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What Happens if There is an Accident and I am Uninsured?

Authored By: Northwest Justice Project LSC Funded
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Get answers to questions about Washington's mandatory insurance law and explains the laws that apply if you have an accident while driving without insurance. Publication #0313EN

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Do I need automobile insurance?

Yes, except for

  • registered antique vehicles

  • collectors’ vehicles

  • motorcycles

  • mopeds                                

  • motor-driven cycles

How much insurance do I need?

Your auto insurance policy should have at least this much coverage:

  • $25,000 per person.

  • $50,000 per accident.

  • $10,000 for property damage.

What if I cannot get insurance?

Try the Washington Automobile Insurance Plan. (Some people call it assigned risk.) This plan provides policies for persons who are not otherwise insurable. Have your insurance agent/broker contact the Washington Automobile Insurance Plan (www.aipso.com) for more info. 

How do I prove I have insurance?

The insurance company should give you a card.  WAC 308-106-020.  Keep it in your glove compartment. 

*You can also show proof of insurance if you have it on your mobile device.

I have no insurance. What if the police stop me?

You will probably get a ticket carrying a fine of over $250.  RCW 46.63.110; RCW 3.62.090

*It is a crime to provide false evidence of insurance..  RCW 46.30.040

The ticket you get will explain that you have 15 days to respond and can:

  • Pay the ticket.

  • Ask for a hearing to explain the situation.

  • Ask for a hearing to fight the ticket.

Asking for a hearing to explain the situation is admitting guilt. The court will find you guilty of driving without insurance.  

If you did have insurance when the officer stopped you, get a letter from your insurance company confirming this. The judge must dismiss the ticket.  RCW 46.30.020(2).

If you show you tried to get insurance but could not afford it, the court may lower the fine or order community service.

If the court fines you, payment is due immediately.  Let the judge know if you cannot pay all at once.  A judge who agrees must give you a payment plan.  RCW 46.63.110.   

What if my insurance card is not in the car?

The officer will presume you have no insurance if s/he asks to see your insurance card and you do not produce it. 

What if I do not pay the fine?

The Department of Licensing (DoL) will send you a notice suspending your license in 45 days.  You can appeal the suspension within fifteen days to fix mistakes only. (Examples:  someone wrongly named you as the driver. You already paid the fine.)

*If you cannot pay all at once, tell the court so you can try to get an affordable payment plan.  If you make your payments, you will keep your license.

I have no insurance. What if I am in an accident?

They could suspend your license if the accident injured anyone or caused at least $700 property damage.  RCW 46.52.030.

DoL will send you a suspension notice if it decides within 180 days of the accident that a court would possibly hold you responsible for it. The notice will say:

  • DoL intends to suspend your license in 60 days.  

  • How to avoid the suspension.

  • Your right to appeal the suspension.

Make sure DoL has your current address.  If you move and you do not update your address:

  • You may not get the notice.

  • You may not learn that DoL suspended your license.

  • You may lose your appeal rights.

What do I do if I am in an accident?

If there are injuries or property damages, you must file an accident report within 24 hours, even if the police at the scene filed a report.  You can get a report form from any police department.  You must answer each question completely and accurately. 

*Make sure any police officer who comes to the scene fully understands what happened. 

Take witnesses’ names/addresses/phone numbers in case you need to go to a hearing.  If you are insured, call your insurance provider.

DoL sent me a notice of suspension. What can I do? 

You can ask for a document review or an interview.  If you still do not agree after that, ask for a hearing.  If you disagree with the hearing result, you can appeal it to superior court.

How do I ask for a document review or an interview?

Fill out the Notice of Right to Document Review or Interview form that came with the suspension notice.  Mail it to the address on the form, or contact DoL at hearings@dol.wa.gov

If you appeal by the deadline in the notice (20 days from the date they mailed the suspension notice), you keep your license pending the outcome of the review/interview.  If you do not appeal by the deadline, the suspension will take place on the date in the notice unless you can use one of the options below. 

You can choose a personal interview or a review of the case solely based on what is in the file.  The interview can be in person or by phone. 

Whichever you choose, you should send DoL a written statement about what you want it to consider when it conducts its review.  Use the form Affidavit for making a statement that came with the Notice of Right to Document Review or Interview.

What happens at the interview or document review?

The person who interviews you or reviews the paperwork is a “hearing officer.”  This step is not a hearing. The hearing officer will see if there is a reasonable possibility a court could hold you responsible for the estimated amount of damage. 

The hearing officer might decide to uphold or change the suspension notice (example:  lower how much security you must deposit).  If the hearing officer reverses the decision to suspend your license, DOL should cancel the suspension notice. 

How do I ask for a hearing? 

You will get a written decision and a hearing request form. You must ask for a hearing 15 days following the mailing of the document review/interview decision to keep your appeal rights and keep your license until you can get a hearing decision. 

What if I do not ask for a hearing?

If you decide not to ask for a hearing, or do not do it on time, the document review/interview decision is final. 

I asked for a hearing. Now what?

