Question: I see that my state, California, and other states I travel in, such as Arizona, now allow proof of auto insurance to be shown on an electronic device. This means I can show it on my smartphone, right? I’m wondering about privacy issues. Can the police nose around my phone when checking that my insurance is valid?
Answer: I’ve got good news for you; any items on your smartphone, tablet or other electronic device beyond what is used to provide a law enforcement officer proof of valid car insurance should be safe from prying eyes.
Most states that introduced new laws regarding electronic proof of auto insurance (called the e-Card by some) took the privacy of motorists into consideration by including language that says the officer may only view insurance information.
For example, California’s new law amended Section 16028 of the Vehicle Code to say under subsection (g) that “when a person provides evidence of financial responsibility using a mobile electronic device to a peace officer, the peace officer shall only view the evidence of financial responsibility and is prohibited from viewing any other content on the mobile electronic device.”
In Arizona, part B of statute 28-4135 notes in part “if a person displays the evidence on a wireless communication device the person is not consenting for law enforcement to access other contents of the wireless communication device.”
Just be careful as you hand your phone out to the window and hope that the officer treats it well because your home state of California also says in subsection (h) that says “whenever a person presents a mobile electronic device that person assumes all liability for any damage to the mobile electronic device.”
If you travel elsewhere in the U.S. for business or pleasure, you’ll be able to show electronic proof of car insurance in 26 other states beyond the two you mentioned. The states that currently allow this include:
- North Dakota
You can read “Show the officer your e-Card” for more information regarding each state’s electronic proof of insurance law, and when it went into effect.
Some state laws don’t specifically mention privacy issues regarding drivers using an electronic device for proof of car insurance. However, when discussing e-Card laws, police officers in various states have been clear that they intend to look only at the information on an electronic device that shows the driver has valid proof of insurance for the vehicle. But they do acknowledge that it's possible mistakes can occur. For example, Utah shields officers from civil or criminal penalties if they inadvertently view content other than proof of insurance.
If you have an app from your car insurance company that shows proof of insurance, instead of a picture of your insurance card stored in your phone (that is acceptable in some, but not all e-Card states), it could help protect your privacy by keeping the officer from needing to look around on your phone -- and possibly accidentally viewing other personal items.
I am a big fan of states accepting electronic proof of insurance, but I still recommend that drivers keep a hard copy of their insurance card in the glove box, just in case. It could save you if your electronic device battery runs dry right when you need to show proof of insurance on it.