Featured Expert
Amanda Brown
Amanda Brown Governor’s Highway Safety Office View bio

Known for its music and the Great Smoky Mountains, the Volunteer State also has a high rate of uninsured drivers. One in five Tennessee drivers does not have insurance, which is troubling because Tennessee is also one of the riskiest states to drive in.

Tennessee Vehicle Insurance Requirements

Summary

Tennessee drivers can’t get a license plate without proof of vehicle insurance. In addition, a new online verification system allows DMV staff to confirm insurance before registration, so be sure your insurance is active. “You can’t register a car without proof of insurance,” says Amanda Brown, spokeswoman for the Governor’s Highway Safety Office.

Who Needs Vehicle Insurance in Tennessee?

All drivers have to carry vehicle insurance, except the handful of people who choose to post a hefty bond instead (See Alternatives to Insurance, below). Even if you have a car stored in your garage, it needs to be insured if it’s intended for street use. If you own an inoperable vehicle, you won’t need insurance until you register it.

Proof of Insurance

In Tennessee, you have to provide proof of insurance in the following situations:

  • If a police officer asks for it.
  • If you’re in a car accident that causes injury or death, or more than $400 in property damages.

An ID card is the most common proof of insurance, but drivers can also carry an insurance binder or policy declaration page. All of these documents are available through the insurance company covering the vehicle.

Minimum Liability Insurance Requirements

If you live and drive in Tennessee, you’re required to carry liability auto insurance in at least these amounts, according to the state DMV:

  • $25,000 for one injury or death per accident
  • $50,000 for all injuries and deaths per accident
  • $15,000 for property damage per accident

Alternatives to Insurance

Instead of buying auto insurance, you can post a $60,000 secure bond with the DMV for each auto. If an accident costs more than that, however, you’ll be liable for the extra costs.

What Happens If You Drive Without Car Insurance in Tennessee?

People caught driving without insurance in the state must now pay a minimum $300 fine. If an insurance policy has been cancelled, you need to notify the state DMV and return the license plates until you get new insurance. The state had more than 40,000 crashes in 2014 in which at least one driver was uninsured, according to Tennessee representative William Lamberth, who introduced the measure for tougher fines on uninsured motorists.

How Much Vehicle Insurance Do You Need?

Insurance experts recommend getting a liability policy with coverage of $100,000 per injury or death and $300,000 for total injuries or deaths, according to the Insurance Information Institute. The minimum coverage required by states are unlikely to cover the costs of a catastrophic accident.

What Percentage of Drivers in
Tennessee Lack Vehicle Insurance?
20.1% National Average: 12.6 %

If you have a newer or more valuable vehicle, you may want to consider collision insurance (which pays for damage to the car in an accident) or a comprehensive policy, which pays for car damage or loss from theft and natural disasters.

Because Tennessee has such a high percentage of uninsured drivers, you might want to consider uninsured motorists coverage as well. For more on the subject, see the MoneyGeek guide to car insurance.

Car Insurance and Special Groups

Teen Drivers in Tennessee

Teens applying for a learner’s permit must have a parent or guardian sign a financial responsibility form. Teen drivers statistically are three times more likely to be involved in an auto accident, so they (or their parents) can expect to pay higher rates.

Insurance companies licensed in Tennessee may also charge higher premiums for certain vehicles used by teen drivers, especially SUVs and sports cars. (Conversely, you can get lower premiums if you let your teen drive a sedan with enhanced crash protection.) You’ll generally save money by putting your child on your own policy. Some companies also offer discounts to good students or those who take a defensive driving course.

The Difference a Teen Makes to Your Policy

Median annual price change for TN families with a teen driver on their policy:

$2,241 increase This is a savings of 173%.
Comparison of Premium Ranges
25th – 75th Percentile Median
Watch Your Speedometer

Average annual premium increase if your teen gets a speeding ticket while driving 11-15 mph over the speed limit:

Male teen

$464

Speedometer
Female teen

$422

Check Out Discounts for Teens in Tennessee

Impact on annual premium with Good Student and Defensive Driving discounts:

$249 saved

Compare Premiums from Tennessee Insurers

It pays to shop around. Check out the annual average premiums for a married couple and a 16-year-old teen driver in Tennessee:

Insurance Provider Min MEDIAN MAX
State Farm $1,675 $3,139 $6,691
Tennessee Farmers $1,462 $3,322 $7,792
Allstate $2,113 $4,007 $8,774
Progressive $1,938 $4,070 $9,528
SAFECO $2,091 $4,244 $9,494

Tennessee Premiums: Mustang vs. Minivan

Does the car you choose for your teen really affect your policy? Definitely — it can boost or reduce your premium by hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

Average premium for two 2014
Mustang GTs

$5,111

Average premium for two 2008
Town and Country Limiteds

$3,019

Annual benefit of minivans:

$2,092 saved This is 41% less expensive.
Premium Comparison for Two Adults + 16 Year Old
25th – 75th Percentile Median

College Students in Tennessee

Always notify the insurance company if your student heads off to college with a vehicle, especially out-of-state. Failure to do so could result in a claim denial. Some Tennessee insurance carriers offer a discount to college drivers who maintain a certain grade-point average.

