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In the USA, like in many other countries, liability insurance is mandatory for motor vehicles in almost every state. However, a significant number of drivers drive without insurance:

Despite laws that compel the purchase of auto insurance, many people choose to drive without it. According to the Insurance Research Council (IRC), 12.6% of motorists, or about one in eight drivers, were uninsured in 2019. Uninsured motorist rates can vary widely by state, from 3.1% in New Jersey to 29.4% in Mississippi.

NAIC - Uninsured Motorists

For a legal requirement, noncompliance rates of 12-29% seems very high - and it seems to be a real problem, as many people get into accidents with uninsured drivers and are saddled with the cost.

With that background, the question: Why is the insurance requirement not enforced better?


As a contrast, in Germany liability vehicle insurance is also mandatory, and the rate of uninsured drivers is about 0.01% (Nirgends fahren weniger unversicherte Autos als in Deutschland); in France it's about 1.5% (Bientôt un fichier des véhicules non assurés à disposition des policiers).

In Germany, the insurance requirement is enforced by requiring proof of insurance during vehicle registration (i.e. no number plate without insurance). Additionally, if the insurance contract is terminated or lapses due to non-payment, the insurance company must report this to the registration authority, which can take enforcement action.

In France, similarly, the police has a database of all insured vehicles, which lets them quickly decide whether a vehicle is properly insured.

Why is there no similar system in the USA? It seems that better enforcement is possible, so there must be a political reason why it is not happening.

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    Its interesting that you picked Germany as an example. Ask the average German if they'd consider driving on a suspended license and the most common response would be that of confusion as if you're speaking a totally foreign concept. No drivers license, no driving. In the US, driving without, on a suspended, or revoked license is common enough that you can get a story about it in every bar you visit. I'm not sure that this question is answerable in a direct sense. Your sub-question "Why is there no similar system in the USA?" is answerable in relation to jurisdiction boundaries.
    – David S
    Jun 16, 2023 at 15:29
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    @DavidS That also seems to be predominantly an enforcement issue. If you are stopped by police and driving without a valid licence in Germany there will be severe fines and being caught is sufficiently likely so this is extremely rare in practice. It seems in the US either the fines are not nearly as bad or the chance to be caught is much lower, either way it also an enforcement issue.
    – quarague
    Jun 16, 2023 at 17:05
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    @quarague, I would argue that drivers without a license are not all that likely to be caught in Germany, yet if they are caught there is a severe punishment. This may deter some, while others gamble on the low likelihood of getting caught. Driving without insurance is completely different, because that sticker is outside the car, not inside the motorist's wallet.
    – o.m.
    Jun 16, 2023 at 17:11
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    On the page linked it notes that "82% of uninsured drivers indicated they can't afford insurance or that their vehicle is inoperable or not in use," which are two completely different situations both legally and in the context of risk to other people. It makes me wonder whether the site is equating "uninsured car" with "uninsured motorist," which wouldn't be surprising since it seems to be run by insurance commissioners who are effectively a special interest on behalf of insurers. Jun 16, 2023 at 18:34
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    In Germany, it's very difficult to own an uninsured car except by stealing it.
    – gnasher729
    Jun 17, 2023 at 23:02

2 Answers 2

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So first, as your statistics state, 29.4% is the rate in the state of Mississippi and 3% is the rate in New Jersey. The other 48 states, DC, and the 5 inhabited territories fall somewhere within that range. Driving laws in the U.S. are set by the states individually so there isn't going to be a database of insured cars available on a national scale because the national government doesn't get involved in traffic law enforcement. Most insured statuses are thus provided by a proof of insurance documents by the driver on traffic stops. And it does get enforced, however, the cops won't know if you're violating it until they stop you for a valid reason. And cops can't just stop you to check if you have insurance or a valid license.

As for the disparity between the two states listed, that's a matter of where those states are. New Jersey is a small state with the highest population density of any state in the union. The northern half is practically a suburb of New York City and the Southern Half is a Philadelphia suburb, both cities famous for, among other things, not being in New Jersey... and cops love to give tickets to out of state drivers (they tend to just pay the ticket because going to court in another state to fight it isn't worth it... so, since most of the residents are commuting out of state, they aren't going to give cops another reason). But on top of that, New Jersey benefits from the many mass transit options that come with being suburban NYC... so if they aren't insured or have a suspended license, they don't need to worry too much about driving anyway.

