Everything you need to know about car insurance in Washington, D.C.
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Washington, D.C., may not be a state, but it has auto insurance laws that are similar to those of many other states in the country. D.C. (the District of Columbia) is home to more than half a million drivers, all of whom are required to carry auto insurance to legally operate a vehicle (and they pay some of the highest insurance rates in the country).
If you live in D.C. or are planning a visit, it’s important to understand the local insurance laws and your responsibilities as a driver. In this guide, we’ll talk about D.C.’s insurance laws and some of its other unique characteristics.
Like most states, D.C. requires drivers to have a minimum amount of car insurance to register or operate a vehicle in the city.
You could be on the hook for any damages above your insurance limits. Consider buying more than the minimum required coverage to protect yourself further.
We’ve already talked about the insurance coverages that D.C. drivers must have, but you can also add optional coverages to your policy for full coverage. These optional coverages — especially collision and comprehensive insurance — provide additional protection above and beyond the required types of insurance in Washington, D.C.
As we mentioned, your property damage liability coverage pays only for damages to other people’s property when you’re at fault for an accident; it won’t cover damage to your own vehicle or property. For that, you can purchase collision coverage, which pays for damage to your vehicle when you hit another vehicle or object.
Comprehensive coverage also pays for damage to your vehicle, but in this case, it applies to damage resulting from something other than an accident. Comprehensive coverage could apply in cases of inclement weather, vandalism, or theft.
Personal injury protection (PIP) pays for your own medical bills as well as other financial losses due to the accident, including lost wages and physical therapy. D.C. requires all insurance companies to offer PIP but doesn’t require drivers to obtain it.
According to the 2019 to 2020 Auto Insurance Database Report from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, D.C. drivers pay an average of $1,415 for auto insurance. Premiums in the city are about 35 percent higher than the national average of $1,047.2
Remember, the premium amount in this report is simply an average for drivers across the city; it’s not necessarily the amount everyone will pay. Insurance premiums depend on a variety of factors, including coverage amounts, provider, and driving history. Rates can range from just a few hundred dollars to more than $3,000 per year, based on a driver’s situation.
D.C. may be small in size, but drivers in the city still have plenty of options for car insurance:
As we mentioned, D.C. drivers pay some of the highest auto insurance rates in the country. The good news is that there are several ways you can lower your premiums and save on car insurance:
You can also save money on car insurance by shopping around and getting quotes from multiple insurance companies before signing up for a policy.
As we mentioned, D.C. requires you to have certain insurance coverage to drive in the city legally. You must have proof of insurance in case law enforcement pulls you over or you’re in an accident. You can either show the physical card that your insurance company provides or digital proof on your smartphone.
If you drive without insurance in Washington, D.C., you could be subject to a fine of $500 on your first offense, as well as suspension of your license and/or registration. On subsequent offenses, the fine can increase to $750.
It’s not just driving without insurance that’s illegal: You could face fines just for owning a vehicle that doesn’t have insurance. The fine is $150 for each uninsured vehicle for the first 30 days and an additional $7 per day after that. The maximum fine for this offense is $2,500.3
In addition to D.C.’s insurance requirements, the city has a number of other insurance and traffic laws that make it unique.
Most states have what are known as at-fault insurance laws, which means the driver who causes an accident is responsible for the cost of all damages and injuries. Each driver’s liability insurance will pay for those losses up to their insurance limit.
In other states, known as no-fault states, each driver carries PIP coverage, which pays for their medical expenses after an accident, regardless of which driver is at fault. However, the at-fault driver is still responsible for all property damage.
Washington, D.C., is unique in that it has an at-fault system with no-fault characteristics. All insurance companies must offer their customers PIP, though drivers don’t have to accept it. And if there’s an accident, an injured driver can choose to have their own insurance cover their injuries or pursue civil action against the at-fault party.
If the injured driver has PIP, they can recover damages from the at-fault party only in certain situations, including if there’s substantial permanent damage or if their medical expenses exceed their PIP limit.4 This is a normal feature in no-fault states.
