Car insurance is designed to protect you financially if you are in an accident, but you aren’t the only one being protected when you buy insurance. Your liability coverage pays for damage you cause to another person or their car, which means it’s important to have enough insurance to pay for the other driver’s expenses if you are at fault in an accident.
But some drivers don’t purchase car insurance, even though it is required by law in most states. According to the Insurance Research Council, one out of every eight drivers was uninsured in 2019  . And when an uninsured driver crashes into you and doesn’t have coverage to pay for the damage, you could be left with the bill.
Uninsured drivers by state
Across the U.S., an average of 12.5% of all drivers don’t have insurance, but this statistic varies widely from place to place. For example, in Michigan, where car insurance rates are some of the highest in the nation, one out of every four drivers are uninsured, while only one out of every 20 drivers in Maine are driving without insurance.
Which states have the most uninsured drivers?
These ten states had the highest percentage of uninsured drivers in the country in 2019:
Mississippi - 29.4%
Michigan - 25.5%
Tennessee - 23.7%
New Mexico - 21.8%
Washington - 21.7%
Florida - 20.4%
Alabama - 19.5%
Arkansas - 19.3%
Washington D.C. - 19.1%
California - 16.6%
Which states have the fewest uninsured drivers?
These ten states had the lowest percentage of uninsured drivers in the country in 2019:
New Jersey - 3.1%
Massachusetts - 3.5%
New York - 4.1%
Maine - 4.9%
Wyoming - 5.8%
Pennsylvania - 6.0%
New Hampshire - 6.1%
Connecticut - 6.3%
Utah - 6.5%
North Carolina - 7.4%
Why are there so many uninsured drivers?
For most uninsured drivers, cost is the biggest factor preventing them from purchasing insurance coverage. Many uninsured drivers are living in poverty, with some drivers in places like Detroit finding that the cost of car insurance takes up 12 to 36% of their pre-tax income. 
Some states, like California and New Jersey, offer low income car insurance programs to help make coverage affordable for people living at or below the poverty level, but these low income policies usually provide less coverage to go with the lower price.
How to protect yourself from uninsured drivers
Being in a car accident is never fun, and the situation can be even worse when the other driver doesn’t have insurance. But there are types of car insurance coverage that can protect you in case of an accident with an uninsured driver.
Uninsured motorist coverage
The best thing you can do to protect yourself is add uninsured motorist (UM) coverage to your policy. UM coverage is mostly for medical bills and sometimes referred to as uninsured motorist bodily injury (UMBI) coverage. UMBI pays for your medical bills if you are injured in a car accident where the other driver was at fault but they don’t have insurance.
Most insurance companies require your UMBI coverage to match your levels of liability coverage. This means buying more liability coverage will also increase your UMBI coverage.
UM coverage can also include coverage for property damage (UMPD) but this type of coverage is less common.
Underinsured motorist coverage
Similar to UM, underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage is designed to protect you in case someone else is at fault in an accident but they don’t have enough insurance to pay for all the damage they caused. This is a common issue when the at-fault driver only purchased the state minimum liability levels of coverage.
UIM is often sold as part of your UM coverage, but if you need to purchase it separately you’ll want to have as much UIM coverage as you can buy. Like UM insurance, most companies will match your UIM insurance to your liability insurance. Fourteen states require drivers to have UIM: Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin.
If you don’t have access to uninsured motorist property damage coverage, your best bet is to purchase collision coverage. Collision coverage pays for damage to your car after an accident, no matter who is at fault, and is usually sold along with comprehensive coverage as part of a full coverage policy. It’s also useful because it covers damage to your car even when you were the only one involved, like if you crash into a telephone pole or scrape your car up in a garage.
Which states require uninsured motorist coverage?
Buying uninsured motorist coverage is usually optional, but the states below all require drivers to have a minimum amount of UM coverage.
The requirements for most of these states are $25,000 per person/$50,000 per accident, but this isn’t true everywhere. One exception is Maine, where drivers are required to have a minimum of $50,000 per person/$100,000 per accident in uninsured motorist coverage.
However, the state minimums often aren’t high enough to cover the actual cost of an accident, so we recommend that drivers set their coverage at 100/300/100 for both liability and uninsured motorist insurance