Mississippi on the other hand is a very rural state... despite its larger size than New Jersey, the population density is way less. And one of the things I've notice when Europeans ask about why Americans do certain things... is that they fail to realize that America is so damn huge. To give you an idea of how big the U.S. if you took the First Transcontinental Railroad and placed it's western terminus (Oakland, CA) in Portugal and ran the line east from there, the eastern terminus (Council Bluffs Iowa) would be somewhere in Asiatic Russia. And Iowa is famous for, among other things, being about halfway between the west coast and the east coast in terms of the country. And Americans like that space because it means we can live in places where no one can reasonably bother us without having to commit to doing it. So... losing the right to legally drive in Mississippi is way more devastating than if you lost it in New Jersey. There is no reliable mass transit in Mississippi because there are not enough masses to transit... If you need to go take care of some business in town, the car is the only way to do it (I lived on the east coast in one of the most heavily populated parts of the country... and I had to drive for 10 minutes to get to the nearest "convenience store" from the house I grew up in. The interior is way worse). So if you didn't pay your insurance or you got your license suspended, and you have to go into town... so long as the cops don't catch you, there's nothing to stop you from driving there.

To go on what @David S. said, the German who has no insurance or drive on a suspended license says it is impossible to drive a car because driving a car without those things is illegal. The American who has no insurance or driver's license will say it's possible to drive a car because "the engine works, doesn't it?"

All of this discounts that sometimes people make honest mistakes (I got busted for driving on a suspended license, but the reason my license was suspended was because of an unpaid ticket from a few months prior. But the cop could see that it was marked as paid. What had happened was somewhere in the bureaucracy, the people who got the money for the ticket failed to inform the DMV that I paid the ticket (and I paid it close to the deadline) so they never removed me from the list of people who should not have their licenses suspended for unpaid tickets... So I had no idea (stuff like this happens way more with insurance as it's easier to miss a payment and notification of a lack of payment).

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    If you placed Oakland CA in Lisbon, Council Bluffs Iowa would be in Prague and not in Russia in any form.
    – alamar
    Jun 16, 2023 at 20:17
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    America is so damn huge - Europe is slightly bigger than USA (as well as Canada). quora.com/…
    – d-b
    Jun 17, 2023 at 8:20
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    "they never removed me from the list of people who should not have their licenses suspended for unpaid tickets" - I think there is more negation in this sentence than what was intended.
    – Taemyr
    Jun 17, 2023 at 15:35
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    Driving without insurance in Germany is very difficult. You can't buy a car without a letter from an insurance company that the car is insured (for fourteen days). If you don't buy insurance within these fourteen days, that insurance company will inform the police. If you stop paying for the insurance, the insurance company will tell you and the police at the same time that your insurance has run out, and police will come to your home and make sure you can't drive that car.
    – gnasher729
    Jun 17, 2023 at 23:05
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    @ToddWilcox: "many states do not require liability insurance". According to this Forbes article, only New Hampshire, Virginia and South Carolina do not require liability insurance - and Virginia introduced this in 2023 (bill SB 951), so it's down to two states.
    – sleske
    Jun 19, 2023 at 10:28
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When I was living in Belgium I learned that the majority of enforcement comes from communication between DMV and insurance companies. That database is then linked with ALPR cameras, both stationary and on police vehicles. Your plate is run all the time to see if you're in compliance.

ALPRs in the USA however are not that common (sadly they are popping up more and more [1]). So the searches need to be done manually. Which takes time. And even then the insurance information might not be there.

Something that I have seen many times in Belgium is basically pulling everybody over who takes an exit off of the freeway, just out of sight so you don't know, and they basically check everybody's driver license, registration and insurance. Something that is absolutely illegal in most states, as you cannot pull over people without reason. [2]

Lastly, and this is more anecdotal, but in many states you don't have to wait to get plates when you buy a new car. California for example gives you a paper 'plate' and will mail you a real one. All because you can walk into a dealership, and get that instant satisfaction of driving a depreciating asset off of the lot, versus Belgium, where you wouldn't be allowed to pick up your car without the plates nor proof of insurance. In California insurance is even required to cover your new car at the same rates as your old one for 3 days. Just so that you can buy your car on a Sunday!

[1] https://www.nerdwallet.com/article/insurance/how-police-catch-uninsured-drivers

[2] https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/can-officer-pull-over-reason.html

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  • Had to react to the "absolutely illegal" - An O.V.I. checkpoint is a legal stop the government can make if you're driving. Basically, the United States Supreme Court, along with the Ohio Supreme Court, has made it lawful for the police officers to set up a checkpoint and stop random amounts of cars to determine whether or not they are drinking. At the checkpoint you will be asked to provide your driver's license, proof of insurance and vehicle registration. You may be asked a brief list of screening questions such as where you are coming from and how much you have had to drink.
    – BobE
    Jun 21, 2023 at 3:15

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