One of the factors that determines how much you can recover after an accident is the state’s (or, in this case, the city’s) negligence laws. The options are comparative, contributory, or a modified version of either of those.
D.C. is one of the few places in the country that has a pure contributory negligence law, which means a victim’s ability to recover damages depends on whether they had any fault at all. If a driver is in any way responsible for an accident — even if the other driver is primarily at fault — they won’t be able to recover damages.
As we mentioned earlier, D.C. requires drivers to carry two different types of uninsured motorist coverage: one to cover injuries and the other to cover property damage. These coverages will kick in if you’re in an accident where the at-fault driver doesn’t have the required liability coverage.
D.C.’s uninsured motorist law doesn’t allow stacking, which means the coverage limit isn’t multiplied by the number of vehicles in a policy. For example, if you have two vehicles that each have $25,000 per person of uninsured motorist bodily injury coverage, that’s all the protection you have in an accident. You can’t stack the two policies together to get $50,000 of liability coverage.
The reason D.C. and some states require uninsured motorist coverage is the high rate of uninsured drivers. As of 2019, more than 19 percent of the city’s drivers didn’t have the required liability insurance, meaning if they caused an accident, the other driver may not otherwise be able to recover their losses.5
In D.C., anyone convicted of driving under the influence will face license suspension for a period of two to 90 days. Drivers also have to install ignition interlock devices on their vehicles for six months on a first offense, one year on a second offense, and two years on a third or subsequent offense. Finally, drivers could face mandatory jail time ranging from five to 15 days depending on their blood alcohol concentration at the time of the arrests.
A DUI in D.C. will remain on your driving record for 15 years, during which time it can result in higher insurance premiums.
Washington, D.C., requires all drivers and passengers to wear seat belts in moving vehicles. The city’s seat belt requirement is a primary law, which means you can be pulled over and ticketed for just that reason. Meanwhile, in states with secondary seat belt laws, drivers can receive tickets for not wearing seat belts only if they were pulled over for another violation.
In D.C., it’s illegal to use a cell phone while driving. The city bans texting and driving, as well as any use of handheld devices. However, drivers can talk on the phone using Bluetooth technology.
The fine for using a cell phone while driving in D.C. is $100. If a first-time offender proves that they’ve purchased a hands-free accessory to talk on the phone, their fine can be suspended. However, this suspension doesn’t apply to texting violations.
D.C. law requires drivers to be at least 16 years old before they can obtain a learner’s permit and 17 years old before they can get their driver’s license.
While someone has their learner’s permit, they can’t drive alone and must have a driver in the car who is at least 21 years old with a valid driver’s license. They are also limited to driving between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m.
Once a driver turns 17 and has had their learner’s permit for at least six months, they’re eligible for their provisional license. With this license, they can drive with one other passenger in the car who is at least 21 years old and has a valid driver’s license. Drivers can also drive with any number of immediate family members.
Once again, provisional license holders can drive during certain hours only, but they are expanded to 6 a.m. to midnight during the summer and on weekends, and 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weeknights during the school year.
Once someone has had their provisional license for at least six months and has had no moving violations during the past year, they’re eligible to get their full driver’s license.6
Washington, D.C., has a statute of limitations of three years for both bodily injury and property damage claims. If a driver sustains damages in an accident and doesn’t file a claim before the statute has expired, they won’t be able to recover damages.7
Cancellation is when a car insurance company ends an insurance agreement before the policy has ended. In most cases, it must have a legitimate reason to do so. In Washington, D.C., insurance companies can cancel a driver’s policy without notice within the first 60 days. If they cancel after 60 days have passed, they have to give the driver at least 30 days’ notice, but if the cancellation is because the driver hasn’t paid their premiums, they can give just 15 days’ notice.8
An insurance company also has to give notice if it decides not to renew a policy. For most nonrenewals, an insurance company must give at least 30 days’ notice. But again, in the case of nonpayment, it can give just 15 days’ notice.
