The auto insurance costs of single-car crashes

Linda Melone
When you think of “fatal car crash,” dramatic head-on collisions or movie-quality explosions usually come to mind. In reality, single-vehicle crashes kill more people than any other type of traffic accident.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), about 58 percent of the 31,000 fatal crashes in 2009 involved just one vehicle. About 70 percent of fatal single-vehicle crashes are known as "run off the road" crashes. For example, these wrecks occur when the vehicle leaves its lane, runs off the road and onto a shoulder or median, and then hits something.
If you're lucky enough to survive a single-vehicle crash, you can expect an increase in your insurance rates. How such an accident affects your auto insurance depends on the specifics of the crash.
Insurance impact varies
A single-car crash can bump up your insurance premium through an additional charge on your insurance policy, says Rose Marshburn, personal lines specialist at SIA Group, an independent insurance agency in North Carolina. Or your company may move you into a higher-cost pricing tier, she says.
Insurance tiers are based on a variety of factors, including your driving record. Tiers range from “substandard” (the worst) to “preferred” (the best); the better your driving record, the less you pay for coverage. Going from a preferred tier to a lower tier can boost your rates by 9 percent 12 percent, depending on your driving record and geographic location.
"Your single-car accident will … affect your insurance rates for at least three years," Marshburn says.
At-fault or not at fault?
Your rates likely will rise if the accident is blamed on you. "Nearly all at-fault car crashes will have some impact on your insurance rate," says Billy Van Jura, an insurance broker in New York.
An exception: Running into deer or other animals may hurt the animal and ding your car, but it likely won't affect your rates. This type of accident would be covered under a comprehensive claim, basically meaning you're not at fault, Van Jura says. The comprehensive portion of your policy protects your car from damage that's not related to a collision.
If you hit a utility pole, guardrail or other roadside structure, your policy's property damage -- under the liability portion of your policy -- will pay to repair the damage, Van Jura says.
Another possible outcome is hitting a parked car. If this happens, you should leave a note with your contact information, take photos and try to track down a witness, Van Jura says. "Preferably, you should also call the police and file a police report on yourself," he says.
However you handle it, this is considered an at-fault accident and likely will cause your rates to go up, according to Van Jura.
Most insurers have damage thresholds – letting you skate by if the damage costs less than a certain amount to fix, according to Jeff Reinig, a spokesman for Farmers Insurance. Reinig gives $1,000 as an example of this threshold.
Single-crash risk factors
Curvy roads, driving drowsy and driving drunk are the biggest factors for single-car, run-off-the-road crashes, according to NHTSA. Speeding increases the risk of this type of crash. These wrecks are more likely to occur on rural roads than urban roads and on roadways with speed limits of at least 60 miles per hour. Single-car, run-off-the-road crashes frequently happen at night and during bad weather.
Where an accident occurs doesn't necessarily matter to your insurer, says Loretta Worters, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit Insurance Information Institute. But how an accident happens does matter. For example, she says, a DWI conviction can prompt your insurer to cancel your policy.

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