Vehicle insurance
Vehicle insurance

Table of Contents

Vehicle Insurance In The United States

In the United States [3], vehicle insurance, also known as car insurance or auto insurance, is specifically designed to mitigate the financial risks associated with liability or the potential loss of a motor vehicle in the event of a collision resulting in property damage or physical harm. The majority of states mandate that motor vehicle owners maintain at least a minimum level of liability insurance. However, some states, such as Virginia, offer an alternative option where vehicle owners can pay an uninsured motor vehicle fee to the state. In contrast, New Hampshire and Mississippi provide vehicle owners with the choice of posting cash bonds as an alternative to traditional insurance (see details below).

The privileges and immunities clause outlined in Article IV of the U.S. Constitution safeguards the rights of citizens within each state when traveling to other states. Motor vehicle owners typically make monthly payments, referred to as insurance premiums, to insurers. These premiums are influenced by a range of factors, including the type of vehicle being insured, marital status, credit score, whether the driver rents or owns a home, the age and gender of the covered drivers, their driving history, and the primary location where the vehicle is driven and stored. Most insurance companies adjust premium rates based on these factors and occasionally offer discounts.

Upon acquiring insurance coverage, insurance companies issue an insurance card to the motor vehicle owner for the specified coverage term. This card must be carried in the vehicle and presented in the event of a traffic collision as proof of insurance. More recently, some states have enacted legislation permitting the acceptance of electronic versions of proof of insurance by authorities.

Coverage Generally

Consumers may avail themselves of varying levels of coverage depending on the insurance policy they select. These coverage levels are often represented in the form of numbers, such as 20/40/15 or 100/300/100. The first two figures pertain to medical coverage. For instance, in the case of 100/300, the policy provides coverage of $100,000 per individual, with a maximum limit of $300,000 for all individuals involved. The final figure encompasses property damage. This property damage coverage can extend to the other party’s vehicle or any property that incurs damage as a result of the accident. In certain states, it is obligatory to acquire Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance, which covers medical expenses, lost income, and various other expenses. Additionally, you have the option to purchase insurance to safeguard yourself if the other driver is uninsured or underinsured.

In virtually all states, drivers are required to possess mandatory liability insurance coverage. This requirement ensures that drivers can cover the expenses associated with damage to other individuals or property in the event of an accident. Some states, like Wisconsin, have more flexible “proof of financial responsibility” mandates.

Commercial insurance for vehicles utilized or owned by businesses operates similarly to private auto insurance, with the exception that it does not cover personal use of the vehicle. Commercial insurance generally entails higher premiums than private insurance due to the broader range of coverage options offered to commercial users.

Insurance Providers

In the United States in 2017, the leading private passenger vehicle insurance companies, ranked by market share, included State Farm (18.1%), GEICO (12.8%), Progressive Corporation (9.8%), Allstate (9.3%), and USAA (5.7%). Individuals typically obtain insurance either by collaborating with an independent insurance agent or by consulting an authorized insurance broker. These brokers may represent multiple agencies, or there is an increasing trend of online brokers facilitating policy purchases through their websites.

Liability Coverage

Liability coverage, also known as Casualty insurance, provides protection for bodily injury (BI) or property damage (PD) for which the insured driver is held responsible. The amount of coverage, usually a fixed dollar amount, can vary depending on the jurisdiction. However, individuals can often choose to increase their coverage (prior to experiencing a loss) for an additional premium.

For example, property damage coverage comes into play when an insured driver (or 1st party) collides with a telephone pole, causing damage to the pole. Liability coverage will cover the cost of repairing the pole. Depending on the jurisdiction, the insured driver may also be liable for additional expenses related to the damage to the telephone pole, such as claims for loss of service by the telephone company.

