If you want to learn about car insurance in Washington, we’ve got all the information you’ll need right here on this page. Keep reading for information on required coverage, penalties for driving uninsured, insurance for ride-sharing services, and how personal injury protection works in Washington State.
Washington state is a “tort” state where car insurance is required for all drivers.
Washington law has certain standards that auto insurance policies must meet. Every policy must include a minimum amount of liability coverage. The following table breaks down the requirements.
|Required coverage types||Minimum amount of coverage|
|Bodily injury liability||$25,000 for each person’s injuries in an accident
$50,000 total for all injuries in an accident
|Property damage liability||$10,000 total per accident|
When someone driving your car causes an accident, it pays for victims’ medical and repair bills. However, it only pays up to a certain amount. Minimum policies include $50,000 worth of coverage for medical bills and $10,000 for property damages. If you get the minimum amount of liability insurance, you may see it referred to as 25/50/10 coverage. You can buy more than the minimums to be better protected.
Remember, liability doesn’t cover the driver’s medical bills or car repairs. They only cover those expenses for accident victims.
If you break the law and don’t buy coverage, it could cost you. You could get stuck having to pay other people’s medical and repair bills if someone crashes your car. On top of that, you could have to pay hundreds of dollars in fines and fees:
|Number of offenses||Fine|
|Any||At least $450|
In the Evergreen State, you can prove that you’re insured with your smartphone or other electronic device. This is thanks to the electronic proof law, which went into effect in 2013.
For the electronic document to be valid proof of insurance, it should clearly state all of the following:
In addition to liability coverage, there are optional coverages you can add. They’ll raise the cost of your insurance, but they’ll also provide greater protection. The following are the most widely available coverage add-ons in the state.
It pays for repairing or replacing the insured car if it’s damaged by something other than a collision. Some examples of this type of damage are vandalism, hail damage, and theft. In 2011, more than 4 out of every 5 Washington drivers bought comprehensive coverage, according to data from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.
Comprehensive coverage’s protection against vehicle thefts may be especially important for drivers in Yakima and Spokane. Those two metropolitan areas had the highest vehicle theft rates in all of Washington, according to a 2012 report from the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB). The report showed these two areas also had the 5th and 9thhighest rates of auto theft, respectively, out of all metropolitan areas in the U.S.
It pays for repairing or replacing the insured vehicle after an accident. In 2011, nearly 3 out of every 4 Washington drivers bought collision coverage, according to data from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.
It pays your medical bills and the medical bills of your family and passengers after an accident. It does so when the driver who caused the accident either:
It pays for repairing your car after an accident caused by a driver who either:
It pays you and your household members’ medical bills and other expenses after an accident. It provides coverage no matter who caused the accident.
It also covers:
It’s optional, but Washington state law requires that insurers offer it to you. If you don’t want it, you must reject it in writing.
Washington PIP must provide the following benefits, according to officials:
If you want additional coverage, you may be able to purchase higher limits.
It pays for the cost of renting a car after an accident.
It pays for towing and labor due to a mechanical breakdown.
It pays the difference between an insurance company’s payment for a totaled car and the remaining balance on the car’s loan or lease. Washington state regulators offer examples of how loan/lease coverage works.
Statewide, about 16% of drivers are uninsured, according to the Insurance Research Council. That’s a little above the nationwide average. If someone crashes into you, you have about a 1-in-6 chance that he or she doesn’t have insurance. That means they won’t be able to pay for your damages after an accident.
If someone who injures you in an accident doesn’t have insurance, you may need to rely on your own policy. But not all people have the coverage they need. The minimum coverage required by the state doesn’t include protection for these situations.
The following optional coverages will pay for medical bills for you, your family, and any passengers if they were injured by an uninsured driver:
The following optional coverages will pay for repairing your car if it’s damaged by an uninsured driver:
If you don’t have any of the coverages listed here, you might not be able to get your medical bills and/or property damages covered.
Washington uses a “tort” system for car insurance claims. That means if someone injures you or wrecks your car, their liability insurance pays your medical and repair bills.
But in some cases, the other driver won’t be 100% responsible for the accident. Your actions could have contributed to the accident, and you could be partially responsible. This makes things a little more complicated.
If you’re partially responsible, it changes how much you can get from the other driver’s insurer. Washington uses “pure comparative fault” to determine payment. That means the amount you get for your bills will be reduced by your percentage of fault.
For example, if you’re 20% responsible for the accident, the other driver’s insurer doesn’t pay 100% of your bills. Instead, it pays only 80%, since you were 20% responsible. So in this example, if you have $10,000 in bills from an accident, the other driver’s insurer has to pay only $8,000.
So what if the other driver’s insurer doesn’t pay your bills? You use your own policy. Medical payments coverage will help pay your medical bills. Collision will help pay your repair bills. But both of those coverages are optional. You’ll be on your own if you didn’t add them to your policy.
Washington car insurance premiums are cheaper than average. The average cost of a policy in the state was about 2.4% lower than the 2011 national average, according to data from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.
If you drive safely, infrequently, or both, you may want to look into a usage-based discount program. These programs use a device you install in your car to track how far it’s driven and/or if it’s driven safely. Depending on how you drive, you could potentially get a discount of up to 30%.
The following major insurers offer usage-based discounts in the Evergreen State:
State law rewards older drivers who maintain their driving skills. Washington auto insurers must give you a discount if you’re 55 years old or older and complete an accident prevention course. However, to get the discount, it must be a one of the collision prevention courses approved by the Department of Licensing. These courses are at least 8 hours long.
Washington state was one of the first in the U.S. to introduce a law regulating rental rideshare services. These services allow car owners to rent out their own car while they’re not using it for a fee.
The insurance specifics of this situation can be tricky. But the law helps by basically turning off your personal policy when your car’s being rented out. While it’s rented out, the car-sharing service’s policy takes over. This keeps the driver’s own private policy out of the picture.
Still, some rideshare renters have had problems. In other states, rideshare accidents have shown up in court involving severe injuries that have meant a lot of money. In some cases, the amount of money needed to treat injuries has exceeded the rideshare program’s policy.
If you’re going to sign up for one of these services, don’t do it on a whim. Check with your insurer first. Ask them about what could happen if your car is involved in an accident and if you’ll be able to keep your coverage if you rent out your car.
If you’re buying from a small insurance company or agent you’ve never heard of before, you may want to make sure it’s licensed to do business in your state. If you buy a policy from an unlicensed agent or company, your coverage may be worthless. Washington regulators monitor who is and isn’t licensed in the state, and they provide an online tool that you can use to look up license information.
The state’s insurance regulator lists details about complaints from consumers, so you’ll be able to know the complaint background of a company.
Also, consumers can file a complaint if they want regulators to follow up on a problem they have with their Washington car insurance company.
If you’ve had a hard time finding a car insurer who will cover you (usually because of marks on your driving record), you can still turn to the Washington Automobile Insurance Plan. The Plan is the car insurer of last resort for the state’s high-risk drivers.
In an attempt to get more drivers licensed and insured, Washington state allows undocumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses. The Evergreen State was one of the first in the U.S. to introduce such a law.
With the proper documents proving that you’re a Washington state resident, you can get driving privileges. Undocumented drivers still need to obtain Washington state car insurance, and obey the same traffic safety laws as other drivers.
Want to find out more? The Washington State Department of Licensing has details for you about what kind of documents you need when you apply, under the “proof of Washington residence” section.
If you're 55 and older, you can get a discount on your Washington car insurance premiums by taking an 8-hour-long accident prevention course approved by the Department of Licensing.