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How long do accidents stay on your record?

Accidents generally stay on your record for three to five years when it comes to car insurance.

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By

Andrew HurstAndrew HurstSenior Editor & Licensed Auto Insurance ExpertAndrew Hurst is a senior editor and a licensed auto insurance expert at Policygenius. His work has also been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, USA Today, NPR, Mic, Insurance Business Magazine, ValuePenguin, and Property Casualty 360.

Edited by

Anna SwartzAnna SwartzSenior Managing Editor & Auto Insurance ExpertAnna Swartz is a senior managing editor and auto insurance expert at Policygenius, where she oversees our car insurance coverage. Previously, she was a senior staff writer at Mic.com, as well as an associate writer at The Dodo.

Updated|4 min read

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How long an accident stays on your driving record will depend on your state and the severity of the accident. But when it comes to car insurance, an accident will generally affect your rates for three to five years before it “falls off” your record.

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Having an accident on your record causes your insurance rates to go up, but as long as you avoid future accidents or moving violations, it will get easier to find cheaper insurance after a few years.

Key takeaways

  • States have different rules about how long a car accident stays on your driving record.

  • Car insurance companies usually only look at the last three to five years of your record to calculate your rates.

  • Even if an accident stays on your record longer than five years, that doesn’t mean that your insurance will stay high for that time.

  • Your insurance goes up by an average of 55% after an accident, but it eventually goes down if you can avoid any additional accidents.

How long does an accident stay on your record?

Every state’s Department of Motor Vehicles has its own rules about how long an accident stays on your driving record, so it won’t be the same for everyone.

In New York, for example, an accident will show up on your record for four years after the incident. Compare that with California, where an accident will stay on your record for at least three years (but up to 10 depending on the vehicles involved).

Serious accidents may stay on your record longer. If you caused an accident because you were caught driving under the influence, it will stay on your record for longer than a regular at-fault accident — possibly even permanently. 

In Michigan, for example, points stay on your license for at least two years but convictions, which can be for serious offenses, stay on your record for at least seven years.

If you want to see if a past accident is still on your record, you can check your Motor Vehicle Record (MVR) or the number of points on your license to make sure you're not in danger of having your license taken away after an accident or violation. States usually let drivers access their driving records for a small fee — generally only a few dollars.

How does a DMV find out about accidents?

There are a couple of ways that your state’s DMV might find out about an accident. States usually require drivers to report serious accidents themselves, so in some cases you’ll be obligated to report any accident that caused damage, even if no one else was involved.

States have rules on how soon after an accident you have to file a report. If you don’t report an accident in time, you may face jail time, fines, or points on your license.

Your DMV may also find out about an accident from the other driver or from the police who responded to the scene of the accident. Your car insurance company generally won’t inform the DMV about an accident.

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How long does an accident stay on your insurance

An accident will generally affect your insurance for three to five years. Having a recent accident means your rates will be more expensive than average and it will be harder for you to find cheap insurance.

But after enough time has passed, accidents stop having an impact on your car insurance and your rates will go back to normal (assuming you haven’t made any additional claims in the meantime).

Remember that just because an accident is still on your MVR or state driving record doesn’t mean it will continue to affect your car insurance rates. 

Some states have laws restricting the number of years a car insurance company can penalize you for an accident, so even if an accident stays on your record for seven or even ten years, it won’t affect your rates that whole time.

How long do other claims stay on your insurance?

Car insurance companies consider both your driving record and your claims record when setting rates. That means that even non-accident related claims can affect what you pay for car insurance, generally for at least a few years.

Do all accidents go on your insurance?

It’s not just at-fault accidents that can end up affecting what you pay for coverage. We found that both at-fault and not-at-fault accidents can cause your rates to be more expensive.

That said, an accident that wasn’t your fault won’t raise your rates by as much as one that you caused. We found the average cost of car insurance after an at-fault accident was $2,539 per year, compared to an average of $1,638 a year for a driver with a clean record. The average rate after a not-at-fault accident was $1,766 a year.

