In my younger, dumber days, I used to engage in some pretty questionable practices. One of those, which you should not copy, was to buy a 6-month insurance policy, pay only the first month, and find a new company for my next policy. These days, as soon as your policy lapses for nonpayment, the insurer just informs the Secretary of State (Illinois’s DMV). The Secretary of State will then suspend your vehicle registration/driver’s license until you provide proof of a valid insurance policy. Please don’t repeat the foolish mistakes of my youth.
But this post isn’t about the stupid things I did in my teens and twenties; it’s about how Illinois handles no-insurance tickets. Although “Operating an Uninsured Motor Vehicle” is a “petty” or “business” offense (punishable by fine only), it can lead to greater penalties. When I was a public defender, I saw countless people pick up misdemeanor driving while license suspended offenses because they had resolved a no-insurance ticket the wrong way. Since you don’t get a public defender for non-criminal offenses, no one ever told them what the consequences of the insurance ticket would be. You, on the other hand, will be well-prepared to avoid any extra penalties.
Illinois has three possible outcomes for an uninsured motor vehicle:
1) If the vehicle was insured on the date of the offense, and you bring proof to court, the case must be dismissed without any penalty. If you can, do this.
2) If the vehicle was not insured on the date of the offense, but it’s insured now (and you’ve never had an insurance offense before), you’re eligible for 6 months of “Court Supervision.” That means there’s no conviction on your license and you just have to stay out of trouble for six months for the case to be dismissed. This option sounds good, but it’s dangerous! See more below.
3) If the driver cannot provide proof of insurance, a conviction will enter with a $500-1,000 fine and their license will be suspended for 3 months. If this is your third (or higher) conviction, you will have to obtain SR-22 insurance in order to get your license reinstated (see below).
Looking at the above options, they seem to get worse as the list progresses. But what most people never realize when accepting the second option is the fact of “SR-22” or “financial responsibility” insurance. SR-22 is required when someone gets “after-the-fact” insurance or a 3rd+ conviction for no insurance; in short, you have to pay a higher insurance premium for 3 years in exchange for your insurer sending confirmation of payment to the Secretary of State every month. If you make a late payment, or your insurer makes a mistake in the paperwork, they’ll notify the Secretary of State and your license will be suspended (often without notice to you). Driving while your license is suspended is a Class A misdemeanor in Illinois; it can result in up to 364 days in jail, up to $2,500 in fines, and a new suspension of your driving privileges. However, in my experience, no one tells you this when you resolve your insurance ticket.
In summary, be careful with insurance tickets. They quickly escalate from a steep fine to criminal liability; keeping up with your insurance premiums is both faster and easier. Also, if you happen to be late with normal insurance, you will generally get a phone call instead of a suspended license. In some cases, it’s easier to just accept a 3-month suspension than a 3-year SR-22 policy. When in doubt, talk to an attorney before resolving your case!