What Is Uninsured Motorist Coverage (and Do I Need It)?

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If you’re like almost 90% of motorists, you have some type of auto insurance to cover you, your passengers, other motorists and your personal property in the event of an accident, which is important because the vast majority of people get into a car accident at some point in their lives. In fact, by one industry estimate, drivers average a collision claim every 17.9 years.

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Auto liability insurance, which covers bodily injury and property damage when you’re at fault for an accident, is required in every state except New Hampshire, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

Unfortunately, even if you live in a state that requires auto liability insurance and you are in full compliance with the law, you can find yourself in financial trouble if you get in an accident. Why? Because even states with compulsory insurance have issues with uninsured motorists, and if you get in an accident with an uninsured (or underinsured) driver, you could find yourself on the hook for repairs, damages, and more. That’s when having uninsured motorist insurance comes in handy.

What is uninsured motorist coverage?

If you’re hit by a driver who does not have car insurance, uninsured motorist coverage helps pay for damages to your vehicle and your medical bills so you don’t get stuck paying for them out-of-pocket. There are two main types of uninsured motorist coverage:

  • Uninsured motorist bodily injury coverage (UMBI): Bodily injury coverage will cover some or all of your medical bills if you’re in an accident caused by an uninsured driver. Sometimes, this coverage also applies to a family member who is driving your car or passengers in the car at the time of the crash. It applies to medical expenses, lost wages and pain and suffering for you and anyone else in your vehicle at the time of the accident. It may also cover the gap between the other driver’s liability insurance and your costs. This type of uninsured motorist coverage typically comes with a split limit, meaning that coverage amounts vary depending on whether the claim is per person or per accident — for example, $15,000 per person or $30,000 per accident. Motorists can also opt to purchase a combined single limit policy, which pays out a set amount per accident.
  • Uninsured motorist property damage coverage (UMPD): Property damage coverage helps you pay for repairs to your car if you’re in a crash caused by an uninsured driver. It also covers damage to your property in the event that you or your belongings are involved in an accident with an uninsured driver. UMPD would cover repairs to your car and anything you had in your car at the time of an accident, and it would also cover damage to your property—for example, repairs to your landscaping should a car jump the curb and tear up your lawn or fence. DMV.org notes that uninsured property damage coverage isn’t required or even available in every state.

Drivers can also choose to purchase underinsured motorist coverage, which is often bundled with uninsured motorist coverage. Underinsured motorist coverage kicks in when the at-fault driver’s car insurance has liability limits that are too low to cover all the damages and expenses they’re responsible for, such as repairs to your vehicle or your medical bills. You can also get underinsured motorist bodily injury coverage to help with medical costs in particular.

Do I need uninsured motorist coverage?

If you live in a state that requires uninsured motorist coverage, obviously it’s in your best interests to comply with the law. Currently, some form of UM coverage (or financial responsibility) is required in 20 states — Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia. Eleven states also require underinsured motorist coverage. States set different minimum liability limits, as well.

Sharp-eyed readers might have noticed that New Hampshire is among the states that require some form of underinsured motorist coverage. While New Hampshire does not require drivers or vehicle owners to purchase any specific type of car insurance, it does require them to prove their ability to pay for costs associated with an accident. Uninsured drivers who can’t come to an agreement with the other party in an accident with costs exceeding $1,000 can make restitution directly to the New Hampshire DMV to avoid the suspension of their driving privileges.

But what about everyone else? If you live in a state that doesn’t require uninsured motorist insurance coverage, you’re not legally obligated to carry it.

However, one look at the Insurance Research Council’s 2017 study on states with the most uninsured motorists might change your mind. For example, over a quarter of drivers in Florida were uninsured in 2015, as were one in five drivers in Tennessee, Michigan and New Mexico. Even if uninsured motorist coverage isn’t required in your state, it’s still a good idea to purchase coverage to avoid paying for vehicle repairs and expensive medical bills out-of-pocket that could put you in debt.

Other reasons you might want to consider uninsured motorist coverage include:

  • Your state’s minimum liability coverage is unusually low.
  • You have a valuable vehicle that will be expensive to repair or replace.
  • You want hit-and-run driver coverage.
  • You want coverage for being a pedestrian who is hit by a car.
  • You’re uncomfortable with taking the risk of being hit by an uninsured driver.

How much does uninsured motorist coverage cost?

Adding uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage to your policy will increase the cost of your car insurance premiums — but not by a lot.

The price of uninsured motorist coverage varies by insurance provider and by state, but it’s generally inexpensive. At Hanover Insurance, for example, it costs an average of $67 a year or about $5 a month.The amount you’ll pay directly correlates to the number of uninsured drivers in your state. For example, Florida has 26.7% uninsured drivers, so your rate will be more expensive than somewhere with a lower percentage because your risk of getting in an accident with someone without adequate coverage is higher.

To determine how much uninsured motorist coverage you should purchase, check to see if your state requires it. For states that do require it, the typical minimum amount of coverage is $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident. However, if you’re electing to purchase uninsured motorist coverage on your own, you need to think about how much coverage you can afford and how much risk you’re willing to take.

If you live in a state with a high number of uninsured drivers, you are statistically more at risk of getting hit by an uninsured driver, and therefore might want to opt for more coverage. The higher the limit you choose—say, $100,000 in bodily injury per accident—the higher your annual premium will be. You’ll spend less on your annual premium if you choose a lower level of coverage—$20,000 in bodily injury per accident—but you run the risk of having to pay out-of-pocket for medical bills that exceed the amount of coverage you choose.

Nobody wants to pay more for car insurance, but it only takes one driver without adequate coverage to cause you a major financial headache that lasts long after an accident. If uninsured motorist insurance coverage is available in your state and won’t add a whole lot to your annual premium, you might want to take advantage of it.

How does stacking insurance policies work?

If you insure more than one car on your policy, you may have the ability to “stack” your uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage in the event of an accident.

For example, if you own two cars that have uninsured motorist insurance coverage at $10,000 each, and one of those vehicles is damaged in an accident in which the at-fault driver is uninsured, you can apply the coverage from both of your cars ($20,000 total) to the single accident.

Note that if you decide to stack insurance policies, you’ll likely see an increase in your premiums, and stacking coverage isn’t permitted in some states.

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Frequently asked questions

What is the difference between uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage?

With uninsured motorist coverage, your vehicle repairs and medical bills are covered if you’re in an accident and the at-fault driver does not have insurance. Underinsured motorist coverage protects you in the event that you’re in an accident and the at-fault driver does not have enough insurance to cover your vehicle repairs or medical expenses.

What states require uninsured motorist coverage?

There are 20 states that require uninsured motorist coverage—Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia. If your state is on this list, check to see how much minimum coverage is required.

How much uninsured motorist coverage should I have?

Assuming you live in a state that doesn’t require uninsured motorist coverage, the amount of coverage you should have depends on a number of factors. In some states, there is a minimum amount of coverage you need to purchase.

If you’re buying optional coverage, the most important thing to consider is the number of uninsured drivers in your state. If you live in a state like Florida, where over 26 percent of drivers are uninsured, consider buying coverage. However, if you live in Maine, which has the lowest number of uninsured drivers (4.5 percent), you might be able to get away without coverage or with less coverage.

How much uninsured motorist coverage you need comes down to how much risk you’re willing to take and how much money you can afford to pay out-of-pocket if you’re in an accident.