How long does a car accident stay on your record?

Car accidents can stay on your driving record for years and can affect your auto insurance rate

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How long does an accident stay on your record? The answer is typically three to five years, depending on your state and insurer.  (Shutterstock)

When a car accident happens, it’s normal to feel scared, stressed, and overwhelmed. It’s very easy to focus on the here and now, rather than what’s going to happen down the line. 

But once the dust settles, you may find that you have yet another problem to worry about — your driving record. Car accidents can stay on your driving record for years, affecting your auto insurance rates.

Let’s take a closer look at how long an accident stays on your record and how it can impact your car insurance. 

With Credible, you can easily compare car insurance quotes from top insurance carriers.

How long does an accident stay on your record?

A car accident will typically stay on your driving record for three to five years in the eyes of insurers. This means that an accident may stay on your record for longer, but auto insurance carriers will typically only consider the last three to five years. 

However, the state you live in and where the accident occurred can affect how long the accident will remain on your record. For example, in California, the DMV typically reports accidents for three years, but it can be up to 10 years for collisions involving commercial vehicles or hazardous materials. 

What’s accident forgiveness?

Accident forgiveness is a type of coverage you can get in addition to your base auto insurance policy. With this coverage, you won’t experience a potential insurance rate hike after your first at-fault accident. 

You typically must qualify for accident forgiveness, so check with your auto insurance provider to see if you’re eligible for this benefit. You may qualify if you go five years without an accident. Avoiding a rate increase after your first accident can save you a lot of money in the long run. 

How much will your rate increase after an accident?

The average nationwide rate increase after an at-fault accident is 28% for Progressive customers. However, the amount that your auto insurance rate rises — if at all — depends on a few different factors beyond just your insurer. While your accident history does influence your insurance premium, so do other factors like your age and location. The driver at fault in the accident can also impact your rate change. 

The good news is even if you do experience a rate increase after an accident, that increase won’t necessarily be permanent. As previously mentioned, insurance carriers generally look at the last three to five years of your driving record to determine what your insurance rate should be. That means that even if you have an accident on your record, after a certain point, insurance providers stop holding it against you if you can show a responsible driving history afterward.

You can visit Credible to compare auto insurance quotes from multiple carriers, all in one place.

What to do if your auto insurance rate increases 

If you do experience an auto insurance rate increase after an accident, you can take steps to try to reduce your insurance costs, such as: 

  • Shop around. There’s no rule that says you have to stick with your current insurance carrier. If your insurance provider raises your rates at your next renewal, consider getting quotes to see if any other insurance providers will offer you a lower price. You can compare quotes online in minutes.
  • Reduce your coverage. Take a look at your current coverage to see if you really need as much as you’re paying for. For example, if you have an old car, consider dropping comprehensive and collision coverage.
  • Bundle insurance policies. Some auto insurance providers offer discounts to consumers who carry multiple policies with them. Bundling home and auto insurance is a popular route to take, but depending on the insurance carrier and the other policies they offer, you may be able to bundle renters insurance, pet insurance, or life insurance policies with your car insurance.
  • Ask about discounts. It can’t hurt to ask what type of discounts your auto insurance provider offers. You may have recently qualified for a discount without realizing it. Many auto insurance carriers offer good student discounts, military discounts, and senior discounts, among others. 

How to get insured with an accident on your record

Getting car insurance after an accident may be more difficult, depending on the severity of the accident. If it’s your first accident, you may not run into much trouble finding a new policy, but if you have a pattern of accidents, some auto insurance providers may shy away from offering you coverage. 

You do have a few options to move forward. One way to better your odds of being approved for a new insurance policy — and to secure a low rate — is to improve your credit score. In most states, insurance providers are allowed to use credit-based insurance scores to determine your premium. You can improve your insurance score by paying down debt and making consistent, on-time payments. The lower your credit score, the more auto insurance is likely to cost. 

Another option is to reduce the amount of miles you typically drive, if possible. Your average mileage reflects how at risk you are of getting into an accident. If you can show that you’re driving less these days, your auto insurance rate may go down as a result. Moving closer to work, choosing a remote job, or taking more public transportation on the weekends can all help you cut down on your mileage. If you plan to take any big road trips, consider renting a car to help keep the mileage on your car low.

Keep in mind that increased insurance rates after an accident are temporary. That being said, every accident can set you back financially. That’s just one more good reason to drive as safely as possible. 

With Credible, you can compare car insurance quotes from various insurance carriers in minutes.