Washington Car Insurance Requirements

Here's what Washington drivers need to know about the state's car insurance rules, including minimum coverage requirements and penalties for driving without insurance in Washington.

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

Washington, like most states, requires vehicle owners and drivers to maintain certain types and amounts of insurance coverage, or otherwise demonstrate financial responsibility for a potential car accident. Read on for the details of Washington's auto insurance rules, how coverage is likely to affect a car accident case, and the kinds of penalties you can expect if you drive without insurance in the state of Washington.

Washington is a "Fault" Car Accident State

Washington follows a traditional "fault" system when it comes to financial responsibility for losses stemming from a car accident: injuries, lost income, vehicle damage, and so on. This means that the person who was at fault for causing the car accident is also responsible for any resulting harm (from a practical standpoint, the at-fault driver’s insurance carrier will absorb these losses, up to policy limits).

In Washington, a person who suffers any kind of injury or damage due to an auto accident usually can proceed in one of three ways:

  • by filing a claim with his or her own insurance company, assuming that the loss is covered under the policy (in this situation, the injured person's insurance company will likely turn around and pursue a subrogation claim against the at-fault driver’s carrier)
  • by filing a third-party claim directly with the at-fault driver’s insurance carrier, or
  • by filing a personal injury lawsuit in civil court against the at-fault driver.

Note: In no-fault car insurance states, a claimant doesn't usually have this same range of options. After a car accident in a no-fault state, you must turn to the personal injury protection coverage of your own car insurance policy for payment of medical bills and other out-of-pocket losses, regardless of who caused the crash. Only if your injuries reach a certain threshold can you step outside of no-fault and make a claim directly against the at-fault driver. But Washington drivers don't need to worry about no-fault after an in-state accident.

Car Insurance Requirements in Washington

The state of Washington's mandatory auto insurance law requires anyone driving a motor vehicle in the state to do one of the following:

1. Carry liability insurance limits of at least:

  • $25,000 for injuries or death to one person in an accident you cause
  • $50,000 for total injuries or death to all people in an accident you cause, and
  • $10,000 for damage to anyone else's property in an accident you cause.

2. Apply for a certificate of deposit to guarantee financial responsibility for an accident, with the state's Department of Licensing.

3. Have a liability bond of at least $60,000.

The vast majority of Washington driver's comply with this law by purchasing liability insurance.

So, what is liability coverage? It 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 Washington 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 Washington, though might be required under the terms of a vehicle lease or financing agreement) can pay for repairs to (or replacement of) your damaged vehicle after a car accident.

Uninsured Motorist Coverage Not Required in Washington

While uninsured motorist (UM) coverage is not required in Washington, it can protect you and your passengers if the at-fault driver has no insurance, or if you're the victim of a hit and run.

Penalties for Driving Without Insurance in Washington

According to the Washington State Department of Licensing, if you drive without the required insurance (or otherwise fail to comply with the state's mandatory auto insurance laws), you could be ordered to pay a fine of $550 or more.

What's more, if you don't have insurance, your license may be suspended if you cause a car accident and you're unable to pay the injured parties' damages, if there is a reasonable possibility that a court would make a judgment against you.

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