What do those three auto liability insurance numbers mean?

Liability car insurance coverage is typically written out as three numbers. For example, for North Carolina it's 30/60/25. That means the minimum liability limits are:

  • $30,000 for injuries to one person in an accident
  • $60,000 for all injuries in an accident
  • $25,000 for property damage in one accident

These are the maximums that the insurance company will pay out in any single accident.

Be sure to remember that liability insurance doesn't pay for damages to your own car. It also doesn't pay for your own medical expenses if you're injured in an accident. Liability insurance covers only damage you cause to other vehicles and property, as well as medical expenses for those you injure.

State minimum requirements are often not enough to cover even minor accidents. The Insurance Information Institute recommends that you carry at least $100,000 of bodily injury protection per person, $300,000 per accident and $100,000 for property damage (known as 100/300/100).

Typically, increasing your liability limits doesn't cost much more. Consider the following, from Insurance.com's most recent data:

  • The nationwide average cost for state minimum liability coverage is $511 a year.
  • Increasing that coverage to 50/100/50 averages only $637, an increase of only $126 a year, or just under $11 a month. 
  • If you increase that to 100/300/100 with comprehensive and collision and a $500 deductible, that average goes up to $1,682, which is $1,171 more per year or $98 more per month.

As you can see below, in some states you can more than double your coverage by increasing your limits to 50/100/50.

Minimum liability car insurance requirements by state

State Minimum liability coverage limits Other types of insurance required (if any)
District of Columbia25/50/10UM, UMPD
Kansas25/50/25UM/UIM, PIP
Maine50/100/25UM/UIM, MedPay
Maryland30/60/15UM/UIM, UMPD, PIP*****
Massachusetts20/40/5UM/UIM, PIP
Michigan50/100/10PIP, property protection
Minnesota30/60/10UM/UIM, PIP
New Hampshire**25/50/25UM/UIM, MedPay
New Jersey25/50/25UM/UIM, UMPD, PIP
New Mexico25/50/10
New York25/50/10UM, PIP
North Carolina30/60/25UM, UMPD
North Dakota25/50/25UM/UIM, PIP
Oregon25/50/20UM, PIP
Pennsylvania15/30/5PIP - referred to as “First Party Benefits Coverage”
Rhode Island***25/50/25
South Carolina25/50/25UM, UMPD
South Dakota25/50/25UM/UIM
Vermont25/50/10UM/UIM, UMPD
Virginia****30/60/20*UM/UIM, UMPD
West Virginia25/50/25UM, UMPD
Wisconsin25/50/10UM, UIM

Source: Insurance Information Institute

Key to acronyms:

  • UM: Uninsured motorist coverage
  • UIM: Underinsured motorist coverage
  • UM BI: Uninsured motorist bodily injury coverage
  • UMPD: Uninsured motorist property damage coverage
  • PIP: Personal injury protection
  • PPI: Property protection insurance (applies only to Michigan)
  • BI liability: Bodily injury liability

Understanding auto insurance liability coverage across state lines

What happens if you hold the minimum amount of automobile insurance coverage required in your state and you're involved in an accident in another state that requires higher minimum coverage? Will yourauto policy's coverage automatically increase to meet the other state's minimum coverage requirements?

The answer is yes - your auto insurance covers you in every state and even in Canada, and your limits will automatically be increased to match the requirements in the state where the accident occurred.

For example, say you live in Ohio and hold the minimum amount of coverage, which is 25/50/25. This means that the minimum liability limits in this state are $25,000 for injuries to one person, $50,000 for all injuries incurred and $25,000 for property damage for one vehicle in an accident. If you then travel to Maine for a vacation (where the limits are 50/100/25) and are involved in an accident, your insurance company will pay up to Maine's required limits.

Some states require different types of auto insurance by law; your insurance company will also provide that coverage in an accident.

What about minimum coverage in no-fault car insurance states?

A dozen states -- including Florida, New Jersey, Kansas, New York, Minnesota and Michigan – have no-fault automobile liability insurance laws. The definition of no-fault car insurance is simply a system where your insurance company will pay for injuries to you and your passengers no matter who is at fault. 

True no-fault states require drivers to purchase minimum levels of personal injury protection (PIP) coverage. The amount of coverage required varies by state, as does the nature of the coverage. Depending on the state, PIP coverage may reimburse the policyholder for medical and other accident-related expenses as well as lost wages. (See: "Learn about no-fault auto insurance.")

No-fault coverage does not mean that a driver is not found at fault. A driver can still be found at fault and a claim be placed against that person's liability coverage. The at-fault driver will also face higher insurance rates.

Minimum car insurance limits: The Bottom Line

No matter what coverages your state requires, you should examine your needs and buy a policy that is right for you. It may be a state minimum one if that's all your budget allows, but it's always worth shopping around to see if you can get better coverage at a lower price. If you have assets to protect and a car that you can't afford to replace, it's best to increase your limits and purchase a full coverage policy to provide greater protection.

Regardless of the coverage you choose, shopping around is always the best way to save.

Auto insurance FAQs

Is state minimum insurance enough?

State minimum insurance often isn't enough. It may cover basic legal requirements but not fully protect you from high costs after an accident. Consider higher coverage for better financial safety.