Featured Expert
Shelly Trucksess Baldwin
Shelly Trucksess Baldwin Washington Traffic Safety Commission View bio

Whether you plan to climb Mount Rainier or explore the rainforests of the Olympic peninsula, Washington is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise. It is also one of the safer states to drive in, thanks in part to being the first state to adopt the national Toward Zero Deaths strategy. Find out what the state requires for car insurance and driving safety laws.

Washington Vehicle Insurance Requirements

Summary

Washington roads are safer than the national average, thanks in part to effective and highly enforced traffic laws. Still, accidents happen. Washington requires standard bodily injury and physical damage liability insurance for all registered motor vehicles. This insurance pays for the other person’s damages if you are at fault in an accident.

Who Needs Vehicle Insurance in Washington?

All motor vehicles registered in Washington must be insured or show other evidence of financial responsibility.

Motorcycles – which make up 4 percent of registered vehicles in Washington– are exempt from the insurance mandate, even though they accounted for 16 percent of traffic fatalities between 2009 and 2013.

There are a few alternatives to purchasing insurance, but they are costly and cumbersome. Here are the options:

  • A certificate of deposit for at least $60,000, set up with the Department of Licensing
  • A liability bond for at least $60,000, filed by a surety bond company authorized to do business in Washington.
  • Self-insurance (if you operate more than 25 vehicles)

If you are unable to buy automobile insurance in the private market (due to your age or driving record), you may be able to access coverage through the state’s Automobile Insurance Plan for high-risk drivers. To qualify, you must be a Washington resident (or member of the U.S. military), hold a valid Washington state driver’s license, and have no outstanding debt from previous car insurance.

Proof of Insurance

You must carry your Washington motor vehicle insurance identification card (or a version of it on your phone) in your vehicle at all times. If you don’t have proof when pulled over by the police, you will get a ticket and be fined.

If you are later able to provide proof that you were legally insured at the time of the citation, you can present that proof in court or by mail and the citation will be dismissed, but you may be charged $25 in administrative fees.

Minimum Liability Insurance Requirements

Washington requires that all motor vehicle drivers have at least the following levels of coverage in the event of a crash:

  • $25,000 of bodily injury or death of one person
  • $50,000 of bodily injury or death of two or more people
  • $10,000 of injury to or destruction of property of others

What Happens If You Drive Without Car Insurance in Washington?

You can be fined at least $450 for driving without the minimum insurance. Even so, an estimated 16 percent of Washington drivers are uninsured. This puts the state in 10th place nationally for the highest percentage of uninsured motorists.

How Much Vehicle Insurance Do You Need?

Insurance experts and consumer advocates generally recommend carrying more than the minimum amount of insurance by law. The types and amounts of insurance you choose to carry will depend on your personal situation, your assets, and your priorities.

What Percentage of Drivers in
Washington Lack Vehicle Insurance?
16.1% National Average: 12.6 %

For example, since Washington has a high rate of uninsured motorists, you may choose to purchase uninsured motorist insurance. If you have an expensive new car, you may want collision insurance. (If it’s being financed, the lender will probably require it.) It’s best to talk with your insurance agent about your insurance needs.

Car Insurance and Special Groups

Teen Drivers in Washington

When your teen gets behind the wheel, you will probably have two big worries: their safety and your premiums.

Car crashes are the leading cause of death and injury for Washington teenagers, according to the Washington State Department of Licensing. Washington has enacted some important laws to protect teen drivers, like graduated licenses and a ban on cell phones. The department of licensing website also offers an extensive website on teens and driving, including guidebooks for parents teaching their kids how to drive and warning videos about distracted driving.

The Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety has suggested that Washington better enforce its laws limiting the nighttime hours teens can drive and how many teenage passengers they can carry. However, these are secondary laws, meaning they aren’t reason enough for a police officer to pull a car over, Traffic Safety Commission spokesperson Shelly Baldwin explain., “We have high standards for privacy in Washington,” she says. “You can’t just pull over a car because someone looks like a teen driver.” You can help by making sure your teen knows, and abides by, the law.

To keep premiums down, make sure your teen understands the importance of maintaining a clean driving record. Also, ask your insurance agent for a Good Student discount if your child maintains a B average in school.

