A police officer can tell whether you have a valid Michigan No-Fault auto insurance policy on the car you are driving by running your license plate number through the Law Enforcement Information Network (LEIN) database, which law enforcement can access using an in-car computer in their vehicles.
This is an important tool for law enforcement because among other things, it allows the police to identify uninsured drivers and help get them off the road.
Having a police officer tell if you have insurance by running your plates in Michigan serves as motivation for some drivers to get insured – and stay insured. For years, people have tried to game the system of insuring their cars. These people would purchase insurance just long enough to register their vehicles – or renew a motor vehicle registration – and then allow the coverage to lapse if it was an ultra-short term policy. Or they would cancel their mandatory auto insurance coverage and collect a premium refund as soon as they received their license plates.
This still goes on, but the ability to game the system was dealt a serious blow in 2015 when Michigan police began using the LEIN system directly from their police cars. This allows a police officer to verify a driver’s insurance status.
Why is it important that police can tell if you have insurance by running your plates?
It is important that police can tell if you have insurance by running your plates because it motivates drivers to purchase and maintain the auto insurance that is required under Michigan law and, thus, avoid the severe criminal and financial penalties that Michigan imposes for driving without auto insurance.
Those penalties could include: (1) being found guilty of a misdemeanor; (2) a fine between $200 and $500; (3) a year in jail; (4) suspension of your driver’s license; (5) inability to renew your vehicle registration; (6) being disqualified from suing for pain and suffering compensation and/or No-Fault benefits if you are injured in a crash; and (7) being held financially liable for the medical bills and lost wages of anyone else injured in a crash that you are involved in – even if you were 100% not at-fault for the auto accident.
How can police tell if you have insurance by running plates?
The police can tell if you have insurance by running your plates because every 14 days Michigan auto insurance companies must notify the Michigan Secretary of State of the vehicles they insure and that data is available to them through the LEIN system which they access on their in-car computers.
When a Michigan auto insurance company issues a No-Fault auto policy, it must notify the Secretary of State of the name and address of the named insured, the vehicle identification number for the insured vehicle and the policy number. But the Secretary of State “shall not require the information to be transmitted more frequently than every 14 days.” (MCL 500.3101a(1))
Can the police stop you for no insurance based on a computer check of your plates?
Though police can tell if you have insurance by running your plates, the Michigan Vehicle Code does not address this issue. The Michigan State Police has stated the information will not be used as a “primary” basis for a vehicle stop, but each police department may have its own policy. The Michigan Court of Appeals has upheld a stop for no insurance based on a LEIN check.
In its published opinion in People v. Mazzie (#343380, October 23, 2018), the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that the police could make a traffic stop based on LEIN information showing that a vehicle in question was not insured as required by Michigan law. The judges stated:
The LEIN information gave the police “at least a reasonable suspicion that defendant was operating his vehicle without insurance and, therefore, the stop and detention to check for valid insurance was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.”
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