Q: When I renew my license tags or driver’s license, I have to acknowledge that I have “financial responsibility.” What does that mean?
A: Every driver must be able to prove that he or she is financially able to cover damages that he or she might cause while operating a motor vehicle. Typically, this is done by buying auto insurance. Financial responsibility (FR) can be shown in other ways, such as furnishing proof that you are bonded, but that is less common.
Q: What happens if I drive without insurance?
A: You are subject to a range of penalties including a mandatory driver’s license suspension, a fine, and the possibility of a jail term.
Q: Can I get privileges to drive if I'm under an FR suspension?
A: Until 2004, you had to wait at least 15 days (on a first offense), before you could ask Ohio’s Bureau of Motor Vehicles to grant “occupational” driving privileges. Now you can go directly to the local court to receive limited driving privileges without waiting 15 days. In fact, the court may grant you privileges not only to drive to and from work, but also for other specific limited purposes (such as seeking medical treatment or driving to and from school). Of course, you must show that you have bought insurance before getting the privileges.
Q: I’ve heard that you can get an FR suspension on a car that you aren’t driving. Is that true?
A: Yes. If you have a vehicle at home for which you haven't bought insurance, you may receive a letter notifying you that you are under suspension (the law allows the state to make random FR checks based on registered vehicles). If this occurs, you have a chance to show that the car was, in fact, insured. If the car wasn't insured, you may send a note to the Registrar of Motor Vehicles showing a good excuse for not insuring the vehicle. Good excuses include that the vehicle was inoperable, only used seasonally, that you weren’t responsible for the lapse, or the lapse was caused by excusable neglect that's unlikely to recur. The Registrar may then end the suspension. Of course, if you’re actually driving without insurance, it will be tough for you to avoid getting a suspension. However, the law gives you a defense for driving without insurance if you drove because of a medical or other substantial emergency and no one else was reasonably available to drive.
Q: Does an FR suspension affect my insurance costs? Does it make it more expensive to get my license back?
A: Yes to both. Anyone who receives an FR suspension must buy more expensive insurance for three years, on a first offense. You also must pay to have your license reinstated, which can cost up to $500, depending on prior FR convictions. But the law affords some flexibility in paying reinstatement fees. A court may extend your payment deadline for paying your license reinstatement fee or set up a payment plan of at least $50 each month.
This Law You Can Use legal information article was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association. It was originally prepared by attorney David Diroll, director of the Ohio Criminal Sentencing Commission. It was updated by William J. Reynolds, an attorney in private practice in Cincinnati.