Washington Car Insurance: The Difference a Teen Makes

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

$1,534 increase This is a difference of 122%.
Comparison of Premium Ranges
25th – 75th Percentile Median
Teens, Speeding and Auto Premiums

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

Male teen

$365

Speedometer
Female teen

$334

Discounts for Teens in Washington

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

$296 saved

Compare Quotes from Washington Insurers

If you don’t think it pays to shop around, check out the annual average premiums for a married couple with a 16-year-old teen driver in Washington:

Insurance Provider Min MEDIAN MAX
GEICO $1,155 $2,523 $4,941
PEMCO $1,635 $2,783 $6,116
Allstate $1,585 $3,060 $5,990
Farmers $1,752 $3,140 $6,544
State Farm $1,620 $3,433 $6,852

How Your Teen’s Car Can Affect Your Premium in WA

You may have heard that giving your teen a sports car or another high-risk vehicle can boost your insurance premium. But do you know by how much?

Average premium for two 2014
Mustang GTs

$3,712

Average premium for two 2008
Town and Country Limiteds

$2,594

Annual benefit of minivans:

$1,118 saved This is 30% less expensive.
Premium Comparison for Two Adults + 16 Year Old
25th – 75th Percentile Median

College Students in Washington

When your teen goes off to college, you have more options for saving money on insurance premiums. If your child attends a college at least 100 miles from home and doesn’t take a car, you may be eligible for a discount from your insurer, or you may choose to temporarily remove her from your plan. Some parents prefer to have their college student get his own insurance plan to limit their exposure in case he gets in an accident or racks up speeding tickets. It’s best to talk with your insurance agent directly about your options before your child heads off to school.

Do College Drivers Have Lower Premiums in WA?

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

$834 decrease This is a decrease of 28%.
Comparison of Premium Ranges
25th - 75th Percentile Median

Annual Rates: How Washington Insurers Compare

Each year, study your policy before it renews to see whether you could get a better rate somewhere else. Case in point: Here are the average premiums for a married couple and a 19-year-old college student in Washington.

Provider Min MEDIAN MAX
GEICO $638 $1,664 $4,311
PEMCO $1,208 $2,011 $4,034
State Farm $958 $2,112 $4,499
Farmers $1,320 $2,242 $4,168
Allstate $1,296 $2,476 $4,663

Distance Discount: Savings for Washington College Students

You may realize a small savings in your family’s premium if your student lives 150+ miles away from home.

Average premium for a 19-year-old male
  • $2,592 at home
  • $2,003 at school
  • $589 in savings
Average premium for a 19-year-old female
  • $2,287 at home
  • $1,866 at school
  • $421 in savings

How Car Choice Can Lead to Savings in Washington

If your child drives a sports car, you may end up paying far more for premiums than if she drives a sedan or minivan.

2014 Mustang GTs (2)

$2,671

2008 Town and Country Limited minivans (2)

$1,834

Annual benefit of minivans

$837 saved This is 31% less expensive.
Premium Comparison for Two Adults + College Driver
25th - 75th Percentile Median

Military Drivers in Washington

Some insurance companies offer special discounts to active members of the military. For example, GEICO offers up to 15 percent off for active or retired members of the military. They also offer emergency deployment discounts.

If you are temporarily stationed in Washington, you can either keep your registration from your home state, or register your vehicle in Washington. Your spouse has the same option, as long as the vehicle registration has your name on it as well.

Disabled veterans who received an honorable discharge may be eligible for a disabled veteran license plate. This plate doesn’t give you parking privileges (you will need to apply separately for a disabled parking permit), but these plates are good for life, meaning you no longer have to pay license fees. The state also offers a wide range of military license plates, which are available to active service members, veterans and their families.

Washington Service Members:
How the Vehicle You Drive Affects Your Premium

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

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

Age Savings for Washington
Service Members

Median auto insurance
for service members:

$1,041
Male (25 yrs)$1,252
Male (50 yrs)$941
$311 savings
Female (25 yrs)$1,359
Female (50 yrs)$922
$437 savings

Compare Average Premiums Available to Washington Military Personnel

When looking for the best quotes, it pays to do some comparison shopping. Check out the average annual rates you can get in Washington.

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

Seniors in Washington

If you are at least 55 years old and complete a safe driving course, Washington law requires your insurance company to give you a discount. You can find a list of courses on the Department of Licensing website. In addition to refreshing your knowledge of the rules of the road and good driving skills, these eight-hour courses cover ways to adapt your driving to accommodate for normal age-related physical changes.

Undocumented Workers in Washington

In 1993, Washington was the first state in the nation to allow immigrants without Social Security numbers to use alternate documentation such as passports to get driver’s licenses, which also paved the way for undocumented workers to buy car insurance.