Bodily injury coverage is relevant when an insured driver causes bodily harm to a third party, and the insured driver is held responsible for those injuries. However, in certain jurisdictions, the injured third party may first need to exhaust their own accident benefits coverage from their insurer (if they have one) or meet specific legal criteria, such as severe impairment, to make a claim or file a lawsuit under the insured driver’s (or first party’s) policy. Liability coverage also includes court costs and damages for which the insured driver may be deemed responsible if the third party sues them.

In some states, like New Jersey, it is illegal to operate a motor vehicle (or knowingly allow someone else to operate it) without having liability insurance coverage. If an accident occurs in a jurisdiction that requires liability coverage, both parties involved typically need to present copies of their insurance cards in court as proof of their liability coverage.

In certain jurisdictions, liability coverage can be obtained as either a combined single limit policy or a split limit policy:

Combined Single Limit

A combined single limit policy bundles together both property damage liability coverage and bodily injury coverage into a single, unified limit. To illustrate, let’s consider a scenario where an insured driver with a combined single liability limit is involved in an accident. In this accident, the insured driver collides with another vehicle, resulting in injuries to the driver and the passenger of the other vehicle. In this situation, the coverage would apply to cover the costs of repairing the damages to the other driver’s car, as well as the expenses associated with injury claims for both the driver and the passenger. All of these payments would be made from the same coverage limit provided by the combined single limit policy.

Split limits

A split limit liability coverage policy divides coverage into two distinct categories: property damage coverage and bodily injury coverage. In the previously mentioned example, payments for damages to the other driver’s vehicle would be covered under property damage coverage, while payments for injuries would fall under bodily injury coverage.

Bodily injury liability coverage is typically further divided into two limits: a maximum payment per person and a maximum payment per accident.

These limits are commonly expressed with slashes, following this format: “bodily injury per person”/”bodily injury per accident”/”property damage.” For instance, California mandates the following minimum coverage:

– $15,000 for injury/death to one person
– $30,000 for injury/death to more than one person
– $5,000 for property damage

This would be written as “$15,000/$30,000/$5,000.”

Another example is the state of Oklahoma, where drivers must have at least state minimum liability limits of $25,000/$50,000/$25,000. In the event that an insured driver is responsible for an accident involving a car carrying multiple occupants, the insurance company will cover up to $25,000 of one person’s medical expenses but will not exceed $50,000 for the injuries sustained by others in the accident. Furthermore, the insurance company will not pay more than $25,000 for property damage related to the vehicle that the insured driver collided with.

In the state of Indiana, the minimum liability limits are $25,000/$50,000/$10,000, which means there is a higher exposure to property damage for those who only carry the minimum coverage limits.

Rental Coverage

Typically, liability coverage obtained through a private insurer extends its protection to rental cars. Comprehensive policies, often referred to as “full coverage,” generally apply to the rental vehicle as well, although it’s advisable to confirm this in advance. Premiums for full coverage are determined by various factors, including the value of the insured’s own vehicle. However, this type of coverage doesn’t usually extend to rental cars because insurance companies are hesitant to take on responsibility for a claim that exceeds the value of the insured’s own vehicle. This is based on the assumption that a rental car might have a higher value than the insured’s personal vehicle.

Many rental car companies offer insurance options to cover potential damage to the rental vehicle. For many customers, purchasing these policies may not be necessary since credit card companies like Visa and MasterCard now offer supplementary collision damage coverage for rental cars when the rental transaction is made using one of their cards. It’s important to note that these benefits have limitations concerning the types of vehicles they cover.

Full Coverage

“Full coverage” is a commonly used term to describe a combination of comprehensive and collision coverages, with liability coverage often implied. However, it’s important to note that this term is somewhat misleading. Even within what’s commonly referred to as “full coverage” insurance, there are various types of coverage and optional levels for each. Using the term “full coverage” can sometimes lead to individuals being inadequately insured, which is why responsible insurance agents or brokers typically avoid using it when assisting clients.

