Driving without insurance – your FAQs answered

Driving without insurance – your FAQs answered
There’s no excuse for driving without valid car insurance – it’s illegal.

Even if the vehicle itself is insured, you can still be penalised if you’re not correctly insured to drive it.

Here’s our essential guide to driving without insurance, so you’ll be left in no doubt about the very real pitfalls and punishments.

Is it always illegal to drive without car insurance?

It’s against the law to drive a vehicle on a public road without at least the most basic level of car insurance (third party insurance).

If the land you’re driving on can’t be accessed by the public you do not need insurance.

Legally speaking, third party insurance is the bare minimum you need. It will cover you if you’re deemed responsible for a road accident that causes injuries to others or damage to their property.

Beyond third party cover, you can choose to add protection against fire and theft, or opt for comprehensive insurance, which includes cover for damage to your own vehicle.

What happens if I’m stopped by the police for driving without insurance?

Driving without insurance

Police have number plate recognition cameras, so they’ll know whether a car is insured or not.

If you’re stopped and asked to present your documents, you have seven days to provide the police with an up-to-date insurance certificate. It has to be valid at the time you were stopped – you can’t just buy insurance during that seven-day period.

If you think you do have valid cover, check your policy carefully as there could be an error on it. And if you find your policy has been cancelled without your knowledge, you may have a defence.

You’d only be guilty of driving without insurance if the insurance company had taken reasonable steps to notify you of the cancellation.

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The penalty for driving without insurance

If you’re caught driving a vehicle you’re not insured to drive, the police will hand out a minimum:

  • fixed penalty fine of £300
  • 6 penalty points

The police will decide whether more serious cases are to be handled in court. These may include cases where a driver has never passed a driving test, has given false details or was driving a higher risk vehicle, like a HGV.

A court can issue:

  • an unlimited fine
  • disqualification from driving

The police also have the power to:

  • seize the vehicle – even if it doesn’t belong to you
  • destroy the vehicle

Other costs you may be liable for include:

  • a higher car insurance premium in the future
  • costs associated with an accident

Will I get a criminal record for driving without insurance?

Driving without insurance - criminal record

Driving without insurance is not an imprisonable offence in itself, so a conviction will not appear on a criminal record.

However, if you’re convicted of driving without insurance, an IN10 endorsement will remain on your driving licence for four years - and you’ll need to disclose it to insurance providers for a further year.

Does comprehensive insurance insure me to drive any vehicle?

While DOC (driving other cars) cover is included in many comprehensive policies, it’s always subject to terms and conditions, including age and experience, so it’s always best to check your policy details first.

Many people have fallen foul of the law in the belief that their comprehensive insurance covers them to drive another vehicle owned by someone else.

The owner of the car has also committed an offence if they’ve allowed their vehicle to be used by an uninsured driver, and you may both receive points and a fine.

What are ‘special reasons’ for driving without insurance?

So-called ‘special reason’ arguments can sometimes be used to reduce the severity of your punishment.

It could be argued that, while being technically guilty of driving without insurance, there are mitigating circumstances.

Examples of this include (but aren’t limited to):

  • An insurance provider cancelling a policy without notifying the holder
  • No policy being in force, due to faults on the behalf of the provider
  • A person being informed (by the vehicle owner or policyholder) that they can drive the vehicle legally
  • A person having a genuine reason to believe they are insured

Is accidental policy lapse a legitimate defence?

I accidentally let my policy lapse. Is that a legitimate defence? No. Even if it’s just for a day, driving uninsured can land you in hot water.

There’s no obligation on insurers to automatically renew your cover, although many will do that these days.

It’s your responsibility to make sure you’re covered before you drive a vehicle.

You may be able to argue mitigating circumstances, but you’d still be guilty of the offence.

Do I still need insurance if I am test driving a car?

Yes, you still need insurance if you’re test driving a car. You can take out a temporary car insurance policy for test drives.

If you’re buying a car from a dealership, they may well have insurance in place to cover you for this, but you should check. If you’re buying or selling a car privately you will need to make sure that insurance cover is in place, even if it is only for a short trip. These policies can be taken out for as little as an hour.

If you need to borrow or share a car for a short trip, you can purchase Temporary Car Insurance to cover you for an hour or up to 30 days. The cover is fully flexible, so if you buy an hour you can top it up online if you need more.

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My car is parked on the road but I don’t drive it. Does it need to be insured?

Do I need insurance if I'm not driving my car?

Yes. According to section 143 of the Road Traffic Act, anyone who uses, causes or permits a person to use a vehicle on the road must have an insurance policy in place. Parking a vehicle on the road falls within the category of ‘uses’.

Your car could be hit by another vehicle if it’s parked on the road so needs to be covered.

Can I drive on private land in an uninsured vehicle?

You don’t have to have insurance if the land you’re driving on can’t be accessed by the public. But you would need insurance if the land does have public access. This can include private car parks, campsites and private estates.

So although the law talks about not driving in public places without insurance, the term ‘public’ is more far-reaching than most people realise.

When don’t I need car insurance?

Although the majority of cars do need to be insured, there are some exceptions to the rule. Your car doesn’t need insurance if it’s:

  • been declared off the road using the SORN procedure
  • been scrapped, stolen or exported with notice
  • between registered keepers or dealers
  • registered as ‘in trade’ with the DVLA

What if I’m hit by an uninsured driver?

If you’re involved in a car accident you’d usually swap car insurance details with the other party involved. However, if the other driver is uninsured or refuses to give you their details you should report them to the police.

You can check whether another vehicle is insured by going to the askMID website.

You may also be able to claim compensation from the Motor Insurers’ Bureau, which protects anyone who’s been injured or had their property damaged by an uninsured driver.

Find out more about what happens when you're hit by an unisured driver.

Want to protect yourself against any losses after an accident? Get legal expenses insurance for just £15 a year with RAC Legal Care Plus.

Quick to set up, short-term car insurance solutions

Having no car insurance in place is illegal but there are flexible, short-term car insurance options if you don’t want the expense or commitment of taking out an annual policy. 

Perhaps you want to test drive a car you’re buying privately. You may not be covered for this on your annual policy. A test drive car insurance policy is designed specifically for this purpose and will cover you for as little as an hour.

If you need to borrow or share a car for a short trip, you can purchase temporary car insurance to cover you for an hour or up to 30 days. The cover is fully flexible, so if you buy an hour you can top it up online if you need more.

If you're a learner driver you can purchase a short-term learner driver insurance policy from a day up to 5 months. You can top up the cover easily online. 

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