Q

How long does an accident affect your insurance?

A

Most car insurance companies only take into account the last three to five years of your driving history when calculating your rates.

Anna Swartz 1600Stephanie Nieves author photo

By

Anna Swartz

Anna Swartz

Insurance Expert

Anna Swartz is a Managing Editor at Policygenius, specializing in auto insurance. Her work has appeared in Mic, The Dodo, AOL, MSN, HuffPost, Salon and Heeb.

&

Stephanie Nieves

Stephanie Nieves

Property and Casualty Insurance Expert

Stephanie Nieves is an insurance editor at Policygenius in New York City, specializing in home and auto insurance. Her work has appeared in Business Insider, PayScale, Fairygodboss, and The Muse.

Updated April 30, 2021|5 min read

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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.

Key Takeaways

  • 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

How long does an accident stay on your driving record?

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 license suspension.

In California, for example, points for violations like speeding or making an illegal turn will stay on your record for three years, three 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.

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How long does an accident affect your insurance?

The good news is that even if your state DMV (or equivalent agency) 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.

What happens to my insurance rates if I get into an accident?

If you get into an accident, your car insurance rates will probably go up, either immediately after or once your policy term is up. 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 and filed a claim with your insurance, or had a claim filed against you.

In short, 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.

How can I lower my rates after an accident? 

Since accidents will “fall off” your record after enough time has passed, your rates will go down again a few years after an accident, as long as you drive safely and maintain a clean record. But if your rates have just gone up after an accident, you may need a more immediate solution. You can always look for discounts with your existing provider and make sure you’re getting everything you can qualify for. Common car insurance discounts include savings for:

  • Paying your premium in full upfront

  • Being affiliated with the military or certain groups and associations

  • Going paperless or switching to automatic payments

  • Student discounts for good grades 

  • Bundling your home and auto insurance

You should also shop around for car insurance at other companies to see if you can get the same coverage at a cheaper price somewhere else. Plus, what one company penalizes you for another might not, so your accident won’t be weighed the same across insurers.

What about accident forgiveness?

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

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. 

Frequently Asked Questions

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

The amount of time an at-fault accident stays on your record depends on who your provider is. There are also multiple “records” at play, there’s the driving record your state keeps and then there’s the claims record that your insurance carrier will look at. Generally speaking, you can expect an accident to stay on your record, meaning continue to affect your rates, for between three and seven years.

How far back do insurance companies check for accidents?

When you apply for car insurance coverage, insurance companies tend to look at accidents from the last three to five years of your driving history.

Can you remove an accident from your record?

You may be able to contact the DMV and have an accident removed from your MVR if you can prove that it was improperly reported or that you did not cause it. If you apply for car insurance and an insurance company sees a claim on your record that didn’t happen, you’ll need to show proof that that claim is there erroneously.