Is it legal to be a passenger in an uninsured vehicle?
August 28, 2006 9:48 PM   Subscribe

Can you ride as a passenger in an uninsured vehicle without legal ramifications? As always, there is

Just as a refined version of the question: In the state of New Jersey, if one is caught (whether by being pulled over or in an accident, or something else I haven't thought of) riding as a passenger in an uninsured vehicle, will that person have any liability for the driver/car being uninsured? This is assuming, if it matters, that the passanger has no legal relationship with the driver (i.e. marriage, co-ownership of place of residence)

Help me MeFi, you're the only way to satisfy my curiosity!

By the way, if anyone knows of anywhere that I could find more information on this, preferably somewhere that was well-respected/official in nature, that'd be even more fantastic!
posted by InsanePenguin to Law & Government (11 answers total)
The only time you'll get in trouble for just riding in the car is if it's carrying something it shouldn't be.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 10:22 PM on August 28, 2006

Just because the vehicle is uninsured? Nope, you're not going to get into trouble for that.
posted by bshort at 10:40 PM on August 28, 2006

Best answer: Strictly speaking, no, you are not breaking the law by being a passenger in an uninsured vehicle. (And under certain circumstances, neither is the driver, as it is actually the owner's responsibility to insure the car). If the driver is not the registered owner, then the driver is probably but not always breaking the law (see: State of NJ v. Arslanouk).

Now... if the driver is the owner, and he is pulled over and it is determined that the car is uninsured, he will probably be arrested on the spot (and the car will be impounded). Many courts have held that once this happens, it is fair game for the police to search the car, and frequently the other passengers, so if you're carrying something, er, illegal, or you've got a warrant out on you, you might find yourself in trouble.

The best place to find out about this is the state of New Jersey, which publishes its statues here.

You're most interested in Title 39, section 6B.

The penalties for this are especially severe in New Jersey (mandatory loss of license for one year, which will make it harder to get insurance forever), though they're nothing compared to the (financial) penalties that would get placed on the driver if he were to be in an accident and seriously hurt or kill someone.

If this is more than a hypothetical question... tell your friend to buy the minimum amount of required insurance immediately or park his car. It's beyond stupid to do otherwise.
posted by toxic at 10:47 PM on August 28, 2006

Response by poster: Wow, toxic, thank you for so much detail!

One other thing I forgot to include in the original question:
If you're riding in an uninsured car, and that car gets into an accident with another vehicle, is there any reason/way that the owner of the other vehicle could sue the passenger?
posted by InsanePenguin at 3:13 AM on August 29, 2006

The only way the owner of the car, or anyone, could go after the passenger is if the passenger did something to cause the accident. That would have to be something big and stupid and indisputable. We're not talking about sneezing and distracting the driver, we're talking, yanking the wheel and taking the car off a bridge. Such an action would probably be a civil matter and a crime. Just being in the car, quiet and reserved should not incriminate you.

Oh, if you happened to have served your driver alcohol or drugs, and they're driving under the influence, it's not the lack of insurance that wll get you in trouble, but if they don't have insurance, and they cause an accident, well you'd be in big trouble in Florida. We have "the bartenders liability" here, so the last person to serve a drink is slammed if the drinker crashes the car. Many states have this, NJ might be on that list now.
posted by bilabial at 5:17 AM on August 29, 2006

No, but if the driver crashes and you are seriously injured, he won't have any insurance to cover your medical bills.
posted by jellicle at 6:02 AM on August 29, 2006

actualy, i think yes--there is nothing that prevents occupants from the other car suing you, the passenger in an uninsured car. under certain circumstances, they really might pursue you if it appears that you had the money. however, i think it would be really hard for them to win unless they could easily assign more direct liability to you.

no one needs proof to initiate a civil action. but you do need proof to win.
posted by lester at 7:27 AM on August 29, 2006

Now... if the driver is the owner, and he is pulled over and it is determined that the car is uninsured, he will probably be arrested on the spot (and the car will be impounded).

Wha??? This is a citation similar to a speeding ticket. Do you get arrested "on the spot" in NJ for speeding??
posted by mattbucher at 7:37 AM on August 29, 2006

Yeah matt, but if you are pulled over, it is almost always *because* of something else. So combining that "something else" with the lack of insurance might be a problem. There may also be a legal obligation for the officer to prevent a driver from driving without the ability to pay for damages from an accident.

Although frankly, back to the original question, in most cases I fail to see why someone with "no legal relationship with the driver" would necessarily have any idea whether or not the driver has insurance. Not a question most of us would think to ask the carpool. Mostly, what toxic said.
posted by ilsa at 8:20 AM on August 29, 2006

In NJ, driving without insurance is not "similar to a speeding ticket." As of June 9, 2004, drivers who can't produce proof of insurance within 24 hours can have their cars impounded, and if they don't reclaim the car within 30 days and pay for the cost of storing it, the state can take possession of the car. The fine for not carrying your insurance card is $150, but if you're not insured, be prepared to pay much more and possibly lose your car temporarily or permanently.

So far as I can tell, there's no a passenger can be held liable unless the passenger owns the car. (IANAL)
posted by Amy Phillips at 8:26 AM on August 29, 2006

if you are pulled over, it is almost always *because* of something else.

Like speeding or a broken tail-light---these things are not going to automatically have you arrested on the spot and your car impounded. In fact, some municipal traffic enforcement citations have a relatively low dollar amount attached to them compared to failure to provide proof of insurance.

I think the original question could be answered with the obvious "YES." Otherwise, don't step into a taxi without asking to see proof of insurance. WTF?
posted by mattbucher at 8:30 AM on August 29, 2006

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