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16 percent of American drivers have gone without auto insurance

Sixteen percent of American drivers have ever driven a car without auto insurance, with nearly half of them saying they couldn't afford the insurance premiums, according to an InsuranceQuotes.com poll conducted online by Harris Interactive.

Two percent of American motorists said they're currently driving without auto insurance.auto insurance uninsured poll

Twenty-eight percent of American men ages 18 to 34 and 45 to 54 have ever driven without insurance, the highest percentage among all age and gender groups, according to a survey of 2,366 adults conducted Feb. 24-28, 2011.

In the survey, 16 percent of adult drivers said they had at one point gone without auto insurance -- a violation of mandatory insurance laws in every state but New Hampshire. Each year, auto insurers wind up paying millions of dollars in claims for damage and injuries caused by uninsured drivers; insured motorists typically pick up that tab in the form of higher premiums.

When asked why they drove without auto insurance, 44 percent of those who had gone without it said they couldn’t afford the insurance premiums -- the No. 1 reason cited in the InsuranceQuotes.com poll. A separate survey conducted by Opinion Research Corp. on behalf of the Insurance Information Institute found that one-third of Americans had purchased less auto insurance or homeowner's insurance as a way to save money. In most states, your auto insurance premium easily can total $1,000 a year.

Another 24 percent of drivers who had gone without auto insurance said their policies had expired before they had a chance to renew them, according to the InsuranceQuotes.com poll conducted by Harris Interactive.

Other reasons cited for a lack of auto insurance include:

• A gap in coverage occurred when switching from one insurance company to another (19 percent).

• The insurance company canceled the policy (12 percent).

Robert Hunter, director of insurance for the Consumer Federation of America, says: “If you have to make a decision about eating or feeding your family, or paying insurance, I think we all know what choice someone is going to make.”

Hunter estimates the number of uninsured U.S. drivers exceeds 20 percent. In some cities in New York, the number reaches 50 percent, he says.

Art Spinella, director of CNW Marketing Research, which has studied the number of uninsured drivers for 20 years, estimates 40 million American drivers were uninsured in 2010, representing 18 percent of all drivers. The Insurance Information Institute also has pegged that number at 18 percent, although it's forecast to decrease to 16 percent in 2014.

“People who drive without insurance are at risk of financial calamity – not only for themselves, but for the other person as well if they get into an accident,” says Aymee Zubizarreta, a spokeswoman for State Farm, the country's largest auto insurer. “The question people need to ask themselves is, 'What’s the cost of not having insurance?’”

Consequences of driving without auto insurance

Across the country, penalties for driving without auto insurance can include a fine of up to $5,000, suspension of your driver’s license or even jail time.

Uninsured motorist coverage is required in 20 states and the District of Columbia. Such coverage provides reimbursement for injuries caused by an uninsured driver or hit-and-run driver. The price of uninsured motorist coverage varies widely from state to state, depending partly on the percentage of drivers who are uninsured where you live, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

According to the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, 33 states have some sort of program in place to verify that drivers are carrying auto insurance.

auto insurance uninsured polls

“Responsible drivers who purchase insurance end up paying for injuries caused by uninsured drivers," Elizabeth Sprinkel, senior vice president of the Insurance Research Council, said as part of a study released in 2009.

According to the InsuranceQuotes.com poll conducted by Harris Interactive, the West had the highest percentage of people (20 percent) who reported ever driving without auto insurance, followed by the Northeast (16 percent), South (15 percent) and Midwest (13 percent).

The 2009 study conducted by the Insurance Research Council estimated that New Mexico had more uninsured drivers than any other state -- 29 percent. It was followed by Mississippi (28 percent), Alabama (26 percent), Oklahoma (24 percent) and Florida (23 percent).

The states with the lowest estimated number of uninsured drivers were Massachusetts (1 percent), Maine (4 percent), North Dakota (5 percent), New York (5 percent) and Vermont (6 percent), according to the Insurance Research Council.

Michael Barry, vice president of the Insurance Information Institute, says drivers can reduce the amount of money they pay for auto insurance by either raising their deductibles or not buying optional coverage, such as collision and comprehensive.

“In almost every state, auto insurance is a very competitive business, and drivers can often save on their auto insurance premiums by just shopping around for a cost-effective policy which meets their needs,” Barry says.

Survey methodology

The Harris Interactive survey was conducted online within the United States on behalf of InsuranceQuotes.com from Feb. 24-28, 2011, among 2,366 adults age 18 and older. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and, therefore, no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables, please contact Adamsl@bankrateinsurance.com.

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