Do College Students Have Lower Premiums in TN?

Median annual premium change with a college student vs. high school driver

$898 decrease This is a decrease of 24%.
Comparison of Premium Ranges
25th - 75th Percentile Median

Annual Premiums: How Tennessee Insurers Compare

Each year, take a look at your policy to see whether you could get a better deal. Here are the average premiums for a married couple with a 19-year-old college student in Tennessee.

Provider Min MEDIAN MAX
State Farm $1,225 $2,296 $4,948
SAFECO $1,499 $2,735 $5,171
Tennessee Farmers $1,224 $2,727 $6,240
Progressive $1,482 $3,004 $6,600
Allstate $1,728 $3,239 $6,616

Distance Discount: Savings for Tennessee College Drivers

You may get a modest break in your family’s auto insurance premium if your student lives 150+ miles away from home.

Average premium for a 19-year-old male
  • $3,248 at home
  • $2,957 at school
  • $291 in savings
Average premium for a 19-year-old female
  • $2,759 at home
  • $2,566 at school
  • $193 in savings

College Students in Tennessee: Mustangs vs. Minivans

If your college student drives a minivan, your premium will be less than if he or she drives a sports car — a savings that reflects its lower risk to insurers.

2014 Mustang GTs (2)

$3,841

2008 Town and Country Limited minivans (2)

$2,247

Annual benefit of minivans

$1,594 saved This is 41% less expensive.
Premium Comparison for Two Adults + College Driver
25th - 75th Percentile Median

Military Drivers in Tennessee

Whether you’re one of about 2,200 active-duty personnel in Tennessee or live in the Volunteer State as one of its 506,000 retired veterans, you can save money on auto insurance by shopping around for military discounts available from virtually all insurance companies in the state. Rates vary, so compare prices from several companies. It’s a good idea to know the replacement value of your vehicle so you’ll know how much insurance you really need, possibly more than the state’s mandated minimum. If you expect to deploy and won’t be driving your car for a while, ask the insurance company if you can pause payments on the policy.

You can register a vehicle at the county clerk’s office where you’re based. If you’re a Tennessee resident living elsewhere, you can send a registration application to any county clerk’s office in the state. Some, not all, Tennessee counties let you renew your registration online. The Tennessee Department of Revenue maintains a list of those counties here.

Tennessee Service Members:
How Vehicle Choice Affects Your Premium

Rollover crashes are more common among SUVs and pickups, according to insurance studies, but an older model SUV affects your premium less than a recent model sports car.

Military Drivers: How Premium Ranges Change by Driver Age and Vehicle
25-Year-Old Driver
50-Year-Old Driver
25th - 75th Percentile Median

Age Savings for Tennessee
Service Members

Median auto insurance
for service members:

$1,115
Male (25 yrs)$1,359
Male (50 yrs)$1,040
$319 savings
Female (25 yrs)$1,268
Female (50 yrs)$1,018
$250 savings

Compare Average Premiums Available to Tennessee Military Personnel

Before your insurance policy renews, it pays to shop around. Check out the average annual rates you can get in Tennessee.

Premium Comparison for a Military Driver
25th - 75th Percentile Median

Seniors in Tennessee

Tennessee is one of 34 states that offers insurance discounts to drivers age 55 or older who pass a state-approved safety course. Discounts up to 10 percent are good for three years. Courses can be completed online; costs range from $20-40.

Undocumented Workers in Tennessee

Unlike some states, Tennessee does not allow undocumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses (a prerequisite for car insurance), with one exception: young people approved for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Created under President Barack Obama, the DACA program allows young immigrants who arrived before age 16 (and some other conditions) to apply for a work permit and a driver’s license.

Although this program expands the pool of insured drivers in a state where one in four drivers lacks car insurance, in 2013 some legislators tried to pass a bill to take away drivers licenses that were lawfully granted to immigrant youth.

Ridesharing Insurance in Tennessee: Are You Covered?

Under Tennessee law, ridesharing companies such as Uber and Lyft may operate statewide. All drivers offering rideshare services must pass federal, state and local background checks, be at least 19 and provide proof of vehicle insurance. This has long been a source of contention, since a personal auto policy does not cover an accident that occurs when“driving for hire.”

