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Beware – All Registered Vehicles Must Be Insured

by Joyce Novotny-Prettiman, Esq. and Richard H. Galloway, Esq.

When the snow flies and after you tuck your convertible into storage, you drop the car insurance on that vehicle for the winter. Or maybe you have a Mustang that you are refurbishing and, while it is up on blocks, carrying car insurance seems silly. What if you have an unfortunate fender bender that totals that old ’86 Oldsmobile and you immediately cancel the car insurance on that undriveable heap before the salvage papers are completed? Beware – if you own a vehicle that is currently registered in Pennsylvania but is not insured, you may be without coverage if involved in a motor vehicle accident.

You may be asking, “How can the registration of an uninsured vehicle have anything to do with other insurance coverage?” Because of recent developments in the law, the brief answer is that the status of the registration of any vehicle you own impacts all your other automobile insurance coverage if you are involved in a motor vehicle accident. The surprising twist is that you can be denied coverage even if you are injured while driving or riding in a vehicle that is fully insured.

Here is how it works: Pennsylvania law requires that all currently registered vehicles must be insured. The reasoning behind this requirement is to encourage everyone to purchase vehicle insurance and to punish folks who have uninsured vehicles. Sounds logical, doesn’t it? While keeping uninsured vehicles off the highway is a good goal for lawmakers, many Pennsylvanians have been caught in some very unfortunate situations. The wording of the statute requires all registered vehicles to be insured and does not make an exception that allows insurance to be canceled simply because you are no longer driving a vehicle. Rather, the insurance requirement hinges on the registration status of a vehicle.

Why do all Pennsylvanians need to be concerned about the registration-insurance connection? Well, recent cases have held that a person who is operating an insured vehicle may be denied coverage even though the vehicle involved in the accident is insured, if that driver also owns a registered but uninsured vehicle. This means that your own insurance company can refuse to pay your medical bills even when you are hurt in an insured vehicle. Furthermore, if you are found to be the owner of an uninsured but registered vehicle, the law also views you as a person who has selected the limited tort option, which severely limits your right to sue if you are injured by the negligence of another driver.

The fact is that many Pennsylvanians have valid reasons for taking vehicles off the highway and canceling their insurance coverage. Unlike those who are violating the law by operating uninsured vehicles on the roadway, the folks with situations like those outlined at the beginning of this article do not drive their vehicles after canceling their car insurance. If you know this important twist of the law, you can protect yourself from falling victim to unfair circumstances by simply notifying the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation that you are canceling the registration of that vehicle and returning your license plates for the unused vehicle.

If you have a situation similar to any of the scenarios outlined above, you cannot drop insurance on a vehicle unless you first cancel that vehicle’s registration and turn in the license plate associated with the registration to the Commonwealth. At QuatriniRafferty, we can help you with questions that arise when you are thinking about taking a vehicle off the road. To review your auto insurance coverage or inquire about a car accident, please email a Pennsylvania car insurance attorney today, or call us at 724-837-0080 in Greensburg or toll free at 888-534-6016.

For more information on Pennsylvania auto insurance, please visit our Car Accidents Information page.

For more information on auto accidents, please visit our Motor Vehicle Accident Information Center.

Related articles on Pennsylvania auto insurance:

Limited Tort – a Bad Deal

Flexible Insurance Coverage

Required Auto Coverage