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.
DUI Penalties in Washington State
||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
||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
||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
Seat Belt Laws
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.
Distracted Driving Laws
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.
Teen Driver Laws
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.
||Must have a licensed adult in the vehicle (licensed 5+ years)
||No wireless device use allowed
||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
||Hands-free devices allowed7
Statute of Limitations for Claims
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 and Non-Renewal Notification Laws
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:
- Fleets of more than 25 vehicles
- Surety bonds or certificates of deposit for at least $60,000
Car Inspection Requirements
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.