Car accidents -- even minor ones -- are stressful experiences. When you’re involved in an accident, you’re forced to think about police reports, car repairs, necessary medical care for any injuries sustained and of course, insurance companies. And although you pay your auto insurance premium to make sure you’re covered in such an event, you never want to actually have to use it. This is because being involved in car accident -- especially if you’re at fault -- can cause your insurance rates to rise significantly for a number of years.
Your Driving Record
Your insurance premium is based on a number of factors, including your age, sex, marital status and location. It is also heavily based on your driving record. People with good driving records pay lower rates, while those with blemishes (accidents and traffic violations) are considered a greater risk and therefore pay larger premiums. The length of time that an accident keeps your insurance rates higher depends on your state and the severity of the accident; however, it is usually around three years. Some insurance companies may gradually lower your premium over the course of the three years until your rate is back to normal. Of course, this is only if your driving record remains otherwise clean. Your insurance company or state department of insurance can tell you the timetable for your specific state.
Not all accidents are created equal. “At-fault” accidents are those that are caused by your negligence. Who is at fault in an accident depends on a number of factors. Sometimes, one party involved in the accident will willingly admit fault. In this case, it’s that party’s responsibility (usually through their insurance company) to cover injuries and damages to your vehicle. At other times, the police officially determine fault in an accident. In most states, the insurance company of the at-fault party will be responsible for covering property damage and medical costs associated with the accident. However, in certain “no-fault” states property damage is covered by the negligent party; although medical bills resulting from the accident are always paid by each party’s own insurance company. At-fault accidents usually cause a rate spike in your insurance premiums. Non-fault accidents may also cause a rise in insurance rates, especially if you file a claim. For example, this may happen if the other driver is uninsured, or the accident is a hit-and-run.
Rates Don’t Always Rise
Depending on your driving record and your insurance company’s guidelines, an accident may not cause your rates to rise. For instance, if the accident is a very minor fender bender and your driving record is otherwise spotless, your insurance company may not raise your rates. Additionally, some insurance companies offer “accident forgiveness,” which allows you one accident without a consequential hike in premiums. However, this kind of policy usually requires you to have a number of years of clean driving and be a customer of the insurance company for a certain number of years.
Other Factors Affecting Your Premiums
While accidents are commonly the source of an insurance rate hike, other factors can increase your rates. For instance, you may file a number of insurance claims for non-accident related issues, like broken windshields, weather damage or vandalism. These can cause your car insurance to go up. Traffic violations will also affect both your driving record and your insurance rates. Other items, like where you live, the length of your daily commute, and whether your car is garaged or parked on the street may also have an effect on your rates.
Kristen Radford Price began writing in 2005 for her campus newspaper. She has served as a feature writer for the life-and-style section of the "Daily Herald," a contributor to "Utah Valley Weekly," an editor for a small publishing house and now as director of communications for an Internet company. Radford has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Brigham Young University.