Auto Insurance Basics

Auto Insurance Requirements in Washington

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To legally drive in the state of Washington, you are required by the Financial Responsibility Law to carry liability auto insurance. Car insurance providers are mandated to include Personal Injury Protection coverage in your policy, but you may reject it in writing. Other than a policy, you also have several alternative ways to meet Washington's requirements. 

If you ever get pulled over on the road in the Evergreen State, you'll have to prove you have insurance. Usually an insurance ID card will suffice. If you have alternative liability coverage, just show your certificate issued by the Washington Department of Licensing.

Washington Required Car Insurance CoverageWA Required Min. Limits
Bodily Injury (BI) $25,000 per person / $50,000 per accident
Property Damage (PD) $10,000 per accident

Washington Car Insurance Minimum Requirements

A WA liability insurance policy will at least include Bodily Injury and Property Damage coverage. The Washington Mandatory Auto Insurance law requires that your liability insurance coverage must equal to or be more than the following limits:

Bodily Injury (BI): minimum limits of $25,000 per person and total of $50,000 for two or more people in one accident. BI pays out for the injuries or death of people in the other car in an accident you cause. When you are sued by the other party, your BI coverage also takes care of the legal fees and any judgments against you, up your policy's limits. Licensed insurers in Washington may offer up to 300/500 BI limits, which varies by insurer. 

Property Damage (PD): $10,000 minimum limit per accident. PD covers the costs to repair any property damage you cause in an accident. This may include the other driver’s car repair, or fixing the mailboxes you ran over on the street. Higher limits of as much as $100,000 are available in Washington, and vary by insurer. 

Optional Car Insurance Coverage in Washington

In Washington, you will find that insurers offer optional coverages to protect you under different incidents related to operating a vehicle. Although they mean additional insurance costs, many of these optional coverages are highly recommended by both government officials and insurance agents:

Personal Injury Protection (PIP): whether or not you are at-fault for the crash, this coverage pays for your own medical expenses. More importantly, it includes several benefits for the first-party – you – including lost income compensation and funeral benefits, which pay to the beneficiary if an insured driver dies. The state of Washington actually requires all insurers to automatically include PIP coverage onto your policy (and charge a premium for it), unless you reject it in writing. If you decide to keep it, there are two limits you can choose from: $10,000 or $35,000. This limit is the the maximum coverage you can receive per accident.

Physical Damage: physical damage insurance consists of two separate coverages: Collision and Comprehensive. Together, they cover the costs to repair your car’s damages from most types of accidents (such as any crash, or a tree falling onto your parked car), regardless of your fault. The most in reimbursements you can receive from either coverage is the total market / cash value of your insured vehicle. However, note that there is a deductible you need to pay before either coverage takes effect. Available in increments between $50 and $2,000, the deductible you choose will affect your physical damage coverage premiums.

Uninsured / Underinsured Motorists (UM/UIM): if you ever get into an accident with an uninsured driver in Washington, he or she will probably lack the financial ability to pay for your damages and injuries on their own. As of 2012, more than 16% of WA motorist are driving on the road uninsured. UM/UIM coverage protects you under this circumstance, and pays for either your injuries or property damage, or both, depending on the coverage you purchased. While the amount of coverage is also governed by a range of per accident limits that you can choose from, note that your UM/UIM limits may never be higher than the BI and/or PD limits of the same policy. 

Alternative Proof of Financial Responsibility

The Washington Financial Responsibility Law prohibits drivers from operating without some form of liability insurance in the state. Although a liability insurance policy – issued by a licensed company – is the easiest and most recommended way to meet this law, the WA Department of Licensing (DOL) also allows 3 other forms of liability. By fulfilling any of the three alternatives, the DOL will issue you a certificate as your proof of financial responsibility:

Cash/Security Deposit: you will receive a certificate number when you deposit $60,000 with the DOL, either in cash or securities such as government bonds or notes. To apply for a certificate of deposit, you must first submit a “Financial Responsibility Application and Affidavit” form to check for qualification. After receiving a notice of qualification and submitting an “Assignment of Monies or Securities for Financial Responsibility” form and your financial statement within 30 days, the DOL will issue you the certificate. Any claims or judgments against you will be drawn down from the deposit.

Self-Insurance: when you have 26 or more cars registered under your name, all of which you either own or lease, you may apply to the DOL for a certificate of self-insurance. The DOL will assign you a certificate number once you have proved that you can – and will continue to – pay for injuries and damages you cause in an accident as an insurance company would under a minimum liability policy. Contact the DOL office for an application and list of documents you need to present to the Department.

Liability Bond: when you get a licensed WA surety company to issue you a liability bond in the amount of $60,000, you may carry documents proving the existence of this bond as your financial responsibility. This is the only alternative that you can carry without DOL’s prior approval (in other words, the DOL will not be issuing a certificate to you for this), but note that if the bond is considered invalid you will still be treated as if uninsured. A valid proof of liability bond will show the name of the surety company as well as the bond number.

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