Driving Without Insurance
The New Jersey statute that requires automobile insurance is N.J.S. 39:6B-2. Penalties that New Jersey imposes for violating that statute are among the most severe of any New Jersey motor vehicle violations. We outline those penalties later in this discussion. We begin, however, by discussing the circumstances under which New Jersey requires motorists to have insurance in the first place. We then discuss what it is that persons in New Jersey need to do to comply with the law relating to car insurance.When is NJ Insurance Required? The Car
The first issue is when does New Jersey law that relates to driving with no insurance even apply? To answer that question, we consider the “status”of the car, the “status” of its owner, and the “status” of its driver. We also consider where the car is being operated. We use the word “car” throughout this discussion. However, the law itself speaks of “motor vehicles.” For that reason, when we discuss cars here, our discussion applies also to trucks, motorcycles, and busses.
To begin with, the law that requires insurance applies to cars that are registered in New Jersey. It also applies to cars that are principally garaged in New Jersey. Thus consider the situation of someone in New Jersey driving a car that is registered and principally garaged in New York, or in Pennsylvania. That person is not subject to New Jersey laws relating to driving without insurance. And this is true regardless of whether the driver himself lives in New Jersey.When is NJ Insurance Required? The Location
Next we consider where the car is being driven. The New Jersey law that requires insurance applies only when the car is being driven on a New Jersey public road or highway. Thus if the car is being driven only on private property, New Jersey law says that one cannot be found guilty of being an uninsured motorist. And, of course, if the car is being driven outside New Jersey, the New Jersey uninsured motorist law also does not apply. This is true even if the place where the car is being driven in that other state is a public road or highway.
Let's summarize what we have indicated to this point. The law applies only to persons driving cars that are registered or principally garaged in New Jersey. The law applies only when cars are driven on a New Jersey public road or highway. Unless both of these conditions are satisfied, New Jersey law says that a person cannot be found guilty of driving without insurance.When is NJ Insurance Required: The Driver
We now turn to factors specifically relating to the driver of the car. It routinely happens that the driver of a car may be someone who is neither its owner nor its registrant. In that situation, New Jersey law imposes liability upon the driver only if he knew or should have known “from the attendant circumstances” that the car was uninsured. This “attendant circumstances” analysis can consider any number of factors. The relationship between the owner (or registrant) and the driver is one factor. How often the driver used the car can be another. The particular situation in which the driver came into possession of the car is relevant. Do driver and owner live in the same household? Who pays the bills? That is, was the driver the same person that was responsible for seeing that the insurance premium was paid, even if he was not the owner? Who opens the mail? Any one or combination of these factors can be arguments, either for guilt or for innocence.
Let's consider an example to illustrate what we just said. Aunt Lillian lives in Ohio. She is now visiting us here in New Jersey for a few days. We ask Aunt Lillian if she will take our car to pick up cheese and crackers from the supermarket. Under those precise circumstances, if the car is not insured, but Aunt Lillian is stopped for some reason, it is likely she would be found not guilty of driving without insurance.
Now let us change the example slightly. We ask Aunt Lillian to pick up the same items from the same supermarket, but we add, “Drive carefully, because I let the insurance on the car run out.” In that situation, if Aunt Lillian is stopped, she can be charged and convicted of driving with no insurance. It is the specific warning that we gave to Aunt Lillian in this instance that exposes her. Note that Aunt Lillian's lack of knowledge concerning New Jersey Motor Vehicle law regarding insurance does not provide a defense.NJ No Insurance: Who can be Charged?
We look next at who is being charged. A person need not be the actual driver in order to be charged with violating New Jersey law relating to driving with no insurance. The law can impose liability upon the owner of the car, even if he was not driving it. It can also impose liability upon the person who registers the car (the “registrant”), even if he was not driving it. Obviously if a person in either category is the actual driver, the law will apply. But when the driver is someone other than the owner or registrant, New Jersey law can still impose liability upon that owner or registrant if he causes the car to be operated. “Causes,” here, refers to the situation where the owner or registrant of the car that is uninsured allows another person to drive the car. Returning to the example just above, then, since we asked Aunt Lillian to drive to the supermarket, we can also be charged. This is because, in this example, we allowed someone else to drive the car in New Jersey when we knew it had no insurance coverage. Aunt Lillian's knowledge, or lack of knowledge, concerning the uninsured status of the car is irrelevant.NJ No Insurance: How Much Insurance is Required?
We move now to how New Jersey law defines “no insurance.” To be considered insured, New Jersey requires that the car have motor vehicle liability coverage. This coverage must insure against losses for bodily injury, death, and property damage. The amount of bodily injury and death coverage must be at least $15,000.00 for any one person, and $30,000.00 for any one accident. The coverage must also include at least $5,000.00 for damage to property in any one accident.NJ No Insurance - Its Draconian Penalties
We next look at penalties in New Jersey for driving without insurance. For a first offense, the motorist is fined a minimum of $300.00. The fine can be as much as $1,000.00. On top of that, the Motor Vehicle Commission will impose a surcharge. That surcharge will be $250.00 per year, for each of the next three years. The judge must suspend the person's driver's license for one year. No jail or imprisonment is involved. However, the court must impose unpaid community service. New Jersey law does not specify how much community service is to be ordered. Finally, nine “insurance points” will be imposed. These points will hugely increase the cost of obtaining liability insurance.
If a person is convicted of this offense again, the fine jumps to $5,000.00. The community service must be for thirty days. In addition, the sentence is to include imprisonment for fourteen days. The mandatory period of license suspension becomes two years. The Motor Vehicle Commission penalties imposed on a first conviction are imposed all over again.
As just mentioned, one of the penalties for driving while not insured is loss of license. The duration of this loss is huge. Many people who lose their license for no insurance will drive anyway. They should be aware, however, that driving while suspended is another one of those motor offenses that New Jersey treats harshly. And when the reason for the original suspension was driving without insurance, these harsh penalties are dramatically increased. We discuss these increased penalties in detail elsewhere on this site.NJ No Insurance - Defenses in Court are Often Available
This entire discussion is an overview of New Jersey statutes relating to the charge of being an uninsured driver. But this overview barely scratches the surface. The caselaw that interprets these statutes consumes thousands of pages. And what these thousands of pages tell us (if only we know exactly where to look) are what defenses the judge will accept, and what defense efforts are doomed to failure.
We conclude where we began. The consequences of being found guilty of driving without insurance in New Jersey are severe. Anyone charged with this offense desperately needs the services of a New Jersey lawyer. It should be a lawyer who is knowledgeable and experienced in traffic ticket law. The attorney who did an excellent job on a divorce or a house closing is likely not the best attorney for a charge of driving without insurance. The person facing a charge of driving without insurance should consider Traffic Ticket Lawyers in New Jersey. Traffic Ticket Lawyers in New Jersey have successfully preserved the driving privileges of numerous motorists charged with this offense. They can put their knowledge and experience to work for you. They know where to look.