According to the Virginia Highway Safety Office, there were 128,172 traffic accidents in the Commonwealth of Virginia in 2019.
Of these, 65,708 resulted in injuries, with a total of 827 fatalities reported.
As you can see from these statistics, it’s incredibly important that Virginia drivers carry appropriate insurance coverage if they want to protect their financial and personal health.
However, deciding on the types and amounts of insurance you need can be extremely complex.
You can’t predict the future, so you can’t know the amount of damages your insurance will have to cover.
However, choosing your insurance coverage doesn’t have to be overwhelming.
In this article, we’ll quickly cover the absolute basics of Virginia car insurance laws.
Then, using this information, we’ll discuss the somewhat complex answer to the question of “how much car insurance do I need in Virginia.”
Virginia Car Insurance Requirements: The Basics
Many Virginia drivers seem to misunderstand the point of having car insurance.
Or, rather, they focus on the side effects of having an insurance policy rather than its true purpose as a financial safeguard.
To be quite clear, the reason you want insurance is not to pay for the minor fender bender that you were involved in while at the supermarket.
That’s just a happy side effect of having coverage.
Instead, you should purchase car insurance to protect yourself from personal liability in the event of a life-alteringly expensive traffic accident.
It’s nice to have an insurance policy for minor fender benders.
It’s critical to carry coverage for accidents that can result in tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars in damages.
In general, there are two basic requirements you need to know about when considering car insurance coverage in Virginia: the “minimum liability coverage” amounts and the “uninsured motorist fee.”
Minimum Liability Coverage
The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) monitors all auto insurance policies for drivers who register their vehicles in Virginia.
Specifically, the DMV will ask for proof that you currently carry the minimum amount of auto insurance required by law.
This means you must have a minimum coverage of at least:
- $25,000 in coverage for bodily injury (per person)
- $50,000 in coverage for bodily injury (per accident)
- $20,000 in coverage for property damage
Note, however, that the Virginia Code only requires liability coverage for when you are at-fault for an accident (such as for when you have to pay damages to the other driver).
Liability coverage will not protect yourself, your family, or your vehicle if you are injured as a result of an accident in which you are found to be at fault.
Uninsured Motorist Fee (UMV)
The only way to get around the above-mentioned minimums is to pay an uninsured motorist fee to the DMV.
This $500 fee will allow you to drive on public roads, uninsured, without pay any additional fines or penalties.
However, if you are found to be at-fault for an accident, you will be personally responsible for any and all damage incurred as a result of the accident.
Remaining uninsured offers you, your family, your vehicle, and your wallet no protection whatsoever other than escaping from a ticket for driving without insurance.
Why You Should Get More Coverage
As we noted above, all Virginia drivers must carry an auto insurance policy which covers all damages up to the statutory 25/50/20 thresholds.
However, while policies that only cover up to this amount are certainly the cheapest option, they leave you in an incredibly precarious position should you be found at-fault for an accident.
Notably, the last time the Virginia legislature updated this code section was around 30 years ago in 1989.
These minimum amounts have not kept up with the rising costs of medical treatment associated with serious accidents, let alone the price of the cars themselves.
Further, your insurance company will never pay more in damages than the amount of your coverage, even if the verdict after court is far higher than your limits.
For this reason, it is in the best interest of most individuals to obtain additional insurance coverage above and beyond the state’s minimum requirements.
So, How Much Insurance Do I Need?
In true lawyer fashion, the only answer is “it depends.”
For some, purchasing a “full coverage” policy which protects you from a wide range of events may seem like overkill.
For others, even a $100,000 / $300,000 / $100,000 policy may not sufficiently cover an accident.
In general, the amount of coverage you should pay for is a balancing act between (1) the amount of property you need to cover, (2) the number of people you’d like to cover, and (3) your ability to pay for coverage.
Remember, insurance is a practice based in risk management.
The insurance company is betting that you’ll never use your policy, while you’re betting that you’ll never be in an accident which results in damages that exceed your policy’s limit.
The key to this entire process is deciding on the amount that you can pay in the event of an accident without experiencing excessive financial hardship.
Shooting too high can result in high premiums that drain your funds over time, while shooting too low can lead to personal liability after a traffic accident, and even a potential lawsuit.
Higher coverage limits can also protect you in the event that the other driver doesn’t have sufficient coverage to compensate you for your own injuries and property damage.
In a similar fashion, if you are the one who has to collect from an uninsured or underinsured motorist, it’s far easier to simply ask your own insurance company for a check instead of having to take the defendant to court multiple times in order to collect your damages.
Optimal Liability Coverage Limits in Virginia
Since the average cost of a non-incapacitating evident injury car accident (such as an accident that results in a single broken bone) can easily reach upwards of $25,000, it’s generally a good idea to get at least a 100/300/100 policy.
This means your insurance policy will cover:
- $100,000 in injuries per person.
- $300,000 for injuries total per accident.
- $100,000 to pay for any damaged property, such as cars.
Of course, higher coverage amounts, even up to 250/500/100, are still the safest option (though possibly not the best one for your budget).
As a final and very important note, paying for higher insurance coverage isn’t usually that much more expensive than paying for lower coverage amounts.
In fact, doubling your liability coverage in Virginia from 50/100/50 to 100/300/100 only costs around 10-13% more per month on average.
What Happens if I Don’t Have Enough Insurance?
Choosing a lower policy in Virginia specifically means that you are at a higher risk of receiving a lower payout in the event of an accident should the other driver not have insurance.
Higher coverage limits can protect you in the event that the other driver does not have sufficient coverage to compensate you for your own injuries and property damage.
However, if you do not have a high enough insurance policy, and the accident is found to be your fault, then the other injured party can collect damages directly from your own assets.
This means that they can collect their payout by forcing you to sell your home or car, or to drain your savings.
They could even ask the court to garnish your wages, meaning they would take the settlement directly out of your paycheck.
Similarly, if you are the one who has to collect from an uninsured or an underinsured driver, it’s far easier to just ask your own insurance company for a check through your uninsured motorist coverage instead of having to take the defendant to court multiple times.
The key to the process of buying car insurance is deciding on the amount that you can pay in the event of an accident without experiencing excessive financial hardship.
Don’t forget that the more money and assets you have, the more likely it is that you may be sued in the event of an accident. You should assess your personal financial situation, needs, and the worth of your time and assets.
Unless you are absolutely set on paying the lowest car insurance rate possible, you should buy higher than the minimum liability coverage as well as additional coverage such as collision and UM/UIM.
The State Corporation Commission (SCC) provides a helpful Auto Insurance Consumer’s Guide for those that are still confused and unsure.
However, in order to ensure that you are receiving the best insurance for yourself and your assets, you should consult with a lawyer.