Auto & Motorcycle

In the United States, auto insurance covering liability for injuries and property damage done to others is compulsory in most states, though different states enforce the requirement differently. The state of New Hampshire, for example, does not require motorists to carry liability insurance (the ballpark model), while in Virginia residents must pay the state a $500 annual fee per vehicle if they choose not to buy liability insurance. Penalties for not purchasing auto insurance vary by state, but often involve a substantial fine, license and/or registration suspension or revocation, as well as possible jail time. Usually, the minimum required by law is third party insurance to protect third parties against the financial consequences of loss, damage or injury caused by a vehicle.

One common misconception in the United States is that vehicles that are financed on credit through a bank or credit union are required to have "full" coverage in order for the financial institution to cover their losses in the case of an accident. While most states do require additional coverage to be purchased, some such as Pennsylvania only require Comprehensive and Collision to be purchased in addition to liability and not "full" coverage. Vehicles bought on cash or have been paid off by the owner are generally required to only carry liability. In some cases, vehicles financed through a "buy-here-pay-here" car dealership–in which the consumer (generally those with poor credit) finances a car and pays the dealer directly without a bank–also only require liability coverage.

Several states, like California and New Jersey, have enacted "Personal Responsibility Acts" which put further pressure on all drivers to carry liability insurance by preventing uninsured drivers from recovering noneconomic damages (e.g. compensation for "pain and suffering") if they are injured in any way while operating a motor vehicle.

Some states, such as North Carolina, require that a driver hold liability insurance before a license can be issued.

Some states require that insurance be carried in the car at all times, while others do not enforce this law. For example, North Carolina does not specify that you must carry proof of insurance in the vehicle; however, NC does state that you must have that information to trade with another driver in the event of an accident. Whether a state specifies you must have proof of insurance in the car or not, it’s always advisable to have the information on hand in case an officer should request it.

Arizona Department of Transportation Research Project Manager John Semmens has recommended that car insurers issue license plates, and that they be held responsible for the full cost of injuries and property damages caused by their licensees under the Disneyland model. Plates would expire at the end of the insurance coverage period, and licensees would need to return their plates to their insurance office to receive a refund on their premiums. Vehicles driving without insurance would thus be easy to spot because they would not have license plates, or the plates would be past the marked expiration date.

Coverage levels

Vehicle insurance can cover some or all of the following items:

  • The insured party (medical payments)
  • The insured vehicle (physical damage)
  • Third parties (car and people, property damage and bodily injury)
  • Third party, fire and theft
  • In some jurisdictions coverage for injuries to persons riding in the insured vehicle is available without regard to fault in the auto accident (No Fault Auto Insurance)

Different policies specify the circumstances under which each item is covered. For example, a vehicle can be insured against theft, fire damage, or accident damage independently. Different policies specify the circumstances under which each item is covered. For example, a vehicle can be insured against theft, fire damage, or accident damage independently.