Some states allow drivers to self-insure for auto insurance instead of buying policies through insurance companies. In D.C., any person can qualify to self-insure if they own at least 25 vehicles and get a certificate of self-insurance from the mayor. As a result, it is usually organizations rather than individuals that are eligible for self-insurance.
To register a car in Washington, D.C., a driver must pass a vehicle inspection and obtain an inspection sticker from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to display on their vehicle. The type of inspection depends on the type of vehicle, whether it’s a personal, commercial, or for-hire vehicle. For personal vehicles, the inspection includes an emissions test through the onboard diagnostics port, a tailpipe test, a visual catalyst inspection, and a gas cap test. These are some of the criteria an inspector looks for:
The vehicle inspection fee is just $10 for four years for a new, privately owned vehicle, and $35 every two years after that. A driver can have their inspection done at this address:
Department of Motor Vehicles Inspection Station
1001 Half St. SW
Washington, DC 20024
If you’ve been convicted of a DUI or another serious driving offense in Washington, D.C., you may be required to obtain an SR-22, an insurance form that proves you have liability insurance. Most drivers with SR-22s must maintain them for three years. Keep in mind that having an SR-22 will most likely increase your insurance rates.
Drivers in D.C. need SR-22s after the following violations:
A defensive driving course teaches safe driving techniques and how to avoid accidents. Some states require these courses after an accident or another violation.
D.C. doesn’t require defensive driving courses for anyone in particular. However, it does recommend signing a loved one up for a course if you question their ability to drive safely. The good news is that some insurance companies offer discounts to drivers who have taken defensive driving courses.
As we mentioned in our section on no-fault insurance, D.C. has a unique law that allows drivers to choose whether they want to operate under at-fault or no-fault insurance laws. If a driver chooses to operate under no-fault laws and purchase PIP, they may be limited in the situations where they can recover damages from at-fault drivers.
First, a victim must have substantial permanent scarring or disfigurement, or have an impairment that makes it difficult for them to complete many daily activities. The cost of their medical bills and rehabilitation must also exceed the coverage limits of their PIP in order for them to file a civil suit.
If a driver is in a car accident in D.C., they must report it within five days if there is at least $250 of damage.
You might be surprised to learn that insurance companies can charge more for insurance based on certain personal characteristics. It’s common for insurance companies to consider someone’s driving history and other factors when setting insurance rates. But in most states and D.C., they can also consider gender.
You may have heard the argument that women pay less for car insurance because they tend to have fewer accidents. It’s true that men pay more for car insurance in many states, but women actually pay more in Washington, D.C.9
Another factor that insurance companies in most states can take into account is a driver’s credit score. Studies have found that drivers with poor credit are more likely to file insurance claims. As a result, many insurance companies charge those drivers higher premiums, which is legal in D.C.
If you’re in an accident and your car sustains major damage, your insurance company may declare it a total loss. In general, this means the vehicle can’t be repaired safely or the cost of repairs would exceed the value of the vehicle.
What’s considered a total loss varies by location and insurance company. In Washington, D.C., a car is a total loss when the damages reach 75 percent of its estimated value.
D.C. drivers may need to contact the DMV at some point to register or title their vehicle, or for some other reason. Here’s how to get in touch with your local D.C. DMV.
You’ll have to register a vehicle in D.C. for the first time at one of the city’s four DMV service centers. You’ll also need to have had your vehicle inspected and insured in the district.
Here are the locations where you can register your vehicle:
Once you’ve registered your vehicle in person, you can renew your registration online at https://dmv.dc.gov/node/1118866. For both initial registration and renewals, the fee is based on the weight of the vehicle, ranging from $72 for vehicles under 3,500 pounds to $155 for vehicles of 5,000 pounds or more. To complete your registration, you must have your vehicle title and photo identification for anyone listed as an owner on the title.
If you’ve lost your vehicle title, you can easily replace it in a few different ways:
Whichever method you use, you’ll pay a fee of $26 for a duplicate title.
Your local DMV can help with a lot of things, but for detailed car insurance questions or problems with your car insurance company, you should contact the D.C. Department of Insurance, Securities, and Banking.
