Digital proof of purchase
At this very moment, I'm not quite sure that I have a paper documenting that I carry car insurance stuffed in the glove compartment of my car. It could be there among wadded up tissues, old receipts and maps, but I wouldn't be willing to bet on it. I certainly don't have a card in my wallet. Needless to say, if I'm pulled over by a cop, this will only add more anxiety to the situation, as most states require you to carry an insurance card. This dilemma may go the way of the landline soon, though, as states move toward allowing digital proof of insurance.
Six states currently allow drivers to use digital images on their smartphones to prove they have car insurance and more than 20 states are considering similar proposals in this year's legislative session. (In Massachusetts, however, you are allowed to use your car's registration form, which has your insurer listed on it, as proof of car insurance.)
Alabama, Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana and Minnesota currently accept electronic proof of car insurance should you be asked by a police officer to show it during a traffic stop. (See: "Car accident diagrams go digital.")
States with pending laws include: Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming, says Penny Gusner, consumer analyst for CarInsurance.com.
All that being said, you'd still have to be sure you follow through and get your insurance documentation on to your smartphone or other mobile device. So, exactly, how do you do that? There are several options. One is to store a PDF from your insurer on your electronic device. Another is to download an insurance card from your insurance company's mobile application, if they have one. You could even just take a picture of your insurance card and keep it stored on your phone or tablet. (See: "Car insurance firms revving up mobile app features.")
The language of the laws allowing digital proof of car insurance is likely to vary from state to state, so it's always a good idea to check the details. "If the law is written as openly as California's, that simply says 'evidence of financial responsibility may be provided using a mobile electronic device,' it's likely a photo of your card will work," says Gusner.
Des Toups is a writer, editor and expert on insurance, cars and personal finance. He has written extensively about all three for national publications such as MSN and major newspapers such as the Seattle Times. He has been quoted about insurance issues in The New York Times, USA Today and Kiplinger's.
Follow him on Twitter @destoups