In the United States, most financial lenders require vehicles that are financed to have collision coverage in addition to liability coverage. This requirement is in place so that the financial institution can protect itself from financial losses in case of an accident. Specific insurance requirements can vary between financial institutions and across states. The minimum deductibles and liability limits, which are sometimes mandated by leasing companies, are typically outlined in the loan agreement. Failing to maintain the required coverages may result in the lienholder purchasing insurance and adding the cost to the borrower’s monthly payments, or in some cases, repossession of the vehicle. Vehicles that are purchased with cash or fully paid off by the owner generally only require liability coverage. However, in certain situations, vehicles financed through “buy-here-pay-here” car dealerships, which cater to consumers with poor credit and handle financing directly without involving a bank, may require comprehensive and collision coverage based on the amount owed for the vehicle.

Collision

Collision coverage is a type of insurance that provides protection for vehicles involved in collisions. When you have collision coverage, you are typically required to pay a deductible. This coverage is intended to offer financial support for either repairing the damaged vehicle or providing a cash payout equivalent to the vehicle’s value if it is deemed irreparable or totaled. While collision coverage is typically optional, if you are planning to finance a car or take out a car loan, the lender will often require you to carry collision coverage for the duration of the financing term or until the vehicle is fully paid off. Rental car companies refer to collision coverage as Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) or Loss Damage Waiver (LDW).

It’s important to note that previous court cases have determined that an impact with a pedestrian is considered a collision with an object, thus qualifying as a collision claim.

Comprehensive

Comprehensive coverage, often referred to as other-than-collision coverage, comes with a deductible and provides protection for vehicles damaged by incidents that do not involve collisions. This type of coverage includes various situations such as damage caused by fire, theft (or attempted theft), vandalism, weather-related damage like wind or hail, and collisions with non-human animals.

In some cases, a few insurance companies may include “Acts of God” as part of comprehensive coverage, although this term is somewhat antiquated and not commonly used today. Essentially, it encompasses events or occurrences that are beyond human control, such as tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, or hail storms.

It’s worth noting that, within insurance definitions, the term “animal” does not encompass humans. Therefore, incidents involving collisions with humans are not considered under the definition of “animal.” An example of this distinction can be seen in the case of McKay v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., 933 F. Supp 635, (S.D.Tex., 1995), where an insured’s claim was denied for an incident involving an intoxicated pedestrian colliding with their vehicle on the freeway. Legally, animals are defined as “all animal life other than humans and signifies an inferior or irrational sentient being, generally, though not necessarily, possessed of the power of self-motion.”

Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage

Uninsured/Underinsured coverage, also known as UM/UIM, provides coverage if an at-fault party either does not have insurance, or does not have enough insurance. In effect, the insurance company pays the insured medical bills, then would subrogate from the at fault party. This coverage is often overlooked and very important. In Colorado, for example, it was estimated in 2009 that 15% of drivers were uninsured. Usually the limits match the liability limits. Some insurance companies do offer UM/UIM in an umbrella policy.

Some states maintain unsatisfied judgment funds to provide compensation to those who cannot collect damages from uninsured driver. Typically, the payout is not more than the minimum liability limits and the negligent driver remains responsible for reimbursing the state’s fund.

In the United States, the definition of an uninsured/underinsured motorist, and corresponding coverages, are set by state laws. In some states it is mandatory. In the case of underinsured coverage, two different triggers apply: a damages trigger which is based on whether the limits are insufficient to cover the injured party’s damages, and a limits trigger which applies when the limits are less than the injured party’s limits. According to a 2009 survey by trade association Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, 29 states have a limits trigger while 20 states have a damages trigger. Another variation is whether a particular state requires stacking of policy limits of different vehicles or policies.

Loss of Use

Loss of use coverage, often referred to as rental coverage, offers compensation for rental expenses incurred when an insured vehicle needs repairs due to a covered loss.

Loan/lease Payoff

Loan/lease payoff coverage, also known as GAP coverage or GAP insurance, was introduced in the early 1980s to provide protection to consumers based on buying and market trends.

