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Car accidents can be traumatic emotionally, physically, and financially. Even if everyone walks away from the incident with little or no injury, the aftermath can still have long-term consequences.
In addition to managing any medical payments and repairing your vehicle, the accident can stay on your record for years, affecting your insurance rate.
Here’s what you need to know about how long car accidents stay on your record:
- How long do accidents stay on your record?
- How much will your rates increase after an accident?
- How to handle car insurance rate increases
- What is accident forgiveness?
- Does an accident on your record affect your ability to get insurance?
How long do accidents stay on your record?
Most car accidents will stay on your record for three to five years in the eyes of insurance providers — an accident that happened seven years ago could still be on your record, but most insurers won’t consider it when determining your rate. The exact amount of time will vary depending on the state you live in.
For example, in California, collisions stay on your driving record for three years unless the collision was reported by law enforcement and the incident involved a commercial vehicle or hazardous materials. In that case, the accident will remain on your record for 10 years. In Michigan, however, most at-fault accidents stay on your record for seven years. Accidents involving fatalities or DUIs stay on your record permanently.
You can find out the specific time frame for your state by checking your state’s Department (or Bureau) of Motor Vehicles website.
Accidents and point systems
Most states also have a point system. Under this system, drivers get points for various traffic violations. These points don’t affect how long accidents stay on your record, but you can lose your driver’s license if you have too many points.
Accidents can affect your points if you violate traffic laws and cause a collision. For example, in Nevada, disobeying a traffic sign can get you four points — so if you run a stop sign and hit another car, you could rack up those points. You could also get six points in Nevada if you fail to give your information at the scene of an accident. Since accidents stay on your record for several years, you can expect your insurance rate to take a hit for some time as well.
How much will your rates increase after an accident?
The amount that your rate increases after an accident depends on your insurer. For example, Progressive says its customers who have an at-fault accident see an average increase of 28% nationwide. Increased rates stay on your insurance for an average of three years.
Multiple factors determine how much your car insurance rates will increase following an automobile accident. Some common things that could determine how much your rates go up include:
- Fault: Your insurance rates can go up even if you’re involved in a no-fault accident; however, your rates will increase more when you’re ruled at fault for the accident. You may be able to purchase no-fault insurance that provides additional coverage, no matter who is at fault in the accident.
- The severity of the accident: If you’re involved in a fender bender with minor damage, your rates may not change (especially if you can pay out of pocket for any repairs). However, if your insurance carrier needs to pay for medical expenses, damages, or the cost of a totaled car, your rates will likely increase.
- Your driving record: If you have a history of accidents and speeding tickets, you’ll likely get a higher premium, since your insurance provider will likely deem you a riskier driver. Sometimes, an insurance carrier can also choose not to renew your policy when it expires, especially if you’ve committed an offense like driving drunk.
- Age: Teen drivers and elderly drivers are likely to have higher rates anyway, but following accidents, these groups may also see higher increases, since insurance carriers consider them risky drivers.
How to handle car insurance rate increases
If you want to lower your insurance premium, you have a few options. It’s a law in all states (except New Hampshire and Virginia) to have proof of auto insurance, so cutting your policy isn’t usually an option. Maintaining coverage can protect you against thousands of dollars in expenses if you’re involved in a serious accident.
Some ways you can save money on your car insurance include:
- Shop around. Compare insurance rates from multiple providers. Insurance carriers typically offer quotes free of charge. Most quotes only take a few minutes, and you could potentially find significant savings.
- Reduce your coverage. One way to save money on your insurance is to choose less expensive coverage. For example, if you have an older car, you might consider a liability-only policy, dropping collision and comprehensive coverage. Just make sure you always maintain at least your state’s minimum required level of insurance. And it’s a good idea to have enough money in your emergency fund to cover repairs in case of an incident.
- Increase your deductible. A deductible is the amount of money you must pay out of pocket if you file a claim. If you have a $500 deductible, you could increase it to $1,000 or more. You’d have to pay more for any future claims, but your annual premium would be lower.
- Bundle insurance policies. Many insurance providers offer a discount for bundling, or combining, multiple policies with one insurer. For example, you could bundle auto, home, and life insurance for a potential rate reduction.
What is accident forgiveness?
Some insurance carriers offer an accident forgiveness program. While the program varies by insurer, some features are generally the same across providers.
When you pay for accident forgiveness, you avoid rate increases after an accident when claims fall under a set ceiling. For minor accidents, that might be around $500, while more extensive policies offer forgiveness against more expensive claims.
Your ability to qualify depends on the state you live in and your insurance provider. Many carriers require drivers to be accident-free for a set number of years to qualify for larger forgiveness benefits.
You’ll most likely pay extra for accident forgiveness, though some major insurance providers offer incentives that allow you to earn free accident forgiveness. You may consider purchasing accident forgiveness if your insurance policy has higher-risk drivers (like teens or older parents).
Does an accident on your record affect your ability to get insurance?
Obtaining new coverage following a car accident can be more difficult, but it’s possible. If you’re involved in a serious accident, you may have an even harder time finding a good auto insurance rate. However, a first-time accident typically won’t affect your ability to find affordable car insurance. You may need to shop around if you have multiple accidents or traffic violations on your record.
Several factors could affect your ability to get insurance in the future. Some things that could make it more difficult to find an insurer that’s willing to cover you include:
- Excessive traffic violations
- Multiple accidents on your record
- At-fault accidents
- Age (younger drivers and senior drivers, especially)
- Suspension of driving privileges
- Failure to register your vehicle
If your current provider doesn’t renew your coverage, you may need to find a carrier that works with riskier drivers. Your premium will likely be higher, but if you can maintain a good driving record for a few years, you may qualify for better rates down the road.