Washington is also one of five states that offer an “enhanced” driver’s license, which is only issued to people who show proof of U.S. citizenship. The federal government accepts the enhanced license as a form of ID but not the regular driver’s license.

Ridesharing Insurance in Washington: Are You Covered?

In 2015, Washington enacted statewide legislation requiring drivers of transportation network companies (TNCs) like Uber and Lyft to carry a minimum of $1 million in liability and underinsured motorist coverage when carrying a passenger in the state. Drivers must also carry a minimum of $50,000 per person/$100,000 per accident for bodily injury and $30,000 for property damage to cover times when the driver is on duty but doesn’t have a passenger in the car. (The primary insurance can be paid by the driver, the TNC, or a combination of both.) Cities are allowed to enact more stringent requirements.

Car Accidents: How to File a Claim

If you are involved in an accident, you are required to remain at the scene and exchange insurance information with anyone else who is involved. If anyone is injured, or if there is more than $700 in damage to one person’s property, you must report the accident to the Washington State Patrol (WSP), city police or county sheriff.

If you don’t complete a written report when required, your license may be suspended. Report the accident to your insurance company immediately, and it will help you file a claim.

Driver Safety: How Does Washington Rank?

The low fatality rates on Washington’s roads didn’t just happen by accident. “Washington is a leader in traffic safety,” says Baldwin. “We were the first state to adopt the national Toward Zero Deaths strategy. We are striving to eliminate all traffic deaths and serious injuries.”

Washington legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, and some safety advocates were concerned that this would lead to increased traffic accidents. A 2015 report by the Traffic Safety Commission found an increase in the number of drivers involved in fatal crashes who tested positive for THC, but the Commission stresses that the data is not sufficient to draw any conclusions about the impact of legalization on traffic safety.

Commission spokesperson Shelly Baldwin says her department continues to study the issue. “There’s a lot of education to be done around the impact of marijuana on driving, especially combining marijuana with alcohol,” which, she notes, is very dangerous. “But this is not a new problem. We’ve been arresting drivers for being high on marijuana for years. It’s just more accessible now.”

Here’s a look at Washington’s safety numbers:

Washington Driver Safety Ranking

5th 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 148 2.59 9th
Speeding-Related Fatalities 181 3.16 26th
Passenger Vehicle Unrestrained Fatalities 89 1.56 5th
Unhelmeted Motorcycle Fatalities 3 0.05 7th
Multiple Vehicle Fatalities 181 3.16 6th
Pedestrian Fatalities 49 0.70 7th
Bicyclist Fatalities 11 0.16 26th
Total Vehicle Fatalities 436 7.62 5th

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

Washington: Protecting You from Injury on the Road

Washington State has at least one bizarre driving law on the books, according to the city of Burlington, Wash.: “It is mandatory for a motorist with criminal intentions to stop at the city limits and telephone the chief of police as he is entering the town.” (Hm.) Due to its “sheer stupidity,” the law did not accomplish its intent to curb crime, the Burlington website observed dryly.

That law aside, Washington has strong driving safety regulations, which supporters link to its low driver fatality rate.

Safe Driving Laws – Washington

  Requirement State Law Details
Mandatory seatbelts For driver and all passengers.
Child passenger safety Child restraint required for kids under age 8 or under 4’9”. Under age 13, children should be in the back seat if practical.
Driving under the influence (DUI) 90-day license suspension for 1st DUI conviction.
Ignition interlock after DUI Mandatory for all DUI convictions.
Talking on cell or texting while driving Talking with handheld device and texting prohibited for all drivers. All cell phone use banned for drivers with learner or intermediate license.
Protections for young drivers No passengers under age 20 (except family) during first six months of intermediate stage (usually age 16-18), then no more than three passengers under age 20 for remainder of intermediate stage. No driving 1-5 a.m. during intermediate stage.
Motorcycle helmet law Universal helmet law.
Bicycle helmet law No statewide helmet law for bicyclists.

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

Car Insurance Resources for Washington Residents

Department of Licensing

Explains licensing and insurance regulations for state. residents.

Office of the Insurance Commissioner

Provides lots of information about insurance requirements, how to file a claim and how to submit a complaint.

Washington Traffic Safety Commission

Offers information and resources on the state’s traffic safety laws.

Washington Department of Transportation

Keeps you up to date on traffic and road conditions.

Consumer Protection Division, Attorney General’s Office

Investigates and represents consumers fighting unfair practices. Enforces Washington’s Lemon Law for new vehicle warranties.