Due to the rapid depreciation of a vehicle immediately after purchase, there is often a period during which the amount owed on the car loan exceeds the vehicle’s value, known as being “upside-down” or having negative equity. Consequently, if the vehicle is severely damaged and cannot be economically repaired during this time, the owner may still owe a significant amount on the loan. The increasing cost of cars, longer-term auto loans, and the growing popularity of leasing led to the creation of GAP protection. GAP waivers offer consumers protection when there’s a “gap” between their vehicle’s actual value and the amount owed to the bank or leasing company. In many cases, this insurance also covers the deductible on the primary insurance policy. Auto dealerships often offer these policies as a relatively inexpensive add-on to the car loan, providing coverage for the loan’s duration. However, it’s essential to note that GAP Insurance doesn’t always pay off the full loan value, including situations such as:

1. Unpaid delinquent payments at the time of loss.
2. Payment deferrals or extensions, commonly known as skips or skipping a payment.
3. Refinancing of the vehicle loan after the policy was purchased.
4. Late fees or other administrative fees assessed after the loan’s commencement.

Therefore, policyholders must understand that they may still owe on the loan, even if they’ve purchased a GAP policy. Failure to grasp this concept can lead to the lender pursuing legal action to collect the remaining balance, potentially damaging the policyholder’s credit.

Consumers should be aware that some states, like New York, mandate lenders of leased cars to include GAP insurance in the lease cost itself. This means that the dealer’s monthly price quote must incorporate GAP insurance, whether explicitly stated or not. Nonetheless, unscrupulous dealers sometimes take advantage of unsuspecting individuals by offering GAP insurance at an additional cost, on top of the monthly payment, without disclosing the state’s requirements.

Furthermore, certain vendors and insurance companies provide what’s known as “Total Loss Coverage.” While similar to standard GAP insurance, it differs in that, instead of paying off the negative equity on a completely totaled vehicle, the policy offers a specific amount, often up to $5,000, toward the purchase or lease of a new vehicle. Thus, to some extent, the distinction is negligible – in either case, the owner receives a specific sum of money. However, when deciding which type of policy to purchase, the owner should consider whether, in the event of a total loss, it’s more advantageous to have the policy cover the negative equity or provide a down payment on a new vehicle.

For instance, if a vehicle valued at $15,000 is declared a total loss, but the owner owes $20,000 on it, the “gap” amounts to $5,000. If the owner has traditional GAP coverage, the “gap” will be eliminated, allowing them to buy or lease another vehicle or choose not to. However, if the owner has “Total Loss Coverage,” they will need to cover the $5,000 “gap” personally and will then receive $5,000 toward the purchase or lease of a new vehicle, either reducing monthly payments in the case of financing or leasing or reducing the total purchase price when buying outright. Therefore, the decision on which type of policy to purchase will, in most cases, depend on whether the owner can pay off the negative equity in the event of a total loss and whether they intend to definitively purchase a replacement vehicle.

Towing

Vehicle towing coverage, often referred to as roadside assistance coverage, has traditionally been limited to covering the cost of towing related to accidents covered under the automobile insurance policy. This created a gap in coverage for tows associated with mechanical breakdowns, flat tires, and running out of gas. In response to this gap, insurance companies began offering towing coverage for these non-accident-related tows.

Personal Property

Personal items in a vehicle that are damaged as a result of an accident are generally not covered by the auto insurance policy. Property not affixed to the vehicle should typically be claimed under a home insurance or renters’ insurance policy. Nonetheless, certain insurance companies may provide coverage for unattached GPS devices designed for automobile use.

Auto insurance risk selection

Auto insurance risk selection is the procedure through which vehicle insurers assess whether to provide coverage to an individual and establish the appropriate insurance premium. The method by which insurance premiums are determined can vary depending on the jurisdiction, with some governments mandating the premiums, while in other cases, insurance companies set rates within a regulatory framework established by the government. Typically, insurers have more flexibility in determining the pricing for physical damage coverages compared to mandatory liability coverages.

