QUESTION: I was ticketed for being unable to find my insurance ID card when stopped by police. Though I had proof in court that my auto insurance was in force at the time of the citation, the judge found me guilty after saying, “If you were involved in an accident, would you have been able to produce your insurance card at the scene? No.”  Shouldn’t having valid insurance be enough? Am I really guilty?

ANSWER: You are guilty of failure to provide proof of insurance, but not of driving without insurance. These are two separate offenses in most states, with failure to show proof of auto insurance a lot less serious than driving without any car insurance coverage.

While some states, such as Arizona and Idaho, now allow electronic proof of insurance to be shown on smartphones, most states still require you to carry your physical insurance card with you and provide it upon demand to the police or at the scene of an accident. If you are unable to do so, you get ticketed.

The reason proof of insurance is required is for police to verify that you have insurance and, as the judge pointed out,  for you to provide other motorists with this pertinent information if you’ve been in a car accident. Furthermore, some police officers don’t have the equipment to check for your insurance or registration electronically.

In some states, the law permits dismissal if you provide the court with proof of valid insurance for the date of the citation. You would owe only administrative fees; for instance, it’s a $25 fee in California.

In other states, it’s up to the discretion of the court to decide to dismiss the charge or find you guilty and fine you for not carrying your insurance card with you.

Typically, failure to provide proof of insurance doesn’t go on your driving record or receive DMV points. However, if your state does place it on your record, then there is a chance your car insurance rates could be affected since insurers typically check a driver’s record when their policy is subject to renewal.

Some insurers look at this type of offense as an “administrative violation” (similar to if you received a seat belt ticket), and will raise your rates a little. Many insurers will instead let one minor ticket slide. However, it could be enough for you to lose your safe driver discount from certain insurers.

In comparison, driving without insurance is rather serious and can result in the state penalizing you with large fines, license and registration suspension and even jail time.

After a conviction for operating an uninsured vehicle, you could be subject to reinstatement fees, and many states will require you to carry an SR-22. The loss of your license and the actual lapse in insurance would cause your auto insurance rates to rise.

Chalk this conviction for being without your insurance card up as a lesson learned and remember to keep it readily available in the future. If your rates do rise due to this offense, shop around – there are other insurers that won’t rate on such a minor violation and will offer you cheaper rates.

– Penny Gusner contributed to this report.

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Laura Longero
Executive Editor

Laura is an award-winning editor with experience in content and communications covering auto insurance and personal finance. She has written for several media outlets, including the USA Today Network. She most recently worked in the public sector for the Nevada Department of Transportation.