Getting pulled over without registration is something that most folks have nightmares about.
No one ever wants it to happen to them, and we cringe when we hear that it has happened to a friend or family member. However, it does happen, and most of the time it is an honest mistake.
Sometimes, though, it can be because a person has no registration, to begin with. Whatever your situation is, it is important to know what could happen if you get pulled over by police (or other members of law enforcement) and you do not have your registration on you.
In this article, we will be delving a little deeper into this and exploring it in more detail.
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What should you always have with you when you are driving?
Before we begin, we wanted to dedicate a section of this article to telling you all about documents and licenses that you should always have with you when you are driving.
These are the things that a police officer will usually ask to see if you get pulled over. These include your valid drivers’ license, proof of insurance, and of course, valid vehicle registration.
If you do not have these with you when you get pulled over then you could get fined, you could have administrative penalties, and you may even get traffic citations. We will be going over the exact consequences in more detail later in the article.
The difference between driving without registration and driving without proof of registration
When you are driving, you may very well have vehicle registration, but you may not bring the proof with you. This is a very common occurrence, probably more common than you could imagine. Let’s get some things straight first.
It is illegal in every state to operate a vehicle that has never been registered with the department of motor vehicles or the motor vehicles bureau in the state that it is used. By this we mean, if you live in Texas and you drive in Texas but your vehicle is not registered in Texas, then you are driving it illegally.
It is illegal to operate a vehicle that has had registration in the past but has since expired. This could mean that you failed to renew it or failed to pay the required fees and to do the necessary filing when the registration ended with your state department.
In the majority of states, there is a differentiation in the laws concerning traffic issues between driving a vehicle that is unregistered and driving a registered vehicle without proof. For example, this could occur when a driver gets stopped by police and does not have their registration documents with them, thus being unable to immediately prove that the vehicle is adequately registered and legal to drive.
It could also occur if the vehicle does not have the current registration stickers on display. Of course, we have specified that this is the case in the majority of states, but to protect yourself it is always best to check with your state to make sure that this applies to them.
Several states have a rule that the penalties given for failing to register your vehicle will differ depending on the amount of time that has passed. For example, if you get pulled over by a police officer or law enforcement officer and they find that your vehicle registration ended a day ago, then they are likely to give you a far lighter penalty than, say, if the registration had expired a year ago, or worse still, if you have never registered it.
Of course, this is state-dependent, and some states may make no distinction between them at all. Again, it is best to check with your state to protect yourself.
An example of the situation above is as followers: there are non-moving and moving violations. In some states, a moving regulation occurs if the car’s registration ended or expired less than six months ago. In this case, penalties are light and will be a minor infraction.
However, if the vehicle registration expired more than six months ago then it is considered a moving violation and the penalties are much harder, including license points and the possibility of higher insurance rates for your motor vehicle insurance.
What about a used car?
We often get asked if the laws are different when you are driving a used car. We assume that the logic around this is that because it is used and likely registered by the previous owner, it does not need to be registered again. However, be careful with this logic because this is state-dependent.
Some states will allow you to drive home after you have picked up your freshly purchased used car, but only under the condition that you drive straight home and aim to keep the car safely in storage. This has to be within 15 days of the purchase of the car from the previous owner. You do, however, need to be covered by insurance for this trip, and must also have the assigned title with you.
It is always best to err on the side of caution though, so check with the DMV in your state to ensure that you protect yourself from any possible interaction with law enforcement. In our opinion, it is always worth putting the registration in place anyway, just to be on the safe side.
Off-road and stored vehicles
There are some cases in which a vehicle does not need to be registered. These are typically cars that are “off-highway” vehicles such as an ATV, certain types of off-road Jeeps, and even golf carts.
Stored vehicles and any vehicle that has officially been filed and declared as ‘non-operating' with your state DMV also do not need vehicle registration. However, for these latter two examples, they do need registration if you ever drive them again.
What can happen to me?
If you are found to be without valid vehicle registration when you are pulled over, the consequences you face can change depending on several variables, such as the state you are in, how long you have been without the registration, and whether you just do not have proof.
If you are caught driving a registered motor vehicle but you do not have any proof with you, then at worst you could face large fines and a traffic citation.
However, some states will be a little more lenient and may give you a notice to get it fixed (this is known as a fix-it-ticket). If the car you are driving has only recently had its registration expired, then it is possible that a fix-it-ticket may be issued to you then, as well as fines or a traffic citation.
However, if your vehicle has not been registered for a large amount of time, around 6 months and more, then the consequences are more serious. There is a possibility that you could get written up a ticket and get your car towed and impounded.
There is also the possibility of arrest. This is especially true of anyone who gets confrontational with the officer dealing with the incident. It is very important that you comply and do not make things worse for yourself.
If you can’t tell how important it is to register your vehicle by now, then you should probably go back and read the article again. It is so important to not only have a registered vehicle but to also have proof of your vehicle registration with you at all times when you are operating a car (or any other automobile).
Keep it with you, along with all the other important documents that we detailed at the beginning of the article, at all times. Remember, if you do get pulled over without registration, or at least proof of it, you should always remain calm, listen to exactly what the officer says, and face the fact that you will likely need to accept the consequences.