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Driving without liability insurance can have expensive consequences

A little slip of paper -- or lack there of -- can change a life. Having proof of insurance is necessary if you want to drive in North Dakota. Not having it at a traffic stop can have harsh consequences.

Dickinson resident Eli Cromp was convicted of driving without liability insurance about a year and a half ago.

"The officer who pulled me over said it was a serious offense and gave me a ticket, but he was real nice," Cromp said.

Cromp said he had to go to court and received a $400 fine. He also has to have liability insurance or an SR22 (a contract between the insurance company and the offender that guarantees that the offender has purchased their insurance, and has agreed to continue to pay for it for the duration of the SR22 sentence) for three years.

"I have liability now but no SR22 so my license was suspended until I complete an SR22 and pay my reinstatement fee," Cromp said. "If I would want to get my license back I would also have to take the written and driving drivers license test and pay an additional $50 for a special license that states I have an SR22."

Stark County Assistant States Attorney Rhonda Ehlis said the reason punishments differ is because sentencing is left to the judge.

"The prosecutors and defense can make suggestions but that doesn't mean the judge will accept them," Ehlis said. "Another thing to keep in mind is that the judge looks at a lot of factors including past driving record and the circumstances surrounding the incident before making a decision."

The maximum punishment for driving without liability insurance, a Class B misdemeanor, is 30 days in jail and/or a $1,000 fine, Ehlis said.

Ehlis added there is a mandatory fine of $150 for the first offense and $300 for a second offense that occurs within three years of the first conviction.

At the time of the second or subsequent offense the court can impound the convicted's license plates until they provide proof of insurance and pay $20 to the North Dakota Department of Transportation, Ehlis said.

Monte Kovash, Farmers Insurance Group agent, said it's important to have liability insurance not only because it is required by law.

"Liability insurance is financial protection for bodily injury or property damage that you or a business could be held liable for," Kovash said. "I don't know why a person would risk not having it. That can leave a person vulnerable to huge financial responsibility."

Dickinson Police Department Capt. Joe Cianni said it is the driver's responsibility to make sure a vehicle is insured, even if the vehicle being driven is not owned by the driver.

Kovash said proof of insurance is issued by the insurance company and is usually a small card or sheet of paper that has the name of the company, the policy number, a description of the vehicle or vehicle identification number and the policy inception and expiration dates.

Clients registered with its website may also print a copy of their proof of insurance at home, Kovash said.

"Drivers are supposed to have proof of insurance inside the vehicle," Cianni said. "If they have insurance but do not have proof of insurance with them, they are given 21 days to provide proof to the issuing agency that they do have insurance. But if a driver does not have insurance, that does not give him or her 21 days to get it."

Cianni said if proof of insurance is not provided within that period it is automatically assumed that the vehicle was not insured.

The driver is then either served a formal complaint or issued a citation. Either way, the driver faces a mandatory court date.