally, if you are charged with driving without insurance (or paying the UMV fee), you still have a right to a hearing to plead your case. You have 180 days from the day you’re charged to request the hearing.
In this hearing, you can make your case for why the state shouldn’t enforce the penalty against you for driving without insurance. For instance, if you have been out of the country for military service, incarcerated, or hospitalized for an extended period of time, you may be able to argue for leniency.
There are strict laws about driving without insurance in Virginia. The Department of Motor Vehicles monitors and verifies insurance coverage for all registered drivers in Virginia. If you don’t have the minimum amount of auto insurance, the DMV will require you to pay an Uninsured Motor Vehicle fee of $500.
Even if you pay the UMV fee, you are still responsible to pay out-of-pocket for any damages or injuries in an accident that is your fault. In addition, driving with insurance or paying the UMV fee is a class 3 misdemeanor, a serious offense that will go on your permanent criminal record.
If you are facing these charges, it’s best to contact an attorney experienced in criminal law.