Everything you need to know about car insurance in Washington.
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Washington is home to more than 5.7 million licensed drivers, putting it at thirteenth in the nation for the most licensed drivers on the road. Like most states, Washington requires that all of its drivers carry a minimum amount of auto insurance.
As you’ll learn later in this article, Washington’s auto insurance rates are nearly identical to the national average, meaning drivers likely won’t have to worry about overpaying. However, several factors can cause your rates to increase. Keep reading to learn more about what insurance is required, the cost of insurance, and other state laws drivers need to know before getting behind the wheel in Washington.
As we mentioned, Washington only requires drivers to have bodily injury and property damage liability protection. However, there are several optional coverages that will expand a driver’s coverage and provide greater protection from financial loss. While it’s not required, many drivers choose to purchase full coverage, which includes collision and comprehensive coverage.
Property damage liability covers damage to other vehicles in an accident, but not the one the at-fault party owns. Collision insurance covers damage to an at-fault driver’s vehicle, regardless of whether they collided with another vehicle or with a standalone object.
Comprehensive insurance covers damage to a vehicle not caused by an accident. This type of coverage can apply to vandalism, theft, or damage from inclement weather.
While Washington law doesn’t require drivers to carry collision and comprehensive insurance, lenders generally require these coverages for loaned vehicles.
In most states, including Washington, the driver at fault for an accident is also responsible for the damages. However, sometimes the at-fault driver in an accident doesn’t have insurance or high enough limits.
That’s where uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage comes in. It covers damages that other parties sustain when the at-fault driver doesn’t have any or sufficient liability coverage. This coverage can apply to both property damage and bodily injury.
Personal injury protection (PIP) covers a driver’s injuries after an accident regardless of who was at fault. Coverage includes medical bills, lost wages, funeral expenses for a deceased party, and more. Washington doesn’t require drivers to carry PIP, but it does require insurance companies to offer it. Drivers who want to decline this coverage must do so in writing.2
According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ Auto Insurance Database Report, the average cost of car insurance in Washington in 2020 was $1,035, slightly lower than the national average rate of $1,047.3
Keep in mind that not all drivers pay the state’s average rate. Factors such as driving record, coverage amount, provider, and more affect annual premiums. A driver’s rate also depends on whether they purchase full coverage or the state’s minimum coverage. In general, drivers in Washington could pay as little as $300 for minimum coverage or upwards of $2,000 for full coverage.
Car insurance rates also depend on whether or not you’re a good driver. Rates in Washington will be lower for those with clean driving records. Age is a factor, as young, inexperienced drivers won’t be able to get the cheapest car insurance.
Drivers in Washington must carry at least the state’s minimum required insurance coverage. They must also carry proof of insurance so that if they’re involved in an accident or traffic stop, they can show they have the necessary coverage. Drivers can choose to carry a physical insurance card that their carrier provides, but may also provide digital proof of insurance, often in a mobile app or as a digital version of their insurance card.
Anyone caught driving without insurance in Washington will be subject to certain penalties. Failure to provide proof of car insurance will result in a fine of up to $250.4 Anyone who drives without insurance and is at fault for an accident could have their license suspended.
Washington is an at-fault state for car insurance, which means the driver at fault for an accident is responsible for all damages. A driver’s bodily injury and property damage liability coverage will pay for damages that result from accidents they cause.
Washington has a comparative negligence law, which means a victim can always recover some damages, no matter their degree of fault; the compensation is reduced by the degree of fault. For example, if a victim held 20 percent of the fault for causing an accident, their damages would be reduced by 20 percent. If only one driver is responsible for the accident, other parties can recover 100 percent of their damages.
However, there’s no threshold for when a driver can no longer recover damages from an accident. Theoretically, someone who is 99 percent at fault for an accident could recover damages that were a result of the 1 percent of responsibility of the other driver.
As we mentioned, uninsured motorist coverage is optional in Washington, meaning that, while drivers can choose to include it in their policy, they don’t have to. Washington has among the highest rates of uninsured drivers in the nation, with roughly 22 percent of drivers not carrying the required insurance.5 As a result, prudent rivers may want to add this optional coverage to their policies.
