Does my auto insurance cover others who drive my car?

Crawford Frazer
You may think an auto insurance policy is intended to insure your car. Actually, it is meant to insure you. Depending on the types of coverage you have, a policy covers your injuries as well as injuries you cause to other passengers and drivers; damages you cause to other vehicles and property; and any lawsuits triggered by your actions.

But if car insurance covers you and your actions, what happens when someone else is behind the wheel? If your teenager uses your car to drive to school, if you switch drivers during a road trip, or if a roommate uses your car to run an errand while her car is in the shop, are they covered under your auto insurance?
Regional differences
Laws regarding auto insurance vary from state to state. Alaska, for example, requires its drivers to purchase an auto policy with twice the minimum amounts of bodily injury liability limits that Alabama requires.
According to Progressive Insurance, you can expect state-to-state differences in the rules regarding insurance coverage for others driving your car. So, when you ask whether your policy will cover another driver, the short answer is: It depends. But there are general guidelines that will help you determine how far your coverage extends.
The fine print
Look for wording in your policy that describes who an insured person is. Progressive directs customers to the policy's "definitions" section. For example, if the policy includes someone who has your permission to use the car in its definition of "insured person," a friend would be covered if you tell her she can borrow your car.
A teen using a parent's car usually will be covered as well. But, if the teen uses the car often, he might need to be listed under the parent's policy as a "principal operator."
According to Allstate's guidelines, a principal operator may not be the policyholder, but is the main driver of the car because of one of the following:
  • He is the registered owner.
  • He drives the car to get to work or school.
  • He drives the car more than anyone else.
Frequency of use
If you allow a friend to borrow your car, one of the key factors (subject to specifics in your policy, of course) is how often she uses your car and for how long. If she uses it once a month, your policy probably will cover her. But if she borrows your car for several weeks, she may be considered what Progressive calls a “regular user.” In this case, you would need to add that friend to the policy for her to be covered.
If a friend wants to use your car for a work-related matter, such as making a delivery for his job, your personal auto insurance coverage probably will not extend to him, according to Progressive. In that case, you would need a commercial auto or business insurance policy.
Ask your insurer in advance about specific scenarios, and become familiar with state requirements and the definitions in your policy -- before someone borrowing your wheels gets involved in a car accident.

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