The insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimates that the average driver will be involved in 3-4 auto accidents in their life time. You may be a very good driver but unfortunately you can’t protect yourself from the errors of all the other drivers out there. Following an accident, insurance investigators for the parties involved may determine who was at fault or it may be a court decision. When the accident fault is determined, the insurance company for the driver at fault then pays for the damage that resulted, up to the maximum limits of the policy purchased. Those damages may include damage to the other driver’s motor vehicle, other property (such as other vehicles, guardrails, telephone poles, or mailboxes) and the bodily injuries that may have been experienced by others—all due to the actions of the at-fault driver. What happens when that at-fault driver doesn’t have insurance, or has inadequate limits to pay for the resulting injuries or damages; that’s the focus of this article.

Rhode Island is one of 49 states that mandate auto insurance. The law took effect on November 1, 1993 requiring all motor vehicles operated in Rhode Island to have at least $25,000 per person/$50,000 total per accident for bodily injuries and $25,000 per accident for damage to another person’s property. There are 2 issues that are common here; drivers who have no insurance and drivers who have inadequate limits to pay for all of the damages or injuries.

Depending on which study being quoted and despite being mandated by law, 15-18% of RI drivers have no insurance. An additional 25-30% have minimum limits which for many accidents is inadequate. Those percentages can be summarized as one out of 3 cars on the road does NOT have limits that will likely be adequate for most accidents in RI. In 2015, uninsured or under insured drivers were involved in 15.2% of Rhode Island’s accidents. That put us as the 13th highest in the nation for Uninsured or Under Insured drivers involved in accidents. New Hampshire, where mandatory insurance is not required, had only 9.9%. RI was the highest of all six New England states.

It’s not hard to image why so many drivers in RI either do not have insurance or have inadequate limits. It has not been a priority of the RI Department of Motor Vehicles whether due to a lack of enforcement resources or a lack of systems needed to track who has or do not have insurance. That lack of enforcement has bred contempt for the law.  Some claim that RI’s Unemployment rate was the reason. It was only a couple years ago that RI had one of the highest unemployment rates in the country.  When deciding between putting food on your table and buying insurance, the choice was simple. But this problem has plagued RI for years. People commonly would take out an insurance policy only to cancel it after receiving their insurance cards. The new registry computer system is now enabling the Registry to begin an aggressive enforcement of the insurance law.

Minimum limits remain the norm in Rhode Island. Some drivers have those same limits that they had in 1993. Many drivers added since 1993n are following with the same limits of their parents.  Personal incomes have increased but many drivers have allowed their liability limits to lag.

Settlement awards arising from damage lawsuits are up multifold. Try comparing what they were in 1993 to today. Or, try comparing the cost of a new mid-sized car in 1993 to the cost of one today; how about the cost of an emergency room visit, or your wages.  Inflation has dramatically impacted the value of yesterday’s dollars. Carrying adequate limits jeopardizes both the uninsured driver’s and your financial security.

If you are in a collision with an uninsured driver, you could be faced with numerous medical bills, lost wages, pain & suffering, and other types of damages that could be catastrophic to you and your family.

Two separate coverages you can add to your policy come into play. Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist: Property Damage coverage is intended to pay for your vehicle’s damage. It is usually sold in limit increments of $25,000. If your car has a current value that is under $25,000, then the basic limit is all you need. However, keep in mind that the median price range of new cars today is between $25,000 and $50,000.

To protect against the potential for bodily injury, you have the opportunity to include Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist: Bodily Injury coverage. These coverages supplement or take the place of what the other driver should have purchased, but did not. The norm is to match the Uninsured/Under Insured limits to the Bodily Injury Liability limits you would carry on your auto policy. If you are already protecting against the bodily injury damages you cause to someone else, why wouldn’t you want sufficient coverages for your damages? With nearly 50% of drivers having minimum limits or no insurance at all, you need to protect yourself.

To demonstrate this through an example, assume you are hit by another driver with minimum limits of 25,000/50,000/25,000. Your Uninsured/Under Insured motorist policy limits are (for this example) $100,000/$300,000. Your damages total $75,000. In this example, the at-fault driver’s carrier would pay their $25,000 limit, leaving your insurer to pay $50,000 to make you whole.  Would you be ready to pay that $50,000 if you didn’t have this coverage?

For those who are driving with no insurance or inadequate limits, understand the insurance company is not going to pay this without a catch. After paying, expect that insurance company will charge you for the money they paid. They will attach everything you’ve got now and into the future.

All auto insurance in RI is very expensive. The cost of Uninsured Motorist and Under Insured Motorist coverages are a big part of that. If Rhode Island’s new DMV Computer system and the recent enforcement efforts are successful, in a year or two hopefully there will be evidence of fewer uninsured motorist crashes. If that evidence comes out, the cost for these coverages should go down.