The new law, which took effect Jan. 1, 2016, requires drivers to carry primary insurance that recognizes them as transportation network company drivers in the amount of 50/100/25 (in thousands) when using the app and one million in liability insurance when picking up and carrying a passenger. If an accident occurs and the driver does not have insurance, state law now requires the ridesharing company to cover the accident.

Car Accidents: How to File a Claim

Tennessee is a “fault” state where the driver who is judged legally responsible for an accident must cover the costs. If you’re in an accident where the other driver is at fault, you have these options:

  • File a claim with your own insurance company, which usually makes a claim against the at-fault driver’s auto insurance
  • File a claim directly with the at-fault driver’s insurance company
  • File a personal injury lawsuit in civil court against the at-fault driver

There is a one-year limit to file a personal injury lawsuit in Tennessee courts. A three-year limit applies to property damage.

Drivers are also required to complete an accident form within 20 days of a crash and submit it to the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security.

Driver Safety: How Does Tennessee Rank?

Unfortunately, Tennessee roads are some of the most dangerous in the country. According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration data, Tennessee is among the top 10 states with the highest rate of road fatalities.

Tennessee Driver Safety Ranking

31st in the U.S.
About Our Data

The driver safety table shows the different safety factors that contribute to your state's overall safety rank (in the green box). The overall safety ranking and the National Ranking column scores in each category (including crash fatality rates) are from safest to most dangerous, with 1st being the safest and 51st the least safe.

How did we create the safety rankings?

We created a traffic safety ranking of all US states plus the District of Columbia by combining data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. We looked at fatality rates by distance traveled as well as by population and gave more weight to behaviors that were riskier and preventable (i.e., drunk driving, not using a seat belt), as well as to accidents that involved more than one party (i.e., multi-vehicle).

Driver Safety Profile Number of Fatalities Fatality Rate

The fatality rate is the rate per one billion vehicle miles traveled, except for pedestrian and bicyclist fatality measures, which are per measured per a population of 100,000.

Ranking
(National)

Rankings are in order of safest to least safe. A state with the lowest fatality rate would be the safest, and thus ranked #1.

Drunk Driving-Related Fatalities 279 3.92 41st
Speeding-Related Fatalities 236 3.32 28th
Passenger Vehicle Unrestrained Fatalities 351 4.94 38th
Unhelmeted Motorcycle Fatalities 11 0.15 15th
Multiple Vehicle Fatalities 444 6.25 45th
Pedestrian Fatalities 80 1.23 27th
Bicyclist Fatalities 8 0.12 18th
Total Vehicle Fatalities 995 14.00 41st

Sources: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

Tennessee: Protecting You from Injury on the Road

Tennessee has taken steps to curb drunk and distracted driving. These include mandatory installation of an ignition interlock device on all vehicles owned by anyone with a DUI conviction, including a first offense, Brown says. “We’ve also banned all texting, and school bus drivers and young drivers can’t use a cell phone at all while they’re driving.”

Tennessee is also conducting a “Click It or Ticket” campaign to promote buckling up. These and other safety measures are reducing the number of fatal crashes on Tennessee highways, Brown says. Year over year, she says, Tennessee saw a drop in vehicular deaths from 373 to 354, a 5 percent decrease.

Safe Driving Laws – Tennessee

  Requirement State Law Details
Mandatory seat belts partial Primary law for drivers and front seat passengers, but no rear seat enforcement for adults.
Child passenger safety Children under 18 must be properly restrained. Rear-facing car seat for infants one and under; 1-3 years of age in forward-facing car seats; 4-8 years of age (under 4’ 9”) in booster seats; 9-15 in seat belts.
Driving under the influence (DUI) 0.08 is the blood alcohol concentration for DUI (in adults); penalties may include jail time, fines and license suspension.
Ignition interlock after DUI Mandatory
Talking on cell or texting while driving Texting universally banned. School bus drivers and drivers with learners or intermediate permits may not talk on cell phones while driving.
Protections for young drivers Graduated license system based on age; some nighttime driving protections.
Motorcycle helmet law Required of all operators and riders.
Bicycle helmet law Partial Children 16 and younger must wear a helmet.

Sources: Governors Highway Safety Association and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Car Insurance Resources for Tennessee Residents

Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance

Consumer information on auto insurance, including toll-free numbers to mediate insurance disputes.

Tennessee Governor’s Highway Safety Office

Resource offering safety tips, educational videos and an overview of state safety laws.

Saferoads: Tennessee

Check out the 2016 safety roadmap for Tennessee from Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, an alliance of consumer, medical, public health, safety and insurance groups.