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4 Tips for Using Electronic Proof of Insurance During Traffic Stops

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Now that electronic proof of insurance is accepted in most states the dread of digging through your glove box for a recent insurance card is mostly a thing of the past.

John Espenschied of Insurance Brokers Group in St. Louis says most insurance carriers have jumped on the digital bandwagon and have given their customers the ability to pull up insurance cards on a smartphone.

"Your insurance card is now as accessible as the smartphone in your hand," Espenschied says. "Chances are, if you go to your app store on your smartphone, you'll find your insurance company's app."

These apps often let you make a payment, file and track a claim, and keep a copy of your auto insurance proof.

This means you will have to download your insurer's app and create an account to have access to your insurance card through a phone. You'll also most likely have to login to the app whenever a police officer stops you.

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Just because most insurance carriers offer electronic proof of insurance doesn't mean that police officers in all states will accept them. 

Korey Adekoya, business development manager at Shabana Motors in Houston, says that as 2017 only Connecticut, New Mexico and Washington, D.C., require drivers to show physical proof of insurance. This means that motorists pulled over in these states can't simply pull up proof of insurance on their smart phones.

So if you plan on driving through those parts of the country have access to an actual paper copy of your proof of insurance.

"If you are in a state that hasn't legalized it, you could be liable for any fines and fees," Adekoya says.

Jayson Greene, insurance agent with Carolina Insurance Professionals in Raleigh, North Carolina, says that it's becoming far more common for motorists to rely on electronic proof of insurance when they are pulled over for traffic stops.

But that doesn't mean that drivers shouldn't also keep a physical copy of their insurance cards with them, too, to serve as a back-up.

"One pitfall could be the officer pulling you over may not be aware of the law -- this would be true for the states that have just recently passed the law -- of if your smartphone dies," Greene says.

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Most officers, though, already know that digital proof of insurance is now acceptable. Kent Unruh, owner of Unruh Insurance Co. in Denver and East Earl, Pennsylvania, says he expects even more motorists and police officers to embrace electronic proof of insurance.

"In the 21st century, everything has gone digital," Unruh says. "Proof of insurance is no exception."

Still, it helps to know the right and wrong ways to prove you have auto insurance. Try following these tips:

1. Don’t be confrontational

Although most states allow for electronic proof of insurance, some police officers may not be familiar with the law. It’s relatively new in some states. Don’t expect the officer who pulled you over to be an expert. Politely explain your position.

If the officer disagrees, just take the ticket or warning. You're better off making your case in traffic court than escalating to a confrontation with an officer.

2. Explain in advance your insurance card is on your smartphone

Pulling over a motorist can create anxiety for the officer, too. If the officer asks for proof of insurance, then explain you have to access it on your phone before reaching for your device.

3. Showing proof of insurance isn't consent to search a smartphone

Keep your phone in your possession when showing your officer your proof of insurance. However, if he insists on taking your phone then allow it just for viewing the policy information.

Legally, an officer cannot search your cell phone without a warrant or your consent. Make it clear that just because your insurance proof is on your phone does not mean you are giving consent to search the phone.

4. Make sure your documentation looks official

Most state laws are vague as to what electronic proof of insurance is. Can it be just a photo taken of your paper card? Can you have a PDF on your phone? Does it have to be accessed through your insurer's phone app? All this may come down to the officer and what he or she will accept.

The more official-looking the document, the more likely it will be accepted.