You are driving (perhaps a little too fast that morning) and suddenly you see the dreaded flashing lights behind you signaling for you to pull over. Law enforcement requests to see your license, registration and proof of insurance, so you scramble through the piles of paper in your glovebox hunting down the forms you swear you put in there but can no longer find. You are a responsible driver and have insurance, but your insurance card is nowhere in sight. Luckily, Virginia permits you to provide electronic proof of insurance.
Forty-nine states and the District of Columbia allow drivers to show an electronic copy of their insurance card during a traffic stop. Some insurers allow you to access an electronic copy of your insurance card within their mobile app, while others allow customers to download a digital version of their card from the company’s website.
If you prefer to use a traditional paper copy, you can still rely on that.
Virginia law offers two main options for “insuring” your vehicle. First, you can obtain auto insurance meeting the following minimum coverage:
While Virginia requires liability insurance, which covers damage to other cars, it does not require comprehensive insurance, which covers damages to your own car. However, drivers should consider whether adding comprehensive coverage would be to their benefit.
Second, Virginia also allows a vehicle owner to pay a $500 Uninsured Motor Vehicle (UMV) fee to register an uninsured vehicle. While this gives a driver the legal ability to drive without being subject to fines for failing to carry insurance, the UMV fee is not insurance and the motorist will be personally liable if they are involved in an accident—the UMV fee allows you to drive an uninsured vehicle at your own risk. The fee expires with your registration.
Self-insurance and surety bonds are also options for owners of business vehicles.
The Virginia DMV monitors auto insurance coverage for registered vehicles through its Insurance Verification Program and insurers are required to provide the DMV with electronic updates when coverage is canceled or added.
Virginia imposes stiff penalties for failing to comply with insurance requirements. If liability coverage on your vehicle is terminated or canceled during the registration period, you are required to reinsure the vehicle, pay an uninsured motor vehicle fee, temporarily deactivate your license plates, or permanently surrender the plates to the DMV. You can also have your driving privileges suspended; to reinstate your privileges you must pay a $500 statutory fee and file a Financial Responsibility Insurance Certificate with the DMV for three years, and pay a reinstatement fee.
There are benefits to using electronic proof of insurance and, with people relying on their mobile devices more each day, it seems reasonable to use your device for your insurance as well. However, there may also be risks.
Privacy concerns have been raised by some in response to the uptick in the use of electronic proof of insurance. For example, what limitations are placed on law enforcement specific to what information they are permitted to view on your mobile device when you use it to prove you are insured? Your phone contains significant amounts of personal information you may not want to share. In addition, what happens if your mobile device is damaged while in the possession of law enforcement?
Relying solely on your mobile device also poses other risks. For instance, what happens if your phone dies or you forget your phone entirely? For these reasons, some may choose to keep a paper copy of their insurance readily accessible.
To effectively use electronic proof of insurance, you need to be prepared.
First, make sure you have your insurer’s app installed on your phone and you know how to access your insurance information. The last thing you want to do is be unable to find your information and make the officer wait, so familiarize yourself with the app and practice locating your proof of insurance.
Second, ensure your policy is current; pay your premiums to ensure there are no surprises when you need to show proof of valid insurance.
Third, if a law enforcement officer is asking for proof of insurance, inform them that your insurance is on your phone and that you need to access your phone before reaching for your device. Traffic stops an be anxiety-inducing for both you and the officer.