A different hearing officer will conduct and record this hearing.  You may offer your own testimony, witnesses’ testimony, or documents or other evidence.  You can bring a lawyer. 

The hearing officer will send you a written decision.  It can uphold/change/reverse the decision you appealed.  If it upholds the Department’s decision, the suspension order will have an effective date of 30 days after the date of mailing of the decision.

What if I lose the hearing?

You can seek reconsideration of the hearing decision or appeal it to Superior Court. RCW 34.05.510 - .598.  You can appeal to court without seeking reconsideration first.  RCW 34.05.470(5). Appeals to court have strict deadlines and requirements. The rules are complicated. The court’s power to change the decision is limited.

What if I lose my appeal or decide not to appeal?

You can: 

1.  Deposit security and get future insurance.  You can deposit with DoL the amount it estimates you owe because of the accident, and provide proof of insurance.  RCW 46.29.070 & .250.  An SR-22 insurance certificate is proof of insurance. 

The suspension notice states how much you must deposit.  Ask DoL for forms and instructions on how to deposit security.  DoL will return the deposit if no one sues you within three years of the accident. 

2.  You can give DoL a written statement signed by all the other parties releasing you from liability for the accident.  The list of who must give this statement is in a Contact List that comes with the notice of suspension.

3.  Reach written agreement with the others involved in the accident.  You and everyone else identified in the Contact List must sign the agreement.  Give DoL a copy.  RCW 46.29.140.

Usually you will admit owing money and sign an agreement to pay, either one payment or in installments.  If you need a payment plan, try to get payments you can afford to make.  If DoL finds out you miss a payment, it will issue a new suspension notice. 

4.  Get a court order.  You can send DoL a certified copy of a court order finding you are not responsible for any injuries/property damages in the accident.  RCW 46.29.130.

5. File for bankruptcy.

Can I keep my license by filing for bankruptcy?

Maybe, especially if you have no other options. It may help you get your license back if already suspended.  

The bankruptcy might discharge some/all debts you owe because you were uninsured at the time of the accident.  “Discharge” means you no longer owe the debt and DoL can no longer suspend your license solely based on that debt.  

*Some debts are not dischargeable, like traffic tickets or damage caused by drunk driving. 

Even after a bankruptcy, you must still show "financial responsibility" (that you have insurance) before you can get a license. You must still show you are currently insured.

After an accident, you must show proof of SR-22 insurance, a high-risk type of insurance. In most cases, you must provide proof of SR-22 insurance for three years from the date you are eligible to reinstate your license.

They suspended my license. Can I get it back?

Yes. The options in “What if I lose my appeal or decide not to appeal” can work in this situation.

If you cannot do any of these, you can apply to get your license back after three years and pay a reissue fee.  You will not get it back if someone is still suing you over the accident OR you have not paid a court judgment from the accidentRCW 46.29.170.

What if they suspended my license because of an unpaid court judgment? 

If you cannot pay the judgment all at once, ask the court for a payment plan. You must give the other side in the lawsuit notice. 

If you stay current in your payments, DoL will give back your license. RCW 46.29.400. You must provide proof of SR-22 insurance and pay a reissue fee.

DoL can let you keep your license if those who won the judgment against you agree in writing. RCW 46.29.350.

What if I own the car involved in the accident, but I was not driving?

They may suspend your license and the driver’s. Owners are usually legally responsible for accidents caused by others driving their cars. You can avoid license suspension if you can prove the driver was driving without your permission. RCW 46.29.080(8).

What if they stop me while driving with a license suspended under the Financial Responsibility Act?

This is a crime.  RCW 46.20.342 (c). The punishment for a first conviction can be jail time of up to 90 days and a fine of up to $1,000.  RCW 9A.20.021(3).

DoL might cancel your car’s registration and take its plates away if you were the driver and registered owner of the uninsured car involved in the accident.  RCW 46.29.605.

Can I get a temporary license to get to and from work?

Yes.  You must pay a license fee of $100 and show proof of SR-22 insurance.  The license can take seven to ten working days to process. 

A temporary license:

  • States the reasons for its issuance.

  • Sets out specific hours you may drive to/from home, days you can use the license, and general routes you may travel.  RCW 46.20.391 &.394.

For more info, contact Customer Service at DoL: 360-902-3900. 

Can I get a temporary license for other reasons?

Yes, if you need it to:

  • Get to/from school.

  • Keep a job where you need to drive.

  • Do court-ordered community service.

  • Get health care or give care to a dependent.

  • Go to substance abuse treatment or meetings with groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous.

  • Take part in programs helping people in WorkFirst get work.

  • Take part in an apprenticeship, on-the-job training, or welfare-to-work program.  RCW 46.20.391(3).

 

0313EN

This publication provides general information concerning your rights and responsibilities.  It is not intended as a substitute for specific legal advice. 
This information is current as of August 2017.
© 2017 Northwest Justice Project — 1-888-201-1014.

(Permission for copying and distribution granted to the Alliance for Equal Justice and to individuals for non-commercial purposes only.)

Last Review and Update: Aug 03, 2017
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