After the car gets fixed and the insurance claim is settled, you’d like to forget an accident ever happened. But insurance companies keep track of auto accidents 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 issued a ticket, 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. The California DMV keeps information on every collision, unless the reporting law enforcement officer states that another person was at fault, and there were no injuries and only minimal property damage. Even if you weren’t at fault, the accident would appear on your record if you or anyone else suffered more than $750 in damage or if anyone was injured or died, the DMV says.
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 premiums?
After an accident or violation drops off your DMV record, it typically doesn’t affect your car insurance rates.
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 three to 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 Vermont, your rates could go up if you’ve made a lot of claims for accidents — even if you didn’t cause them. Why? “Statistically, you pose a higher risk,” according to the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation’s website.
But some states prohibit insurance companies from raising your premiums after accidents that weren’t your fault. In Massachusetts, for instance, insurers can add a surcharge to your premium only if you’re more than 50% at fault. A surcharge is insurance jargon for a premium increase.
Some states prohibit insurance companies from raising your premiums after accidents that weren’t your 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.
“Your accident surcharge may gradually decrease each year you go without another accident,” Esurance says on its website. “In many states, the surcharge will be lowered gradually over the span of three years until it’s nonexistent as long as you avoid another accident.”