Fines for Driving Without Insurance in South Carolina

Signing a car insurance form
Photo: Audtakorn Sutarmjam / EyeEm / Getty Images

The uninsured motorist problem is a big one, and it’s growing. One in eight drivers in the United States is uninsured, according to the Insurance Research Council in 2021. And the bottom line is that it’s the insured drivers who are picking up the tab for the uninsured ones to the tune of billions (that’s right, billions) of dollars a year in additional insurance fees.

All states, including South Carolina, have passed laws aimed at curbing the problem by making it harder and more expensive for drivers to remain uninsured. If you drive in the state and you aren’t covered, or if you are thinking of dropping your insurance to save a little money, then it’s time that you became acquainted with the penalties for driving without insurance in South Carolina.

South Carolina Insurance Requirements

If you don’t already know, South Carolina requires that drivers carry a minimum level of automobile insurance coverage at all times. The minimums are $25,000 per person for injury or death; $50,000 for all injured in one accident; and $25,000 for damage to property, as of 2022. Uninsured motorist coverage, by the way, is required and included in your regular fees.

What Happens When You Don’t Have Coverage

Let’s assume that you are a South Carolina driver who currently has valid coverage in place, but you want to drop it if just for a few months, to save the cash. You may be thinking that it will take at least that long for the DMV to catch up to you and by then you’ll have a new policy in place. If that’s you, you may want to think again. That’s because South Carolina employs what is known as the Automobile Liability Insurance Reporting (ALIR) System.

ALIR works like this: When you cancel your auto insurance, your (now former) insurer will immediately electronically notify the DMV of the cancellation. The DMV will then automatically send out a letter informing you that you have 20 business days to provide verification of new insurance coverage. If you changed insurance companies without a lapse in coverage, no problem. Just notify your new carrier about the letter, and they should be able to take care of informing the DMV right away.

If you fail to respond to the letter within the given 20-day period, however, then you have a problem. Your license plate and vehicle registration will likely be suspended, and you may also lose your privilege to drive. Any vehicle. Period. And reinstating your plates, registration and driving privileges can get expensive.

First of all, you will have to obtain new insurance and prove it to the DMV. Then you will pay up to $400 in reinstatement fees. Not only will you face state fines and penalties, but when you go back to buy insurance again you will find that prices are much higher. That's because most companies in South Carolina charge significantly higher premiums to drivers who had a lapse in coverage than to those who were continuously covered.

Things could get expensive, right? Still not convinced that dropping your coverage isn’t a good idea? Read on.

Getting Caught Driving Without Insurance

If your plates and registration have been suspended due to lack of insurance, and you are stopped while operating one of the vehicles under that suspension, then your driver’s license will be suspended (if it hasn’t already) and will remain so until you pay a $600 uninsured motorist fee and have your insurance company file an SR-22 form for the next three years. And if you are caught driving a vehicle that you do not own, your license will be suspended for thirty days, and you will have to pay a $100 reinstatement fee.

Getting Into an Accident While Uninsured

Separate and apart from all of the penalties put on you by the state, there’s that little problem of getting into an accident where you are at fault and causing property damage and personal injury. I don’t have to tell you that property damage costs, and more importantly, the expenses resulting from major personal injuries can be astronomical. It is not an exaggeration to say that paying for the personal injuries of the victims of your accident can wipe out a lifetime of savings, literally in an instant.

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  1. Insurance Research Council. "One in Eight Drivers Uninsured: $13 Billion Spent in 2016 to Protect Against Uninsured and Underinsured Drivers," Page 1.

  2. South Carolina Department of Insurance. "Automobile Insurance."

  3. South Carolina Legislature. "Chapter 77: Automobile Insurance."

  4. South Carolina Legislature. "Article 1: Motorist Insurance Identification Database," Pages 1, 3-4.

  5. South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles. "Facts About Driving Uninsured."

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