Washington does not allow stacking of uninsured motorist coverage. As a result, each vehicle has its own coverage, which can’t be combined if there are multiple vehicles on the policy.
|Penalty||First offense||Second offense||Third offense|
|License suspension||BAC under 0.15: 90 days
BAC over 0.15: 1 year
|BAC under 0.15: 2 years
BAC over 0.15: 2.5 years
|BAC under 0.15: 3 years
BAC over 0.15: 4 years
|Fine||BAC under 0.15: $990.50-$5,000
BAC over 0.15: $1,245.50-$5,000
|BAC under 0.15: $1,245.50-$5,000
BAC over 0.15: $1,670.50-$5,000
|BAC under 0.15: $2,095.50-$5,000
BAC over 0.15: $3,945.50-$5,000
|Jail time||BAC under 0.15: 24 hours to 364 days
BAC over 0.15: 48 hours to 364 days
|BAC under 0.15: 30-364 days
BAC over 0.15: 45-364 days
|BAC under 0.15: 90-364 days
BAC over 0.15: 120-364 days
|Ignition interlock||Not required||120 days||6 months6|
Washington has a primary seat belt law, meaning law enforcement can pull someone over for not wearing their seat belt, even if they haven’t committed any other traffic violations. This doesn’t only apply to the driver; law enforcement can pull over a vehicle if anyone in the vehicle is without a seat belt. This law applies to all drivers and passengers ages 16 and older.
Like most states, Washington prohibits drivers from using cell phones while driving. Washington has a ban on all handheld devices, meaning drivers can’t hold their phones to talk or text while driving. The state also prohibits drivers with learner’s permits or intermediate licenses from talking on the phone at all while driving, even via a hands-free method. The penalty for breaking the distracted driving law is $136 for a first offense and $234 for subsequent offenses within five years.
Washington allows teens to obtain their learner’s permits at the age of 15 if they’ve completed an application and driver education course. Without driver’s education, teens can still get their learner’s permits at age 15-and-a-half. These permits are valid for one year and allow teens to drive under the supervision of adults who have had their licenses for five years.
Once teens in Washington have passed their driver’s tests and completed the necessary practice driving hours, they can get their intermediate licenses at the age of 16. For the first six months with these intermediate licenses, teens must avoid at-fault accidents and tickets. Once they turn 18, their intermediate licenses are upgraded to unrestricted licenses, meaning they no longer have any limits on their driving other than those that apply to all fully licensed drivers.
|License type||Driving curfew||Passenger restrictions||Phone use|
|Instruction permit||None||Must have a licensed adult in the vehicle (licensed 5+ years)||No wireless device use allowed|
|Intermediate license||First 6 months: 5 a.m. to 1 a.m.
7 months and later: None if there were no tickets or at-fault accidents
|First 6 months: No non-family member passengers under age 20
Months 6-12: Up to 3 non-family member passengers under age 20
|No wireless device use allowed|
|Unrestricted license||None||None||Hands-free devices allowed7|
If someone is the victim of an accident and sustains either injuries or property damage, they only have a certain amount of time to file a claim or lawsuit. The statute of limitations in Washington is three years for both injuries and property damage, meaning drivers can only recover damages if they file claims within that time period.8
Cancellation is when an auto insurance company cancels an existing policy before it expires. In general, insurance companies can’t cancel a policy that’s been in effect for 60 days unless there’s an extenuating circumstance, like if a driver hasn’t paid their premiums or has lost their driving privileges. In Washington, an insurance company must provide 10 days’ notice if it cancels a policy for nonpayment of premiums, and 20 days’ notice if they cancel the policy for any other reason.
An insurance company can also choose not to renew a policy, but it must provide notice to the policyholder. Washington requires an insurance company to provide 45 days’ notice if they choose not to renew a policy, and it must explain the reason for non-renewal.
In Washington, self-insurance is only allowed for individuals or entities who possess the following:
Washington’s Clean Car Law requires that vehicles in the state with model years 2009 or newer meet California’s emission standards. This rule applies to passenger cars, SUVs, pickup trucks, and vans. However, the state no longer requires emissions testing as of 2020.
To see if a vehicle is California or 50-state certified, drivers should look at the Vehicle Emissions Control Information (VECI) label in its engine compartment. If they can’t find the information there or if the vehicle doesn’t meet the emission standards, drivers won’t be able to register it in Washington.
In some cases, Washington drivers may be required to obtain SR-22s, which are certificates that prove someone has the minimum insurance. These certificates are required for drivers who have committed certain driving offenses such as DUIs, reckless driving, or driving without insurance.
An insurance company will file a driver’s SR-22 with the state directly and usually increase the premium in these circumstances.
