How Long Will an Accident Stay on My Car Insurance Record?
Accidents are shocking, but they happen. Dealing with insurance claims, police reports and potentially higher premiums are part of the process— even when you're not at fault for the accident. Fortunately, an accident will typically stay on your car insurance record for only three to five years.
Keep reading to learn how an accident can affect your insurance rates until it falls off your record.
How Long Do Accidents Stay On Driving Records?
When you report a car accident to the DMV, that information is publicly available typically for three to five years. Car insurance carriers access that information when determining your insurance rates.
A minor car accident involving a fender bender would likely drop off sooner than a serious driving offense, like driving under the influence (DUI). Your state also makes a difference — it takes 10 years for a DUI conviction in California but only five years in Kentucky, for instance.
Below is a general idea of how long different traffic violations remain on your driving record. Again, keep in mind that these are general estimates and you should consult your state's DMV for exact numbers.
Length on Record
First minor accident (with accident-forgiveness)
3-5 years (but you will not be subject to increased premiums)
Hit and run
Note: Your driving record and the driving history your insurance company sees are two different things. Some states may carry a permanent driving record, showing all of your accidents and traffic offenses from your first time behind the wheel. However, insurance records may only pull your driving history records from the three to seven most recent years.
Here are a few examples of how long some major cities keep accidents on driving records:
New York City, NY - 3 additional years after the accident or conviction.
Los Angeles, CA - 3 years from the date of the accident.
Chicago, IL - 7 years to life depending on the situation.
Houston, TX - 3 years after the accident.
Phoenix, AZ - 5 years from the date of conviction.
What Happens To My Insurance Rates If I Get Into an Accident?
Your insurance rates will likely increase by a specific amount or percentage after reporting a car accident to your insurance company. A 2017 CFA report showed that drivers in select cities experienced an average increase of 10% or more following an accident in which they were not at-fault.
National Average Car Insurance Premium in 2021
Annual Premium after 10% Increase
The calculations involved in the premium increase will vary per insurance provider. Typically, the following factors are considered:
Severity of the accident (e.g., fender bender vs. driving while impaired)
Who was at fault
How many claims you've already filed (e.g., first time accident vs. fifth accident within 12 months)
Insurance companies raise premiums to protect against the higher risk of drivers who get into car accidents. The price increase is usually temporary. Maintaining a clean driving record for at least three years typically returns your premiums back to normal. When it comes to more severe accidents involving bodily injury (e.g., you were driving impaired), many insurance companies may not allow you to renew your policy.
Accident forgiveness is an optional auto insurance coverage that may prevent your insurance rates from increasing after your first at-fault accident. While this coverage is an additional cost, the long-term savings versus paying three years or more of higher premiums could be worth it.
There are a few things about accident forgiveness coverage you should note:
Accident forgiveness may not be available in all states. Be sure to double-check coverage with your insurance carrier.
Not all insurance companies offer accident forgiveness.
Your insurance carrier may require you to meet certain requirements, such as no car accidents within the past five years.
Severe Traffic Convictions
If you've committed serious traffic violations, like driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, your state may require you to increase your insurance coverage limits. Virginian drivers, for example, must obtain twice the minimum coverage as ordinary drivers.
What If The Accident Wasn't My Fault?
While it is common practice for insurance carriers to raise premiums after an accident regardless of who is at fault, this is not always the case. The auto insurance premium increase can vary per company and city. There is no hard and fast rule and the increase (or not) is left to the insurance carrier's discretion.
Should I avoid reporting the accident?
No, sweeping the accident under a rug and hiding it from your insurance carrier is generally a bad idea. The other party in the accident could reach out to your insurance company. Your insurance carrier, caught off guard, may not have the resources to represent you properly. After finding out that you failed to report the accident, they may even refuse to renew your auto insurance policy.
How Do I Get Insured With an Accident on My Record?
While an accident record is unfavorable to most insurance carriers, it does not disqualify you from buying insurance. Car insurance is legally required in most states and most insurance carriers will work with you — higher insurance rates, however, would be the likely tradeoff.
Minor at-fault accidents shouldn't make it too difficult to find car insurance but severe driving convictions, like a DUI, can. Some insurance carriers may not take you on as a new customer or renew your policy as an existing customer. With limited options, you may need to work with a carrier who specializes in high-risk drivers. You may also require an SR22, a document showing proof that high-risk drivers have the minimum amount of insurance required by their state.
How Can I Lower My Insurance Rates After an Accident?
Here are a few ways to offset increase car insurance rates following an accident:
Compare rates with other insurers: Shop around among different insurance providers to secure the best auto insurance rate for you.
Bundle auto with another policy: Your insurance carrier may offer a discount when purchasing another policy, such as home or life insurance.
Increase your deductible: Pay lower premiums by raising your out-of-pocket cost.
Enroll in telematics: Telematics is technology installed into your car or phone that analyzes your driving behaviors. Safe driving behaviors often earn you a discount.
Ask about other discounts: Many insurance carriers offer additional discounts, including multi-car policies, low-mileage usage, affiliation (e.g. military, teachers), defensive driving course and green fuel.
Will My Car Insurance Company Report Accidents to the DMV?Your car insurance is usually not the entity that reports an accident to the DMV. Each state has its own rules regarding reporting an accident. In most states, you are the one to report the accident if local authorities do not. Depending on the severity of the accident, you may even be required to report it within 24 hours.
Find the Best Car Insurance Rates Today
Although an accident can increase your auto insurance rates, you can expect your premiums to return to normal within three to five years (if you steer clear of future accidents). However, you can find a cheaper rate today with a little help from SmartFinancial. Just enter your zip code below to compare rates and coverages from our 200+ car insurance partners. You may save up to 40% on car insurance.