The state of Tennessee, like every other state, has laws in place to ensure that every driver on the road can pay for damages incurred as the result of a car accident. Tennessee’s state minimums require drivers to carry a specific amount of liability insurance for bodily injury and property damage, although insurance companies offer much more in the form of optional insurance coverage to further protect drivers.
In Tennessee, drivers must carry liability insurance to provide for injuries or death as the result of an accident, as well as repairs to or replacement of any property belonging to another person that is damaged in an accident. As a fault state, Tennessee holds drivers responsible for damages that result from their actions, and insurance is in place to make sure damages will be paid.
Tennessee drivers must carry at least:
- $25,000 for one person injured in an accident with a total of $50,000 for all persons injured in the same accident
- $15,000 to pay for damages incurred as the result of an at-fault accident to the vehicle or other personal property of another person
To provide greater protection against the financial consequences of an accident, Tennessee auto insurance companies offer a range of optional coverage.
Most drivers choose to carry liability limits that are higher than the legal minimum. This is because even a moderately serious accident can easily incur damages that are well above the required minimums in the state, leaving the driver responsible for the difference.
Higher liability limits allow for more protection from the most costly repercussions of an at-fault accident – liability for injuries, death, and property damage.
Additionally, Tennessee drivers may select from the following options:
- Collision Coverage – Most drivers choose to add this coverage in order to provide for damage to the insured vehicle in the event of an at-fault accident. Without this coverage, the insurance company will not pay to repair or replace your car in a situation where you are found at fault, and the other driver’s insurance is not responsible for your repairs. There is a deductible associated with this coverage.
- Comprehensive Coverage – This coverage pays for losses that are not the result of an accident. Included under comprehensive coverage are things like theft, vandalism, weather damage, fire, and glass damage due to rock chips and other non-collision incidents. This coverage also includes a deductible for most claims.
- Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist – This option pays for injuries or property damage in the event of an accident with another motorist who is either uninsured or underinsured – meaning that their coverage in inadequate to pay for the loss. It usually has limits matching the liability limits chosen on the policy.
- Medical Payments – This coverage provides for medical payments for you and your passengers that are not otherwise covered, regardless of whom is at fault in the accident.
- Other Options – Tennessee drivers can also choose to add coverage such as towing and labor coverage, rental car reimbursement, and more. Insurance companies may offer a wide selection of different options, depending on the company.
Proof of Insurance Laws and Penalties
It is illegal to drive in Tennessee without insurance, and drivers are also required by law to provide proof to a police officer on request that they are in compliance.
Proof of insurance is usually carried in the form of an insurance card provided by the insurance company, but can also be presented in the form of a declarations page or insurance binder. Drivers must present proof of insurance during traffic stops as well as at the scene of an accident, regardless of who is at fault.
Failure to carry insurance is a misdemeanor that can result in the following penalties:
- A fine of up to $100
- Suspension of your driver’s license
- A STOP placed on your vehicle, suspending the registration of the vehicle until proof of insurance is provided
In order to remove a STOP from the vehicle, drivers must provide proof of insurance in writing either by mail or by fax to the state through the contact information provided on the Department of Safety website.
Drivers who have been convicted of driving uninsured may be required to provide an SR-22, which is a document issued by the insurance company proving financial responsibility. The SR-22 can be filed for up to 5 years, but can also be canceled after three years. Should the policy be canceled for any reason, the insurance company is required to notify the Department of Safety and further penalties may apply.
Shopping for Car Insurance in Tennessee
According to a 2017 study of car insurance rates across the nation performed by Insure.com, Tennessee ranks at 35th, ranking right around the middle for average rates with an annual premium average of $1186. Tennessee insurance rates are calculated based on a range of factors, which each individual insurance company free to determine their rates weighing those factors in their own particular manner.
Tennessee law allows car insurance companies to use credit scores as a factor when determining auto insurance rates, along with factors such as driving history, type of vehicle, and use of the vehicle such as commuting distance or miles driven.
High-Risk Drivers and Insurance
Each insurance company can determine which drivers qualify for a policy under their underwriting guidelines. Some drivers may be considered high risk due to poor driving history, usually including major violations, multiple tickets, and accidents, or other issues.
In some cases, high-risk drivers may not be able to obtain insurance on the open market. Tennessee insurance companies are all required by law to participate in an assigned risk program known as the Tennessee Automobile Insurance Plan. This plan assigns high-risk drivers to a particular insurance company, which cannot refuse to provide coverage. It allows the risk of insuring high-risk drivers across multiple insurance companies.
High-risk auto insurance under this plan is likely to be very expensive, and the best way to reduce these rates is to maintain a good driving record in order to obtain insurance on the open market.
Teen Drivers in Tennessee
Teens in Tennessee proceed through a graduated licensing system that is designed to improve driving skills over time and make the roads safer for all drivers. The system is made up of four stages, each of which has certain rules and restrictions.
The first stage of the graduated licensing system is the learner’s permit, which allows a teen to begin practicing behind the wheel with supervision. In order to obtain a permit, the teen must:
- Be at least 15 years old
- Pass a vision test
- Pass a written knowledge test
- Be enrolled full-time in school and provide proof of attendance and satisfactory progress
There are restrictions that apply to teens with a learner’s permit:
- There must be a fully licensed driver over the age of 21 in the passenger seat at all times
- Driving between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. is prohibited
- Use of a mobile device is prohibited
Intermediate Restricted License (Level 1)
Teens can apply for an intermediate license at the age of 16 and after completing 180 days with a permit and 50 hours of driving practice time, 10 of which must be at night. After passing a road test, the Intermediate Restricted License will be issued, with the following restrictions:
- Driving between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. is prohibited except when a parent, guardian, or other approved driver is in the passenger seat, for work or school activities, or for other approved activities including hunting or fishing with a valid license
- There can be only one passenger in the vehicle, unless the passenger is over 21 with a valid license, or is an immediate family member or for approved school transportation
- Use of a mobile device is prohibited
Intermediate Unrestricted License (Level 2)
After one year, teen drivers can graduate to the Unrestricted Intermediate License. This license has no restrictions, although the use of a mobile device while driving remains prohibited. The license will still display the word intermediate prominently.
At the age of 18 or when the teen graduates high school the license can be upgraded to a full license without the intermediate stamp and with no restrictions.
Teens in Tennessee must maintain school attendance at all times or face revocation of driving privileges. A student who drops out may regain driving privileges by returning to school and making satisfactory progress, however, a second dropout will result in full termination of the driver’s license until the age of 18.
Teen drivers must submit an affidavit signed by a parent or legal guardian guaranteeing financial responsibility. Parents who choose to revoke financial responsibility must sign a form requesting that the teen’s license is canceled.
As soon as a teen driver obtains their first intermediate license, they must be added to an insurance policy to guarantee responsibility. In most cases, the teen is added to the policy belonging to a parent or guardian and can remain there as long as they are living at home. Teens who establish a residence away from home will need to obtain their own personal insurance policy.
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