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

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, especially if your state requires uninsured motorist coverage. In fact, by one industry estimate, drivers average a collision claim every 17.9 years.

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.

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      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. Eleven states also require underinsured motorist coverage. States set different minimum liability limits, as well.

      StateRequires UM?Coverage Requirements
      New HampshireYesBased on liability coverage
      New JerseyYes$15K/$30K
      New MexicoNoN/A
      New YorkYes$25K/$50K
      North CarolinaYes$30k/$60k
      North DakotaYes$25K/$50K
      Rhode IslandNoN/A
      South CarolinaYes$25K/$50K
      South DakotaYes$25K/$50K
      West VirginiaYes$20K/$40K

      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, 25% 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.

      Uninsured motorist coverage vs. underinsured motorist coverage

      Uninsured motorist coverage and underinsured motorist coverage are often grouped together when buying car insurance. However, these are actually two different types of coverage. Some states require both coverages, and some require one or the other.

      When you get into an accident in an at-fault state, the driver who caused the crash is responsible for reimbursing you for your losses using their insurance. But what happens if the at-fault driver is uninsured? That’s where uninsured motorist coverage comes into play. Uninsured motorist coverage protects you in an accident if the at-fault has no car insurance coverage.

      Let’s look at another possible situation—you get into an accident, and the at-fault driver has car insurance, but not enough coverage to reimburse you for the damages in full. This is where underinsured motorist coverage kicks in. If a driver doesn’t have enough coverage to compensate you for vehicle damages, for example, they’ll pay what they can and your underinsured motorist coverage will cover the rest of the cost.

      Uninsured motorist coverage and underinsured motorist coverage applies to vehicle damages, medical payments and property damage after an accident. They are both important coverages to have, because not all drivers have car insurance (even though it’s illegal).

      In fact, there’s no guarantee that a driver carrying the state’s required minimum amount of insurance will have enough coverage to fully cover the cost of an accident. Specifically, underinsured motorist coverage is designed to cover the gap between the state’s required minimum amount of coverage, and the actual cost of an accident.

      How to submit an uninsured motorist claim

      As you can imagine, filing an uninsured motorist claim is much different than filing a regular car insurance claim. In a typical accident situation, you would exchange insurance information with the other driver, and submit their details to your insurance company. But when you get into an accident with an uninsured driver, the claims process changes.

      After an accident, you should always call the police. After speaking with you and the other driver, the officer should let you know that the at-fault driver doesn’t have insurance. In that case, you’ll want to gather as much information as possible, take photos of the damage and find potential witnesses.

      Next, you’ll need to notify your insurance company of the accident, and explain the situation in detail. Usually, insurance companies have a time limit for how long you have to report an uninsured motorist claim. It’s best to report the accident to your insurance company as soon as possible after the accident occurs.

      If you had medical bills or vehicle damages, keep your records and receipts to give to your insurance company. You can also ask for the police report that was filed at the scene of the accident. Based on the losses you faced, and witness and police reports, your insurance company will compensate you, up to the limits of your uninsured motorist coverage policy.

      Read: [How to File a Diminished Value Claim After an Accident]

      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.

      FAQs – Uninsured motorist coverage

      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% of drivers are uninsured, consider buying coverage. However, if you live in Maine, which has the lowest number of uninsured drivers (4.5%), 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.

      If you’re caught without the state-required minimum coverage, your driving privileges may be suspended and you may face penalties. However, most insurance carriers will automatically add the coverage to your policy if you’re in a state that requires it.

      We welcome your feedback on this article. Contact us at inquiries@thesimpledollar.com with comments or questions.

      Elizabeth Rivelli

      Contributing Writer

      Elizabeth is a contributor to The Simple Dollar, where she reviews insurance providers and policies. She has more than three years of experience writing for top online insurance and finance publications, including Bankrate, Coverage.com and Reviews.com.

      Reviewed by

      • Courtney Mihocik
        Courtney Mihocik
        Loans Editor

        Courtney Mihocik is an editor at The Simple Dollar who specializes in personal loans, student loans, auto loans, and debt consolidation loans. She is a former writer and contributing editor to Interest.com, PersonalLoans.org, and elsewhere.