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Uninsured motorist coverage: Why you need it

By Insurance.com Posted : 08/19/2014

If you're in an accident and the other driver is uninsured or underinsured, will you be covered?

If you have uninsured/underinsured motorist protection (UM/UIM), the answer is probably "yes." Many auto insurance experts recommend choosing this option. You might think that because your state requires auto insurance, most people have it. However, according to the Insurance Research Council, the number of uninsured drivers can reach 25 percent in some states. The 10 states with the highest percentages of uninsured drivers in 2012 -- the most recent year for which data are available -- were:

  • Oklahoma: 25.9%
  • Florida: 23.8%
  • Mississippi: 22.9%
  • New Mexico: 21.6%
  • Michigan: 21.0%
  • Tennessee: 20.1%
  • Alabama: 19.6%
  • Rhode Island: 17.0%
  • Colorado: 16.2%
  • Washington: 16.1%

Especially during times when people are struggling economically, many drivers either don't have insurance or don't have enough. If you have UM/UIM, you can get money for injuries even if the other driver can't pay. If you have uninsured motorist property damage (UMPD), damage to your car from an uninsured driver can be covered without having to resort to filing a claim against your own collision coverage.

You can see how much liability coverage different drivers in your state carry with our "What Drivers Like You Buy" tool.

What is UM or UIM?

Uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage can pay for injuries to you and your passengers, and in some locations damage to your property, when there is an accident and the other driver is both legally responsible for the accident and considered "uninsured" or "underinsured."

An uninsured driver is someone who did not have any insurance, had insurance that did not meet state-mandated minimum liability requirements, or whose insurance company denied their claim or was not financially able to pay it. A hit-and-run driver also counts as uninsured as it relates to bodily injury (UMBI).

An underinsured driver is someone who met minimum legal financial responsibility requirements, but did not have payment limits high enough to cover the damage they caused. In these cases, UM or UIM can pay you for your damages. It is important to note that uninsured and underinsured motorist protections are separate, although in many states they can or must be purchased together.

Is UM/UIM required?

A handful of states mandate purchase of UM/UIM, but most do not.

These states require that you buy both uninsured motorist and underinsured motorist protection: Connecticut, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont and Virginia. If you buy more than minimum required liability limits, Rhode Island and North Carolina require that you buy UI and UIM, too.

These states require that you buy only uninsured motorist: District of Columbia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, North Carolina (if you buy only required minimum liability), South Carolina, West Virginia and Wisconsin. 

Uninsured motorist property damage coverage is required in: District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, Vermont, Virginia and West Virginia. Utah requires UMPD if you do not buy collision coverage.

Other states may require only that you be offered these coverages, but you do not have to accept them.

If you purchase uninsured/underinsured motorist protection, your UM/UIM payment limits usually must comply with the state minimum but can't exceed your liability limits. If your state and company allow uninsured motorist property damage (UMPD) coverage, it can't be purchased without UMBI. Also, note that if you're in an accident and try to settle payment with the other driver by yourself, you won't be able to file a claim for UM/UIM protection. It's always best, regardless of what's in your policy, to contact your insurance company for advice on how to handle an accident.

Why would you want it?

Insurance Information Institute Vice President Carolyn Gorman extols the virtues of UM/UIM. "You absolutely need this coverage, because, if you get into an accident with someone who is driving without insurance or doesn't have enough of it, you want to be made financially whole again. You have to protect yourself fiscally and physically, and uninsured/underinsured motorist protection can help you in that regard."

It's usually relatively cheap to add uninsured/underinsured motorist protection to your car insurance policy, especially considering the amount of protection it offers. When you compare car insurance quotes, you should be sure to take uninsured/underinsured coverage into account. It could pay your medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

Underinsured motorist protection

Underinsured motorist protection pays you for damages that exceed the payment limits carried by a driver who is considered underinsured. UIM will only pay up to the limits of your policy after subtracting the amount paid by the other driver's insurance. This means that the amount listed as your UIM limit is the total amount paid by both insurance companies, not the additional amount your company will pay after the other driver's company pays. Both UM and UIM apply to you and any passengers in your car, and to you and others listed on your insurance policy (including family members) when in other cars.

Uninsured motorist property damage

Uninsured motorist property damage (UMPD) coverage may seem strange, especially considering many people already have collision coverage on their car insurance. However, for careful drivers who don't have collision coverage, UMPD can be a good way to protect their car from uninsured drivers without raising their premium a lot. In addition, a lower deductible for UMPD is frequently cheaper than collision coverage with the same low deductible. UMPD does not apply in hit-and-run accidents, because UMPD coverage is cheaper than collision coverage-making it very tempting for some drivers to make a "hit-and-run" claim under their UM coverage instead of their collision coverage, or to purchase UM coverage and not have collision coverage at all.

Uninsured motorist bodily injury

Uninsured motorist bodily injury (UMBI) protection can help you in another way. "Let's say you're a pedestrian. If you carry this coverage and you get hit by a car while you're trying to cross the street, the coverage could pay your medical expenses and lost wages," says Gorman. That could be important, because even if you have medical payments coverage and health insurance, those still won't pay for lost wages. You could get coverage for your lost wages by purchasing disability insurance, which many people have through their employer, but it would not cover your passengers or family members, and could disappear if you switch jobs. In addition to protecting you as a pedestrian, UM/UIM can also protect you and your family members traveling in other cars. As Nicole Mahrt of the American Insurance Association says, "You probably can't afford to drive without it."

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