Read More : Auto insurance risk selection

Cost

The automobile insurance market in the United States is valued at approximately 308 billion US dollars.

Auto insurance coverage costs vary significantly from state to state due to differing minimum coverage requirements. However, these requirements generally remain lower than the minimum coverage amounts mandated in most EEA (European Economic Area) countries participating in the Green Card system. In the USA, the annual average insurance cost falls within a range, with rates ranging from $983 in New Hampshire to $2,551 in Michigan. Opting for additional coverage typically results in an extra cost of approximately $1,000 per year.

Public policy considerations

In the United States, automotive insurance, which covers liability for injuries and property damage, is mandatory in most states, but the enforcement of this requirement varies from state to state. In Virginia, where insurance is not obligatory, residents have the option to pay the state a $500 annual fee per vehicle if they choose not to purchase liability insurance. Penalties for failing to acquire insurance vary by state but often involve significant fines, potential license and/or registration suspension or revocation, and in some cases, even the possibility of imprisonment. Typically, the minimum insurance coverage mandated by law is third-party insurance, which safeguards third parties from the financial repercussions of losses, damages, or injuries caused by a vehicle.

In an effort to encourage all drivers to carry liability insurance, California and New Jersey have implemented “Personal Responsibility Acts.” These laws prevent uninsured drivers from seeking compensation for non-economic damages (e.g., “pain and suffering”) in the event of any injury sustained while operating a motor vehicle.

North Carolina stands as the sole state that requires drivers to hold liability insurance before being issued a driver’s license. However, North Carolina does provide for a “fleet license” to be issued to drivers who lack insurance coverage. This fleet license permits these drivers to operate vehicles owned and insured by their employers. To convert the fleet license into a full license, the license holder must present a state form (DL-123) confirming their insurance coverage, with the signature of an insurance agent, and pay a ten-dollar fee.

Proof of insurance requirements also differ among states. While some states mandate that proof of insurance must be carried in the vehicle at all times, others do not. For example, North Carolina does not specify that proof of insurance must be carried in the vehicle but requires drivers to have this information to exchange with another driver in case of an accident. Some states permit the use of an electronic insurance card on a smartphone.

A proposed model by Arizona Department of Transportation Research Project Manager John Semmens suggests that car insurers should issue license plates and assume responsibility for the full cost of injuries and property damage caused by their policyholders, following a Disneyland-inspired approach. Under this model, license plates would expire at the end of the insurance coverage period, and policyholders would be required to return their plates to their insurance provider to receive a premium refund. Uninsured vehicles would be easily identifiable as they would lack license plates or have plates with expired dates.

Compulsory insurance discussion

History Of Car Insurance

With the invention of the automobile in the late 19th century came the inevitable side effect of automobile collisions. As automotive collisions increased in frequency, it became clear that, unlike other torts, which relied on personal responsibility, there was a possibility that automobiles would need to be governed by laws because “[t]here was no way of assuring that even though fault was assessed the victim of an automobile collision would be able to collect from the tortfeasor.”

This led Massachusetts and Connecticut to create the first financial responsibility and compulsory insurance laws. Connecticut’s 1925 financial responsibility law required any vehicle owner involved in a collision with damages over $100 to prove “financial responsibility to satisfy any claim for damages, by reason of personal injury, to, or death of, any person, of at least $10,000.” This early financial responsibility requirement only required vehicle owners to prove financial responsibility after their first collision. Massachusetts also introduced a law to address the problem of collisions, but theirs was a compulsory insurance, not financial responsibility law. It required automotive liability insurance as a prerequisite to vehicle registration.

Until 1956, when the New York legislature passed their compulsory insurance law, Massachusetts was the only state in the U.S. that required drivers to get insurance before registration. North Carolina followed suit in 1957 and then in the 1960s and 1970s numerous other states passed similar compulsory insurance laws. Since the genesis of automotive insurance schemes in 1925 nearly every state has adopted a compulsory insurance scheme.