A defensive driving course is designed to teach drivers strategies to avoid hazards and become safer drivers. In some cases, a driver in Washington may be required to take a defensive driving course if they committed a certain safety violation. Taking this type of course may help a driver get a ticket dismissed.
Washington also allows drivers age 55 or older to qualify for car insurance discounts by taking defensive driving courses. While some insurance carriers may offer these discounts for younger drivers who take defensive driving courses, they don’t legally have to.
Drivers in Washington don’t have to meet a certain threshold of losses or serious injuries to pursue damages after an accident.
Drivers in Washington must report an accident to law enforcement if there is a death, injury, or at least $700 of property damages. Parties have up to four days to report the accident, and failure to do so could result in license suspension.
There are many factors that determine a driver’s auto insurance rates, and most states, including Washington, allow insurance carriers to use a driver’s credit score and gender when setting premiums. Drivers with poor credit are likely to pay higher insurance rates. In addition, data shows that women are in fewer accidents and have fewer DUIs. As a result, men tend to pay more for car insurance in states where gender discrimination in car insurance is legal.
A car is considered a total loss if it can’t be safely repaired or if the cost to repair it would exceed a certain percentage of its estimated value.
Insurance companies in Washington must use a total loss formula: If the cost of repairs combined with the vehicle’s value as scrap is higher than or equal to the value of the car, then it’s considered a total loss. In that case, the insurance company would pay the driver for the entire value of the car rather than the cost of repairs.
Washington requires that all drivers register their vehicles with the state. Owners have 30 days to register their vehicles once they purchase them or move to Washington. There are fees associated with registering vehicles in Washington, but they vary depending on where in the state the driver lives.
Follow these steps to register a vehicle:
The average cost of car repairs in Washington is $392.79, which is about 2 percent higher than the national average. The average cost of labor is $146.84, while the average cost of parts is $245.95.9
Depending on a driver’s deductible, they may end up paying some or all of that amount out of pocket.
Unfortunately, Washington is one of the worst states in the nation for motor vehicle theft. The state has a theft rate of 356 per 100,000 inhabitants, which is 31 percent higher than the national average. This table shows the communities in Washington with the highest rates of vehicle theft, even higher than the state average:
|Metropolitan statistical area||Motor vehicle thefts per 100,000 inhabitants in 2020|
Washington has a significantly lower traffic fatality rate than the national average. In 2019, the state had 519 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, compared with 708 for the national average.
Like most states, Washington requires all drivers to carry liability insurance, and the state’s requirements are in line with what you’d find in much of the country. Before operating a vehicle in Washington — in or any other state, for that matter — it’s important to understand the local driving laws, what insurance you’re required to have, and what the penalty might be if you violate those laws.
Even drivers who don’t have car insurance can recover damages in an accident that another driver causes. The other driver will be responsible for your bodily injuries and property damages through their liability coverage.
State law requires that you have insurance anytime they drive a vehicle. However, some insurance companies may offer a grace period after you buy a new or used car during which they’ll cover the car before you add it to your policy officially.
Car insurance in Washington follows the car, not the driver. If you’re in an accident with someone else’s vehicle, the insurance covering their vehicle would apply. As a result, a car insurance company would have to pay the claim for an accident when a vehicle owner let someone else drive their car.
The state of Washington doesn’t require gap insurance, but lenders may require it for any vehicle purchased with a loan. Gap insurance covers the difference between the car’s market value and the remaining loan amount if the vehicle is totaled in an accident.
Requirements as to policy or bond. Washington State Legislature. (2022).
Personal injury protection (PIP). Office of the Insurance Commissioner. (2022).
2019/2020 Auto Insurance Database Report. National Association of Insurance Commissioners. (2023, Jan).
Penalties for Driving without Auto Insurance by State as of January 2014. Consumer Federation of America. (2014).
One in Eight Drivers Uninsured. Insurance Research Council. (2021, Mar 22).
Court – DUI Sentencing Grid. Washington Courts. (2017, Jul 23).
Steps to getting your first license: Teens 16-17 years old. Washington State Department of Licensing. (2022).
Car Accidents: Statutes of Limitations. Enjuris. (2022).
2020 State Repair Cost Rankings. CarMD. (2020, Jul).
NICB ‘Hot Spots’: Auto Thefts Up Significantly Across the Country. National Insurance Crime Bureau. (2021, Aug 31).