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How long does an accident stay on your record?

Fact-checked with HomeInsurance.com

When shopping for car insurance, it stands to reason that the lowest rates go to the cleanest driving records. Having a spotty record due to car accidents can make your insurance premium quite costly. However, car accidents don’t stay on your record forever, and you can avoid paying too much money for car insurance by understanding when accidents are removed from your record.

In this guide, we’ll break down how long an accident stays on your record; how accident type factors into the length of time it appears on your record; and what can happen to your insurance rates as a result of getting into a car accident.

How long do accidents stay on your record?

Getting into a car accident is usually a stressful and scary experience, not only in terms of physical well-being, but also financial well-being. When a driver has an accident, their insurance premiums are increased, as they are perceived as a higher risk in insurance companies’ eyes. However, these blemishes on your record can be removed with time. The length of time it takes largely depends on the accident’s severity and the state in which the accident occurred.

Many states employ a points system to track traffic violations, giving more points to drivers that have committed more egregious vehicular crimes. If you accumulate too many points, you may end up with a suspended driver’s license. However, states don’t use the same points systems to dictate the length of time an accident stays on your record. For instance, a DUI in California will stay on your record for 13 years while the same violation in Michigan will only remain on your record for two years. In general, however, you can refer to the table below to find out how long your particular accident will remain on your record:

Accident typeLength on record
First Minor AccidentMany insurance companies will offer accident forgiveness for first-time accidents, so this may not end up on your record at all.
Minor Accident3 Years
Hit-and-Run10 Years
DUI10 Years

If you have specific questions about your driving record, refer to your state’s guidelines or contact your local Motor Vehicle Department. In many cases, you can obtain a copy of your driving record for a small fee from your local DMV.

What if the accident wasn’t your fault?

Sometimes you just get unlucky and another driver causes an accident you can’t avoid. When this happens, the accident may still go on your driving record; however, it should not impact your insurance premium. Be sure to obtain a copy of the police report to verify who is considered “at-fault” in order to avoid unnecessary increases to your premium.

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

The first thing you should do following a car accident is contact your insurance and see if it offers first-time accident forgiveness. If so, then you’re in the clear and should not experience any increases to your insurance premium (so long as you practice safer driving going forward).

If you don’t have accident forgiveness stipulated in your policy, you’ll likely have your rate increased. How much of an increase that is exactly depends on a few factors, including where you live, how many claims have been filed in recent history, how serious the accident was and how long you’ve been a customer with your insurance company. On average, your insurance premium will increase 34% following an accident. For more serious accidents, such as DUIs and hit-and-runs, insurance providers may even elect not to renew your policy when it expires.

Can insurance companies raise my rates if I didn’t cause the accident?

In short, yes they can. While it may not seem fair to the not-at-fault driver, insurance companies are at liberty to increase drivers’ rates as they see fit. According to research by the Consumer Federation of America, Progressive is the biggest offender in raising rates for not-at-fault drivers. During their research, the group found that Progressive increased rates by an average 17% for drivers that hadn’t caused the accident that spurred their claim.

However, some states have laws in place that prevent this type of rate increase from happening. In particular, California and Oklahoma both have laws to prevent insurance companies from raising premiums for drivers who did not cause the accident in which they found themselves.

What if I have accident forgiveness?

Some insurance companies offer accident forgiveness for their customers. This simply means that if a driver gets into an accident, regardless of whether or not they are at-fault, they will not have it reflected in an increase to their premium. The following insurance companies offer accident forgiveness to their customers:

  • Allstate
  • GEICO
  • The Hartford
  • Liberty Mutual
  • Nationwide
  • Progressive
  • State Farm

The Takeaway

  • Most minor car accidents will appear on your record for about three years, but the length of time an accident stays on your driving record depends on severity, location and number of prior offenses.
  • Accidents of any kind (at-fault or not-at-fault) may result in an increase to your insurance premium.
  • Some states prohibit insurance rate increases for drivers who are found to be not-at-fault.
  • Drivers can avoid increases to their insurance premium if their providers offer accident forgiveness.

Conclusion

Generally speaking, drivers can expect a car accident to remain on their record for three years from the time the incident occurred. Drivers who have had many car accidents will pay the highest rates for their insurance; however, first-time offenses may be forgiven if the provider offers accident forgiveness. On average, a claim will increase your rate 34% or more. 

While many insurers do not increase rates for not-at-fault drivers who have been in an accident, others still do, so it’s important to carefully review your policy to understand what consequences you may incur as a result of an accident that’s not your fault. If you live in certain states, like California or Oklahoma, you’re automatically protected from increased rates due to a not-at-fault accident because certain states have laws in place to protect drivers from such occurrences.

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