Requirements By State

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The tables presented below outline the minimum liability requirements for vehicle owners in the United States. These requirements are categorized into two groups: compulsory and non-compulsory. To better understand the values, please refer to the explanatory table on the right.

Understanding the tables: XX/XX/XX = Bodily Injury Limit (per individual)/Bodily Injury Limit (per accident)/Property Damage Limit

For instance, when you see limits of 25/50/20, it means that after an accident, each injured person would receive a maximum of up to $25,000, with only $50,000 allowed for the entire accident. For example, if two people each need $25,000, the first person to file a claim would access the $50,000 limit, and you might be held responsible for the remainder if the accident was your fault. The last number represents the total coverage per accident for property damage, which in this case would be $20,000.

State Minimum Insurance Requirements Non compulsory insurance state
Alabama 25/50/25  
Alaska 50/100/25  
Arizona 25/50/15  
Arkansas 25/50/15  
California 15/30/5  
Colorado 25/50/15  
Connecticut 25/50/25  
District of Columbia 10/25/5  
Delaware 15/30/5  
Florida 0/0/10 FL requires at least $10,000 in PIP Coverage. Taxis: 125/250/50
Georgia 25/50/25  
Hawaii 20/40/10  
Idaho 25/50/15  
Illinois 20/40/15  
Indiana 25/50/25  
Iowa 20/40/15  
Kansas 25/50/10  
Kentucky 25/50/25  
Louisiana 15/30/25  
Maine 50/100/25  
Maryland 30/60/15  
Massachusetts 20/40/5 In lieu of auto insurance, individuals can either (1) deposit $10,000 in cash, stocks, or bonds with the State Treasurer who will issue a receipt or (2) obtain a motor vehicle liability bond equal to the state minimum limits.
Michigan 20/40/10  
Minnesota 30/60/10  
Mississippi 25/50/25  
Missouri 25/50/10  
Montana 25/50/10  
Nebraska 25/50/25  
Nevada 25/50/20  
New Hampshire N/A (Personal Responsibility Only) Yes, however you would be held responsible by law to pay for any bodily injuries or property damage in the event of an accident.
New Jersey 0/0/5 NJ requires at least $15,000 in PIP Coverage
New Mexico 25/50/10  
New York 25/50/10  
North Carolina 30/60/25  
North Dakota 25/50/25  
Ohio 20/50/25  
Oklahoma 25/50/25  
Oregon 25/50/20  
Pennsylvania 15/30/5  
Rhode Island 25/50/25  
South Carolina 25/50/25  
South Dakota 25/50/25  
Tennessee 25/50/15  
Texas 30/60/25 Yes, however financial responsibility should then be established through a surety bond or a deposit of $55,000 with the comptroller or the county judge.
Utah 25/65/15  
Vermont 25/50/10  
Virginia N/A (Personal Responsibility Only) Yes, however you will be required to pay $500 a year to drive uninsured in Virginia. (The fee can be prorated if you want to become insured in a shorter time than a year.) However this fee to the state DMV is NOT insurance; you would be held responsible for any injuries or damage in an accident.
Washington 25/50/10  
West Virginia 20/40/10  
Wisconsin 25/50/10  
Wyoming 25/50/20  

High - Risk Market

Insurers may hesitate to provide coverage to drivers, especially at an affordable rate, if they have particularly poor driving histories. To address this issue, states have established “residual market” programs, mandating that insurers make insurance accessible to such individuals. This is achieved through various methods, with the most common being an assigned risk plan. Other programs include joint underwriting associations, reinsurance facilities, and, in Maryland’s case, a state-owned fund subsidized by insurers. However, research by the Consumer Federation of America revealed that even drivers with safe driving records who require high-risk auto insurance may receive quotes from insurers that are higher than the average rates when they seek new coverage.

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