Driving without insurance can bring trouble

While the Illinois Mandatory Automobile Liability Insurance law has been in effect since Jan. 1, 1990, many people are only vaguely aware such a law exists and how it might affect them.

1. Vehicles covered. Mandatory liability insurance is required for all motor vehicles, trailers and semi-trailers except: Vehicles owned by non-residents of Illinois which are validly registered in the state of residence of the owner, vehicles for which proof of financial responsibility is already required such as vehicles used in the transportation of passengers for hire, rental cars, tow-trucks, etc., and inoperable or stored vehicles which are not operated on Illinois highways.

2. Persons covered. Pursuant to the law, no person shall operate, register, or maintain registration of, and no owner shall permit other person to operate, register or maintain registration of a motor vehicle designed to be used on a public highway and subject to registration unless the operator and the vehicle are covered by liability insurance or bond.

3. Insurance required. The state law requires you to purchase liability insurance—insurance which will pay third parties for bodily injury and/or property damages which you may cause in driving your car. The minimum insurance required is $20,000 for bodily injury per person, $40,000 for bodily injury per accident, and $15,000 for property damages. The law does not require you to purchase insurance to cover loss to your own vehicle, or your own injuries. Note: Insurance must have been purchased or applied for as of the time you first operate your car—no grace period is allowed.

4. Insurance cards. Every operator of a motor vehicle subject to the law is required to carry evidence of insurance within the vehicle. Insurance companies are required to issue such a card to each named insured and additional cards for household members covered by a policy or bond upon request by the named insured.

5. Enforcement and Penalties. Persons convicted of operating a motor vehicle without insurance are subject to a minimum fine of $500. Upon notice of violation, the Secretary of State shall also suspend the vehicle registration of the uninsured vehicle for two months and require payment of $50 reinstatement fee by the owner. In the case of a second or subsequent violation, suspension of the vehicle shall be for four months, with a $100 reinstatement fee. Operation of a motor vehicle which has been suspended for not being insured is punishable by minimum fine of $1000.

Any person who fails to display evidence of insurance upon request by any law enforcement officer is deemed to be operating an uninsured vehicle, and is subject to a $500 fine and a two-month suspension of the vehicle registration, plus a $50 reinstatement fee. No conviction shall enter on this charge provided the person charged produces satisfactory proof in court that the vehicle was insured as of the time of the arrest. A police officer may not stop your car for the sole purpose of verifying whether the vehicle is insured.

6. Random testing. The law authorizes the Secretary of State randomly to test for proper insurance by making a written request to the vehicle owner to supply proof of insurance. Upon failure to supply the required information, the owner will be deemed to be in violation of the law and will be suspended for two months. Submission of false proof of insurance is punishable by a six-month suspension and a $200 reinstatement fee.

7. Costs of insurance. Generally, the worse your driving record, the higher your insurance will be. Poor drivers can expect to pay three or four times the rates charged to persons who have excellent driving records. Since the costs of insurance might be prohibitive, you should contact an insurance agent for a price quote before you purchase a car.