Most car insurance companies only look at the most recent years of your driving history when calculating your rates
If you had an accident several years ago, it will eventually “fall off” your record, meaning it will no longer affect your insurance
Different states also have different rules about how long an accident will remain on your record with the DMV, and that usually depends on the severity of the accident or violation
Every driver knows that your driving record is an important factor that car insurance companies consider when determining how much you’ll pay for car insurance. While premiums are calculated based on everything from your zip code to your age to your credit score, your driving history plays a big part in how much you’ll pay.
People with accidents and violations on their records will pay more for insurance, and people with clean driving records will pay less, and may qualify for safe driving or accident-free discounts. Drivers with multiple violations and accidents may be classified as high-risk drivers and need to look for what’s called non-standard insurance.
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But an accident doesn’t affect your insurance rates forever. Insurance companies generally only look at the last three to five years of your driving history when calculating your premiums, so if you’ve managed to drive accident-free for long enough, your past incidents may not matter anymore.
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Every licensed driver has an MVR, which stands for motor vehicle record or motor vehicle report. This is a history of your driving, including accidents as well as violations like speeding tickets or other traffic tickets.
But accidents and violations don’t stay on your motor vehicle history forever — the length of time they’ll appear on your record depends both on the severity of the violation and the state in which you live.
The Department of Motor Vehicles in every state has its own policies about how long different types of accidents and violations remain on your record. And many states use a “points” system to track violations, and racking up too many points on your license can end up in a suspension.
In California, for example, points for violations like speeding or making an illegal turn will stay on your record for 3 years, 3 months. More serious violations, like a DUI, will stay on your record for 13 years. In Michigan, any points stay on your record for two years.
But different states also maintain multiple versions of your history. In Ohio, for example, you can request an unofficial driver record that shows you the last two years of violations, or you can pay a $5 fee for what’s called a driver abstract, which shows the past three years of moving violation convictions and accident reports.
In New York, you have both a standard driving record that shows only your most recent violations and a “lifetime” driving record, that contains all the information the state’s DMV has about your driving. Check with your state’s DMV or equivalent department to learn about the specifics of driving records where you live.
The good news is that even if your state DMV maintains a “lifetime” driving record for you, as is the case with New York, car insurance companies generally only look at the past several years of your driving. Accidents and violations will eventually “fall off” your driving record, so-to-speak, and insurers will no longer take them into account when calculating your rates.
Most car insurance companies only weigh the past five years of your driving record, so if you had an accident or a violation six years ago, it won’t affect your rate.
For some car insurance companies, it’s an even shorter amount of time, like the past three years. If your car insurance rates are high because of an accident on your record, as long as you maintain a clean record going forward, your rates will eventually drop.
Different states have different regulations about what types of accidents an insurer can use when determining your car insurance payments, or how far back they can go in your history when calculating premiums.
In Massachusetts, for example, car insurance companies cannot include accidents or traffic violations that are more than six years old when calculating your rates.
Most car insurance policies are for six-month or year-long periods, and at the end of your policy period, you’ll likely be given the option to renew.
Sometimes, the renewal rate you’re offered is higher than the rate you’ve been paying – this is especially likely if you’ve had an at-fault accident, filed a claim with your insurance, or had a claim filed against you.
In short, yes, having an accident will likely raise your rates, sometimes by as much as 50%. But different insurers treat accidents differently, and if you’ve maintained a good driving record so far, or have been claim-free up to that point, the increase may be minor.
Some insurance companies offer accident forgiveness as an optional insurance add-on, or as a perk for customer loyalty. Accident forgiveness is essentially a guarantee that your rates won’t go up as a result of an at-fault accident.
Some of the car insurance companies that offer accident forgiveness include:
Allstate — Offered as an “Allstate Extra”
Amica — Included in Platinum Choice Auto
Farmers — Forgives one at-fault accident every three years without an accident
Geico — Offers free and upgraded accident forgiveness
Liberty Mutual — Offered if you go five years without an accident or violation (even when with another carrier)
Nationwide — Extends to every driver on a policy, but only allows one forgiven accident per policy
Progressive — Offers “small accident forgiveness” for claims less than $500, and “large accident forgiveness” once you’ve been a Progressive customer for at least five years with no accident in three years
Safeco — Your first accident is “waived after a set number of years with Safeco without an at-fault accident or violation”
Travelers — Available through the purchase of a Responsible Driver Plan
USAA — Not available in CT, DE, NC, CA or NY
But most car insurance providers require you to be accident-free for a certain number of years in order to even qualify for accident forgiveness, so the people who are most likely to get in an accident may not be able to buy accident forgiveness.
Anna Swartz is a Managing Editor at Policygenius, where she has been since 2018. An expert in home, auto and renters insurance, she loves making tough concepts easy to understand and helping readers feel confident about their insurance options. Before joining Policygenius, she was a senior staff writer at Mic. Her work has appeared in The Dodo, AOL, HuffPost, Salon and Heeb.
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