The average cost of car repairs in D.C. is $410.16, which is about 7 percent higher than the national average. The average cost of labor is $146.83, while the average cost of parts is $263.33.
If you don’t have the necessary insurance to cover these costs, you could be stuck paying them out of pocket.
Location plays a huge role in auto insurance premiums, partially because areas with higher rates of crime or fatalities tend to result in higher insurance costs.
Washington, D.C., has one of the highest rates of motor vehicle theft in the country, second only to Colorado. The vehicle theft rate in the district is 477 per 100,000 residents, which is about 53 percent higher than the national average.
You might be surprised to learn that, while D.C. has the second-highest rate of vehicle theft, it actually has the lowest rate of vehicle fatalities. The fatality rate is 23 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, an impressive 2,977 percent lower than the national average. A variety of factors affect a state’s traffic fatality rate, including population, vehicles on the road, travel speeds, and topography.10
Washington, D.C., regulates auto insurance much like any state in the U.S. If you live in or plan to drive in the district, it’s important to understand what’s required of you. Also remember that D.C. is a city bordered by two states (Maryland and Virginia, one of two states that don’t require insurance), so be sure to learn those states’ insurance laws too if you plan to drive in the area.
Do you still have questions about car insurance in Washington, D.C.? Keep reading for answers to some of the most frequently asked questions.
Car insurance is cheaper in Maryland than in Washington, D.C. In D.C., the average annual rate is $1,415, which is 18 percent higher than the Maryland average of $1,201. Both averages are higher than the national average by 35 percent and 15 percent respectively, according to the latest 2020 data from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.
Yes, you have to buy new car insurance when you move to Washington, D.C., due to the Compulsory/No-Fault Motor Vehicle Insurance Act. If you’re applying for registration in D.C., you’ll need valid D.C. insurance, according to the city’s DMV.
These companies offer the cheapest car insurance in Washington, D.C.:
Premiums will be less expensive if you get minimum coverage instead of full coverage car insurance. Make sure to get car quotes from multiple companies to find the lowest car insurance rates.
No, you can’t have D.C. car insurance if your car is registered in Virginia. You’ll need insurance from a company “authorized to conduct business in Virginia,” according to the Virginia DMV.
Vehicle Insurance. DC.gov Department of Motor Vehicles. https://dmv.dc.gov/service/vehicle-insurance
2019/2020 Auto Insurance Database Report. NAIC. (2023, Jan).
Penalties for Driving without Auto Insurance by State. Consumer Federation of America. https://consumerfed.org/pdfs/140310_penaltiesfordrivingwithoutautoinsurance_cfa.pdf
Chapter 24. Compulsory/No-Fault Motor Vehicle Insurance. Council of the District of Columbia. https://code.dccouncil.us/us/dc/council/code/titles/31/chapters/24/
One in Eight Drivers Uninsured. Insurance Research Council. (2021, Mar). https://www.insurance-research.org/sites/default/files/downloads/UM%20NR%20032221.pdf
The Parent’s Supervised Driving Program. State Farm. https://s3.us-east-1.amazonaws.com/eregulations-assets/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/18DCPSDP_LR.pdf
Car Accidents: Statutes of Limitations. Enjuris. (2022). https://www.enjuris.com/car-accident/statutes-of-limitations.html
Notice of Cancellation and Nonrenewal Update for Property and Casualty Insurers Operating in the District of Columbia. Government of the District of Columbia Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking. (2018, Mar). https://disb.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/disb/publication/attachments/DISB%20Notice%20Cancellation%20and%20Nonrenewal%202018.pdf
Women pay more on average than men for car insurance, despite getting into fewer accidents, study finds. CNBC. (2019, Apr). https://www.cnbc.com/2021/04/19/women-pay-more-than-men-for-car-insurance-in-21-states-study-finds.html
Fatality Facts 2019 State by state. IIHS. (2021, Mar). https://www.iihs.org/topics/fatality-statistics/detail/state-by-state