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.
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.
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.
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.
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
+ $901 a year
+ $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.