It's a tough choice - auto insurance or groceries, school clothes or the house payment. Millions of Americans faces these decisions daily, and rising numbers of drivers are choosing to drive without insurance when finances get tight. In fact, the Insurance Research Council says that 13.8% of drivers nationally are uninsured today, and that's projected to increase to over 16% by 2010 - an increase that's directly correlated with the rise in the unemployment rate.
We think that number is even higher. Sam Belden, vice president at insurance.com, says that the number of callers without auto insurance has nearly doubled in recent months. "Close to 40% of callers who contacted our call center recently to follow up on an online application were uninsured. Many of these people let their policy lapse due to the financial crisis, because rising car insurance rates squeezed already thin budgets."
As layoffs continue, there will be more uninsured drivers on the road, which represents a financial risk to everyone. Unfortunately, you can't avoid uninsured motorists unless you move to Massachusetts or Maine, where almost everyone buys car insurance coverage, but you can take these simple steps to protect yourself, your car and your passengers.
Uninsured and Underinsured Motorists coverage (UM/UIM) is not mandatory in every state, but you should always buy it. If you're injured by a driver who is uninsured or underinsured, that person will be held personally liable for the accident - but it could take years for you to collect from them. If you have UM/UIM coverage on your policy, your insurance company will pay you for your auto insurance claim and then collect from the other driver. Car insurance coverage you're legally required to buy protects other people from you. UM/UIM protects you from other people, which is why it's so important to have.
UM/UIM is relatively inexpensive, so consider matching your liability limits. For example, if you have Bodily Injury Liability limits of 50/100 (which means you have coverage up to $50,000 per person and $100,000 per accident when you file an auto insurance claim), you should buy the same amount of UM/UIM coverage. Comparing the rates of different companies through auto insurance quotes can help you save money on both your liability and UM/UIM coverage.
Uninsured Motorists Property Damage coverage (UMPD) is available in many states but is not always mandatory. UMPD pays for repairs to your car if it's struck by an uninsured or underinsured driver. If you drive an older car and choose not to buy Collision coverage, the small extra cost of UMPD coverage will be well worth it if your car is hit by an uninsured driver. But, remember, if you cause an accident yourself, or are involved in a hit-and-run accident, UMPD does not pay - that's why you need Collision coverage.
Especially if you live in New Mexico, Mississippi, Alabama, Oklahoma or Florida, where more than 20% of all drivers are uninsured, according to the Insurance Research Council. While almost all states require car owners to buy auto insurance, mandatory insurance laws are not strictly enforced in every state, leading to problem states like these. The best places to drive are Massachusetts, Maine, North Dakota, New York and Vermont where the uninsured number ranges from 1% to 6%. And, if you take a Defensive Driving course, you might qualify for a discount on your auto insurance.
Even a relatively minor fender-bender deserves a police report (unless you're in area where law enforcement will not respond). In either case, be sure to write down the details for every car involved (driver's license number, license plate, and phone numbers - and ask to see an Insurance ID Card). If you don't have a police report, it will be more difficult to file an auto insurance claim with your own company. And, law enforcement officers will check for proper car insurance coverage.
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