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After the car gets fixed and the insurance claim is settled, you’d like to forget an accident ever happened. But auto accidents stay on your driving record — and affect your insurance rates — longer than you’d probably wish.
How long? That depends on a variety of factors, including where you live, whether you were at fault, and the seriousness of the violation.
Your not-so-permanent record
An accident can stay on your motor vehicle record for years, but the exact length of time varies widely by state and by the violations associated with the accident. You can find details by checking your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles website.
In California, for instance, most accidents and minor violations stay on your driving record for three years. Accidents involving more serious violations stay on your record longer — 10 years for a DUI conviction. Even if you weren’t at fault, an accident must be reported and will appear on your record if property damage was more than $1,000 or if anyone was injured or died, according to the DMV.
In Florida, meanwhile, a crash goes on your record if you were issued a traffic citation as a result of the accident. Most stay on your record for three to five years, according to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. But more serious violations stay on longer. Alcohol-related violations stay on for 75 years. So if you cause a wreck while you’re drunk in Florida, the incident essentially will stay on your record for the rest of your life.
What does that mean for insurance rates?
After an accident or violation drops off your DMV record, it typically doesn’t affect your car insurance rates.
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The number of years insurers look back into your driving history depends on the company and the state. Some states limit how long insurers can consider at-fault accidents when calculating premiums. In Massachusetts, for instance, at-fault accidents may affect future premiums for no more than five years.
Esurance says on its website that it asks drivers if they’ve had moving violations in the past three years and if they’ve had DUIs in the past 10 years.
But it wasn’t my fault!
If you weren’t at fault for an accident, it might not count against you, although that also varies by company and by state. USAA, which provides insurance to military members and their families, says on its site: “If we agree that you had no responsibility for an accident, your premium will not be affected by an accident that is not your fault."
States take varying approaches.
In the 12 states with no-fault insurance, higher rates are more likely after a crash even if you aren’t to blame. That’s because in these states, people make claims to their own insurance policies for injuries in an accident. So your insurer must pay on your behalf regardless of whether you caused the crash.
But some states prohibit insurance companies from raising your premiums after accidents that weren’t your fault. In Massachusetts, for instance, insurers can add an accident surcharge only if you’re more than 50% at fault.
New York, meanwhile, lets insurance companies add a surcharge only for those accidents in which the insured driver is at fault and that involve injuries or more than $2,000 in property damage.
A premium increase after an accident will usually last anywhere from three to five years — but, again, this varies by company and state. Often, the surcharge will decrease over time as long as you don’t cause any more accidents.