Type of accident

Average car insurance increase

At-fault accident

+ $901 a year

Not-at-fault accident

+ $128 a year

The reason for the difference? Drivers who have been in an at-fault accident are at a higher risk of being in another accident and making a claim, while those who were in an accident that wasn’t their fault aren’t.

How to lower your insurance rates after an accident

Your car insurance rates will eventually go back to normal after an accident as long as you drive safely going forward, but there are other ways to get cheaper insurance while an accident is still on your insurance.

Drivers with an accident on their record can lower their insurance rates by:

  • Completing a safe or defensive driving class: After an accident, you can usually take a state-certified defensive driver’s class and receive a discount.

  • Doing well in school: Drivers who are also full time students can get a discount by maintaining at least a B grade-point average, even after an accident.

  • Bundling your auto policy with other insurance: Most companies offer discounts to drivers who bundle two or more insurance policies together, like home and auto.

  • Paying your premium all at once: If you can afford it, you can secure a quick discount by paying your entire premium up front at the start of your policy instead of in monthly installments.

  • Switching to automatic payments and paperless billing: Lots of companies offer small discounts to drivers who make scheduled electronic payments or switch to paperless billing.

The best way to make sure you get the cheapest car insurance even with an accident on your record is by comparing quotes when you shop. Not all insurance companies treat accidents the same, so comparing prices can help you find the company with the best rates for you.

What is accident forgiveness?

If you have accident forgiveness as part of your car insurance policy, your rates won’t go up after your first accident. But you have to have accident forgiveness before you’re in a crash for your rates to stay the same.

Most companies charge extra for adding accident forgiveness to your policy, but some offer it as a free perk to loyal customers. Car insurance companies that offer accident forgiveness include:

  • Allstate: You can sign up for accident forgiveness when you start your policy.

  • Amica: Accident forgiveness included in Platinum Choice Auto plans.

  • Farmers: Accident forgiveness forgives one at-fault accident for every three years without an accident.

  • GEICO: Loyal customers can qualify for free accident forgiveness or elect to add a more premium version to their policy.

  • Nationwide: Accident forgiveness extends to every driver on a policy, but only allows one forgiven accident per policy.

  • Progressive: All customers can qualify for free accident forgiveness for claims under $500, and drivers can get accident forgiveness for bigger claims as a loyalty perk or an optional policy add-on.

  • Safeco: First accident forgiveness is offered as a perk for drivers who’ve gone a certain number of years without an at-fault accident, though the exact number depends on the state.

  • Travelers: Accident forgiveness is available with the purchase of a Responsible Driver Plan.

Be aware that since most car insurance providers require you to be accident-free for a certain number of years to qualify for accident forgiveness, you won’t be able to add accident forgiveness to your policy if you already have a recent accident on your record.

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Frequently asked questions

How long does an at-fault accident stay on your insurance?

It’s common for an at-fault accident to stay on your insurance for three to five years, though it depends on your provider. For the first three to five years after an at-fault accident your rates will be higher than average, though they will return to average if you can avoid any more accidents.

Is a driving record different from your insurance?

Yes, your driving record is something that your state tracks. Your insurance company doesn’t track your driving record, but they do use your record when setting your rates. It’s possible for an accident to no longer affect your rates but still be on your driving record.

Can you remove an accident from your record?

After three to five years, you won’t have to worry about having your license suspended because of too many driving violations. You can’t really remove accidents from your record unless they were wrongly put there, but some DMVs do let you reduce the points on your license (assuming your state uses a points system) by completing driving safety classes.

Author

Andrew Hurst is a senior editor and a licensed auto insurance expert at Policygenius. His work has also been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, USA Today, NPR, Mic, Insurance Business Magazine, ValuePenguin, and Property Casualty 360.

Editor

Anna Swartz is a senior managing editor and auto insurance expert at Policygenius, where she oversees our car insurance coverage. Previously, she was a senior staff writer at Mic.com, as well as an associate writer at The Dodo.

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