SEATTLE – According to statistics from PEMCO Insurance, the percentage of accidents involving at-fault uninsured drivers in Washington grew slightly in the past five years, from 16.4 percent in 1998 to 18.3 percent in 2002. That's despite the state's 1963 mandatory-insurance law, as well as more-recent legislation requiring all drivers to carry a proof-of-insurance card.
The percentages measure only accidents where the other driver is deemed more at fault. For insured drivers, this gives an accurate outlook at the chances of being involved in an accident complicated by an at-fault driver who has no insurance.
"Uninsured drivers are a reality, and they cause a lot of hassle, including forcing higher premiums," said Jon Osterberg, PEMCO spokesperson. "The good news is, you can cut down on the cost and hassle tremendously with just a little knowledge, a notepad and a list of information to collect."
PEMCO's statistics show that uninsured drivers exist in significant numbers on Washington's roadways, and they'll continue to add a twist to an already stressful situation in nearly one out of five accidents where the other driver is to blame.
*From PEMCO Insurance. Percentages only include accidents where the other driver was deemed more at fault.
What To Do In An Accident With An Uninsured Driver
Be sure to record the following:
- Driver's name, address, telephone number and driver's license number
- Car's year, make and model, color and license plate number
- Date, time and location of the accident
- Names and contact information for any witnesses
- Names of any responding authorities and police report number
If you have a camera, it's a good idea to take photos of the scene, the vehicles involved and the other driver. Uninsured motorists may sometimes deny the incident after the fact, and photos are very helpful in proving claims against uninsured motorists.
"Beware of accepting cash compensation on the spot, it can cause difficulties," advises Osterberg. "Chances are, if the driver won't produce an insurance card or identification, he's not insured."
An uninsured motorist might later allege that you settled your claim, or that you were given more money than you truly received. Often, an uninsured motorist will offer cash instead of providing his or her name, address, phone number, and driver's license number. If you accept those terms, you'll be unable to contact the at-fault driver if damages turn out to exceed what you expected, or other people involved in the accident blame you for their losses.
Until a release is signed, your rights are preserved even if you accept cash compensation on the spot. In accidents with uninsured drivers, some would argue it can be advantageous to accept some compensation on the spot, since collecting additional compensation may be difficult later.
It's easy to record important details if drivers keep a pad of paper, a pen and a list of the information required in the glove compartment. PEMCO also lists that key information on the back of its insurance ID cards, which all drivers are required to carry. Additionally, PEMCO provides copies of its ?DataPak' accident information forms at www.pemco.com.
Whenever an accident occurs, the participants should immediately call the police. Bringing the accident to the attention of the authorities is even more important if an uninsured driver is involved. Everyone's nerves are shaken immediately after a collision. If the police respond, an officer can help walk both parties through the necessary paperwork.
The insured driver should contact his or her insurance agent or company as soon as possible after the accident and ask about filing a claim.
Coverage to Protect Against Uninsured Drivers
Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage (UIM) policies are relatively inexpensive and allow an insured person to claim benefits even if he or she is involved in an accident with another driver who is at fault and has no insurance. The type of coverage varies by company. For example, PEMCO offers UIM bodily injury insurance, which pays for injuries an insured person or a family member receives from an at-fault uninsured motorist. PEMCO's UIM property-damage coverage will pay for damages to your vehicle caused by an uninsured at-fault motorist.
In addition to required liability coverage, Washington drivers can choose to purchase Personal Injury Protection (PIP). PIP coverage includes compensation for loss of income, medical payments, and even funeral expenses. These benefits apply to any accident, regardless of fault.
For Uninsured Drivers
Many times drivers avoid getting insurance because of the perceived high cost or a poor driving record. Drivers with poor driving records should first contact their previous insurance company to ask for a new quote. Companies typically review only the previous three years of driving history, and the rates may be lower than expected. Drivers may also qualify for discounts they weren't eligible for earlier.
Washington law requires all insurance companies to offer insurance to uninsured motorists through the assigned-risk pool. The price of the insurance and the coverage available can vary, and uninsured motorists should review the coverage and price carefully.
Uninsured drivers should shop around with other insurance firms, or contact the Office of the Washington State Insurance Commissioner (www.insurance.wa.gov) for more information on how to lower insurance costs or how to obtain high-risk insurance.
PEMCO's Efforts To Protect Motorists from Uninsured Drivers
In accidents with uninsured motorists, PEMCO pays for its policyholders' damages and then vigorously seeks reimbursement from the at-fault drivers. PEMCO is among the most aggressive companies in taking action against uninsured drivers.
"PEMCO insures responsible drivers," said Osterberg. "When someone lacking the same responsibility has disrupted our customers' lives, they should know we'll be tenacious in recovering damages."
PEMCO actively pursues uninsured drivers through cooperation with the courts and state agencies. When warranted, a criminal court can issue restitution orders or suspend the uninsured driver's license for up to three years.