UPDATED: Mar 20, 2020
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The state of Washington mandates that all drivers carry a minimum amount of coverage to provide for financial responsibility in the event of an accident. While most drivers meet this requirement with an auto insurance policy, Washington also allows drivers to use a bond or certificate of deposit to prove financial responsibility.
Washington drivers can choose to meet the financial responsibility law’s requirements in a few ways, although the majority of drivers choose to purchase an auto insurance policy. The legal minimums for auto insurance in Washington are:
- Bodily Injury coverage in the amount of $25,000 per person and $50,000 total per incident to pay for injuries or death as the result of an accident
- Property damage coverage in the amount of $10,000 to pay for damage to another person’s vehicle or other property as the result of an accident
There are two other methods of meeting the requirement for liability coverage. A third method, self-insurance, is available only to fleets of 26 or more vehicles.
- Certificate of Deposit made with the Department of Licensing or in a bank account set up for the state for $60,000
- Surety bond in the amount of $60,000 set up with a bond company licensed in the state
Unlike many states, Washington does not require liability insurance for motorcycles, but many riders still choose to take out a policy to protect themselves nonetheless.
In addition to what is required by law, Washington drivers can select from a number of options to add extra protection to their insurance policy. Most drivers elect to increase their liability limits above the legal minimum in order to offer better protection from the high costs of a serious accident. In addition to increased liability, drivers can choose from other coverage options.
- Collision coverage to pay for damage to your own vehicle in the event of an at-fault accident. This coverage usually has a deductible that the driver must cover before benefits apply.
- Comprehensive coverage, to pay for damage or loss as a result of any incident that is not a collision. Things that fall under comprehensive coverage include theft, vandalism, fire, and weather damage. Comprehensive coverage can also pay for glass repair and replacement.
- Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist coverage, which pays for injuries and property damage to you, your passengers, and your vehicle if the person responsible for the accident is either uninsured or does not have sufficient coverage to pay for all of the damage.
- Towing and labor, which provides roadside assistance and pays to have your vehicle towed in case of a breakdown.
Washington Proof of Insurance Law
In Washington, you are required not only to have insurance but also to carry proof and present it at the request of a law enforcement officer. Insurance cards must be kept with the vehicle at all times.
The penalty for driving uninsured in Washington is a relatively high fine, which can increase with multiple infractions. If you are pulled over and are unable to present proof of insurance you will be required to appear in court to face charges. Drivers who are convicted of driving uninsured will be fined a minimum of $450.
If you are able to present proof in court that you did have insurance at the time of the stop, you will still be required to pay court fees as a result of failure to have the proof on hand.
A driver who is involved in an accident while uninsured can face a much larger financial impact than a simple fine. The driver can be held responsible in court for injuries and property damage and can be required to pay out of pocket if there is a judgment handed down.
Drivers caught uninsured may be required to file an SR-22, which is a proof of financial responsibility document. Failure to keep a current SR-22 on file after a conviction can result in further penalties against the driver. Usually, a driver is required to maintain and SR-22 for three years.
Buying Car Insurance in Washington
According to a 2017 study of average insurance rates by Insure.com, Washington’s rates fall below the average, ranking at number 32. The average rate based on sample data at the time was $1216.
The state Insurance Commissioner regulates and approves any rate changes by insurance companies in an effort to keep rates lower, but there are a number of factors on which insurance companies can base rates which can greatly affect the cost. In addition to age, experience, type of car, and vehicle use factors, insurance companies are permitted to use credit scores within certain guidelines when calculating rates.
Insurance companies in Washington can also request a CLUE report (Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange) when quoting or writing an insurance policy. This provides them with information about driving history that can be used in the rating process.
There are many insurance companies writing policies in Washington. In order to help drivers make the right choice, the Insurance Commissioner makes complaint information available regarding all of the insurance companies licensed in the state.
Insuring High-Risk Drivers
Washington law requires all drivers to have insurance, regardless of driving record. Those with problems including major violations or multiple tickets and accidents are considered high-risk drivers and may have trouble obtaining insurance.
In order to make sure everyone has access to coverage, the Washington Automobile Insurance Plan is available. This plan will assign high-risk drivers to an insurance company, which must accept the driver and provide a policy. This insurance can be very costly and is a last-resort choice for drivers who have been turned down for coverage on the open market.
Teen Drivers in Washington
Washington state uses a graduated licensing system much like that that in many other states. This teaches teens driving skills over time and allows them to learn while keeping themselves and other motorists safe on the road.
The graduated system has three steps:
There are two ways to obtain an instructional permit in the state of Washington:
- Enroll in a driver education course approved by the state. This allows the teen to obtain a permit at the age of 15, and the written test is waived.
- Pass a written knowledge test when you are at least 15 ½ years old. Although this test to obtain a permit can be taken before enrolled in driver education, all teens are still required to take a course to move to the next licensing level.
With a permit, the teen driver can begin practicing behind the wheel as long as a supervising driver is in the passenger seat. That driver must have held a license for at least 5 years.
Before taking the road test, the driver must complete a total of 50 hours of practice time, at least 10 of which must be at night. The permit is valid for one year and can be renewed one time.
After completing an approved driver education course and the requisite hours behind the wheel, teens of at least 16 years old can take the road test for an intermediate license. There are several restrictions on this license that must be followed at all times:
- For the first 6 months, the driver may not have any passengers under the age of 20 who are not immediate family members
- For the second 6 months, the driver may have no more than three passengers under the age of 20, with the exception of immediate family members
- For the first 12 months, driving is not permitted between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. unless a supervising driver is present. The one exception is for approved agricultural business
- Cell phone use, even hands-free, is prohibited at all times. The only exception is if you need to report an emergency.
At 18 years old teens can graduate to a full license. At this time there are no more restrictions that must be followed.
Once a teen driver obtains an intermediate license or above, they are required to carry insurance in compliance with the state law. Most teens can be added to the insurance policy of a parent or guardian for as long as they live at home or are away at school, or teens can opt to get their own insurance.
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