Tennessee Car Insurance Requirements and Laws

Minimum auto insurance coverage rules, penalties for driving without insurance in Tennessee, and more.

By , J.D. University of San Francisco School of Law
Updated 8/23/2022

In Tennessee, as in every state, car insurance is sure to play a big part in any claim brought after a traffic accident:

  • Under the Tennessee Financial Responsibility Law, vehicle owners must be able to show proof of their ability to cover financial losses resulting from any car accident they might cause.
  • The most common way to comply with this law is to purchase liability car insurance coverage.
  • Driving without insurance in Tennessee (and without otherwise complying with the state's financial responsibility law) can lead to a variety of penalties.

Tennessee Is a "Fault" Car Accident State

Tennessee follows a "fault" system when it comes to financial responsibility for losses stemming from a car accident, including:

  • injuries to drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and others involved in the accident
  • lost income and other harm to livelihood/finances
  • vehicle damage, and
  • mental and physical pain and suffering stemming from the accident, resulting injuries, and necessary medical treatment.

Taken together, the losses listed above are considered "damages" in the language of the law, and the person who was at fault for causing the car accident is also financially responsible for these damages. Of course, from a practical standpoint, the at-fault driver's insurance carrier will step in and cover these losses, up to the driver's policy limits.

What Are the Options for Getting Compensation After a Tennessee Car Accident?

If you've suffered any kind of injury or incurred property damage because of a car accident in Tennessee, you might be able to:

  • file a claim with your own car insurance company, regardless of who was at fault for the accident, if you've got specific kinds of coveragesuch as personal injury protection/medical payments coverage (for injuries) or collision coverage (for vehicle damage)
  • file a claim directly with the other driver's insurance carrier (if it's pretty clear the other driver was at fault) and negotiate a settlement that covers your losses, or
  • file a personal injury lawsuit in civil court against the at-fault driver (note that the driver's insurance coverage would still come into play in the rare event your lawsuit goes all the way to trial, and your lawsuit could settle out of court at any point).

Note: In no-fault car insurance states, a claimant doesn't usually have this same range of options. Tennessee drivers don't need to worry about no-fault after an in-state accident, but it could come into play after an accident across the state line in Kentucky.

Car Insurance Requirements In Tennessee

As mentioned above, the primary method of complying with the Tennessee Financial Responsibility Law is to purchase liability car insurance coverage. The required minimum amounts of coverage in Tennessee are:

  • $25,000 liability coverage for bodily injury or death of one person in an accident caused by the owner/driver of the insured vehicle
  • $50,000 liability coverage for total bodily injury or death liability in an accident caused by the owner/driver of the insured vehicle
  • $15,000 liability coverage for property damage per accident caused by the owner/driver of the insured vehicle.

Liability coverage pays the medical bills, property damage bills, and other costs of drivers, passengers, and pedestrians who are injured or have their vehicle damaged in a car accident you cause, up to coverage limits. You can (and in some situations should) carry more coverage to protect you in case a serious crash results in significant car accident injuries and vehicle damage.

Once policy limits are exhausted, you are personally on the financial hook, so higher insurance limits can help protect your personal assets in the event of a serious crash.

Your liability coverage will kick in if any family member is driving your vehicle, or if you've given someone else permission to use it. It will likely also cover you if you get into an accident in a rental car.

Remember that liability coverage doesn't apply to your own injuries or vehicle damage after a Tennessee car accident. You'll need different (additional) coverage for that if you're involved in a car accident and no one else's coverage applies to your losses. For example, collision coverage (optional in Tennessee) can pay for repairs to (or replacement of) your damaged vehicle after a car accident. Note that collision or comprehensive might be required under the terms of a vehicle lease or financing agreement.

Uninsured motorist (UM) coverage is not required in Tennessee, but this kind of coverage protects you if the at-fault driver has no insurance, or if you're injured in a hit and run accident. Keep in mind that UM coverage will not apply to vehicle damage.

What Are Other Ways to Comply With the Tennessee Financial Responsibility Law?

Besides purchasing liability car insurance in line with the state's minimums, Tennessee vehicle owners can post a cash deposit or bond in the required amount, or show that they qualify as a "self-insurer" under state law. Learn more about the Financial Responsibility Law, from the state's Department of Safety & Homeland Security.

Can I Show Digital Proof of Car Insurance In Tennessee?

Yes. If you're asked to provide proof of compliance with the Financial Responsibility Law in Tennessee (during a traffic stop or after an accident), you can do so through MyTN, the state government's official mobile app. Learn more from the Tennessee Department of Revenue.

Of course, you can still carry a physical copy of your company-issued insurance card or other documentation showing compliance.

What Are the Penalties for Violating the Financial Responsibility Law In Tennessee?

According to the Tennessee Department of Safety & Homeland Security, if you're unable to demonstrate proof of financial responsibility:

  • you could face conviction of a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $300
  • your vehicle could be towed, and
  • your driver's license could be suspended.

That's on top of the financial hit you could take if you're in a car accident and you don't have car insurance.

Getting Help After a Tennessee Car Accident

You can find more details on car insurance rules and requirements on the Drive Insured Tennessee portal, from the state's Department of Revenue.

If you've been injured in a car accident in Tennessee, you might need more than just the basic car insurance rules. Get more information on when you might need a car accident lawyer, and what to expect from your first meeting with a car accident attorney. And if you're ready to connect with a Tennessee car accident attorney now, you can use the features right on this page to find a qualified legal professional in your area.

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