Just like civilians need vehicles to get around, police officers also need vehicles.
However, police vehicles are for more than just “getting around”; they help with responding to emergencies swiftly, patrolling, pursuits, among other noble objectives.
Over the years, there have been questions about what modern police cars can/can’t do.
Popular amongst such questions is whether or not police cars can detect insurance.
This article hopes to answer the question.
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Here’s the Short Answer to Whether Police Cars Can Detect No Insurance:
There are many impressive things modern police cars can do. However, most police cars cannot detect private cars without insurance, at least not yet. The Police can, however, pull over civilian cars and ask for insurance papers; no special detection needed.
Can Police Cars Tell If You Are Insured From the License Plate?
The most obvious way officers can tell if a car is insured is by pulling over a suspicious driver and just asking for the papers.
However, a common alternative is using devices known as the automatic license plate recognition (ALPR). This device can run the license plate numbers and can pull up information, including insurance details, on the spot.
So, in answer to the question, police cars cannot, on their own, run the license plates. That function is better handled by the automatic license plate recognition (ALPR) device. The device can also help with double checks and expose unscrupulous drivers carrying around outdated insurance papers.
It is, however, important to note that the device will only provide registered information. This means, in a state like Minnesota where there is no proper database for car insurance, scanning the license plate numbers may not help.
In such cases, the officers would have to resort to the old-fashioned yet effective way of pulling drivers over and asking directly for the papers. They can also put a call through to the state DMV or insurance company to ascertain the validity of your insurance.
Do Cars Have to Be Insured in All States?
In the United States, there are only two states where auto insurance is not required- Virginia and New Hampton. So, in all the other 48 states, you are legally expected and required to get insurance as soon as you get a car.
Failure to get insurance in any of these states means you stand at risk of incurring first-time penalties between $500-$1,000. Some states even charge as much as $5,000 for the first offense.
Across the 48 states, however, there are some differences in the degree of insurance you have to get. While some only require liability insurance (property damage and bodily injury), some others require personal injury protection, which covers medical expenses.
Meanwhile, please also read our article about why Teslas have different license plates.
As for the outlier states, while they do not require insurance, Virginia and New Hampshire have some insurance alternatives:
Insurance alternative in Virginia is a $500 Uninsured Motor Vehicle Fee (UMF) or solid proof of financial responsibility. The fee doesn’t serve to replace insurance; rather, it absolves you of the usual requirement of purchasing minimum insurance plans from providers.
Drivers are required to renew the UMF alongside the car registration. Also, drivers who are the guilty party in an accident will still be financially responsible even after paying the UMF. Hence, they have the option of applying for a self-insurance certificate.
While the state of New Hampshire strongly recommends getting an insurance, they often grant permissions to waive insurance.
Drivers have a high chance of getting the approval, except they have a history of DUI arrests, multiple accidents, and other traffic offenses.
Even if you didn’t get the approval for whatever reason, the state makes provision for appeals to a department known as the Bureau of Financial Responsibility.
Side Note: If you are a driver in any of the two states, we strongly advise getting an insurance either way. That’s because the consequence of not getting one in the event of an accident can result in financial disasters.
Absence of insurance could also mean trouble traveling to other states where insurance is required.
How Do Police Officers Check If a Car Is Insured?
The most common way police officers check the insurance status of a car is the good ‘ol pullover. In that case, all they have to do is ask for your insurance papers and maybe call the insurance company to make sure it checks out.
In some states, police officers have access to the Automatic License Plate Recognition (ALPR). The device scans your plate automatically and gives up-to-date reports about registration and insurance.
Can All Cops Check If Cars Are Insured?
Generally, cops in the United States and all over the world are well within their official rights to check if a car is insured. However, we would like to provide some context and examine some nuances for the sake of clarity.
There are different categories of cops- we have undercover cops, uniformed cops in marked cars, and cops in unmarked cars.
Undercover cops do not perform regular police duties like traffic stops while they are undercover. That means they cannot pull over cars or check if they are insured in an effort not to blow their covers.
Cops in unmarked cars can make traffic stops in some states and are prohibited in others. So, the right of a cop in an unmarked car to check for insurance depends on the state’s policies regarding unmarked cop cars/plain-clothed cops.
Last, all states in the U.S. permit cops in marked cars to make traffic stops, which may include running insurance checks.
So, in answer to the question, all cops can check the insurance status of a car as long as state or city policy permits them to.
What Happens When Police Seize Your Car for No Insurance?
Below is a list of potential scenarios if an officer flags you on a no insurance charge:
- You can be registered for a misdemeanor and face mandatory court appearance
- You may be ordered to pay a fine (varies across states, as mentioned earlier)
- You will have your driving record marred by a no insurance charge
In some cases, the police may impound your vehicle. Apart from the sadness and frustration you’ll feel, you’ll also have to bear impound costs like towing, storage, and impound charges. One of the ugliest possible scenarios, if you ask us.
If your car gets seized, you can go to the police department office to retrieve it. Most offices would ask for a valid I.D. or driver’s license and, of course, a valid proof of insurance approved by your state’s DMV.
Summarily, you’d need to get your insurance papers, amongst other things, to get a seized car back.