What Is Uninsured Motorist Insurance?

Man driving car

Millions of uninsured motorists are out and about. In 2019, nearly 13% of U.S. motorists had no auto insurance, according to a 2021 report from the Insurance Research Council. And while you may not think the uninsured status of other drivers affects you, it definitely has the potential to—especially if you're involved in a crash with one. Uninsured motorists drive up the cost of auto insurance for motorists who do have it, and your insurance might not completely cover the harm they may cause.

Uninsured motorist insurance can fill any gap in your coverage, though. This type of policy provides coverage when a driver who doesn't have auto liability insurance causes a crash. It can pay for repairs for damage to your car or other property sustained during a crash caused by an uninsured driver, and might also cover medical expenses, lost wages and other costs tied to injuries suffered by you or your passengers.

How Uninsured Motorist Insurance Protects You

In nearly every state, you're required to carry a minimum amount of liability coverage, which pays for damage or injuries sustained by other motorists when you cause an accident. Uninsured motorist insurance provides coverage that you can tap when another driver has no liability insurance.

Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia require motorists to purchase uninsured motorist insurance, or a combination of uninsured motorist insurance and underinsured motorist insurance. In the rest of the country, this coverage is optional. In some cases, insurance companies automatically package uninsured motorist coverage with underinsured motorist coverage.

One form of uninsured motorist insurance covers bodily injury, while the other form covers property damage. Here are some scenarios where uninsured motorist coverage may come in handy if an uninsured driver is at fault:

  • Uninsured motorist coverage could make up for lost pay if injuries suffered in the crash keep you away from work.
  • Funeral expenses for a passenger who's killed when an uninsured driver collides with your car might be covered.
  • If you're behind the wheel of your car and you're injured in an accident caused by a hit-and-run driver, uninsured motorist coverage might help pay your medical expenses.
  • Uninsured motorist coverage might kick in if you were hit while crossing a street or riding your bike and need medical treatment for a broken arm and leg.
  • If a thief steals your car and crashes it, uninsured motorist coverage might help pay to fix the damage.
Six States Where at Least 20% of Drivers Were Uninsured in 2019
New Mexico21.8%

Source: Insurance Research Council

Uninsured vs. Underinsured Motorist Coverage

Both uninsured and underinsured motorist insurance typically cover property damage, injuries or both. Uninsured motorist insurance applies when another driver has no liability coverage at all, while underinsured motorist insurance applies when another driver lacks coverage to adequately compensate you for damage or injuries.

Even though your state may not require you to buy uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage, insurance professionals recommend getting it. Why? It can protect you financially if unexpected repair or medical bills pop up following an auto accident involving a driver who's got little to no insurance.

Where Is Uninsured Motorist Insurance Required?

States that Require Uninsured Motorist Insurance
StateUninsured motorist
(bodily injury)
Uninsured motorist
(property damage)
District of ColumbiaYesNo
New JerseyYesYes
New HampshireYes*Yes*
New YorkYesNo
North CarolinaYesYes
North DakotaYesNo
Rhode IslandYes**Yes**
South CarolinaYesYes
South DakotaYesNo
West VirginiaYesNo

Source: Allstate Insurance

*New Hampshire does not require auto insurance. But if you do buy insurance, uninsured motorist bodily injury coverage is required.
**Rhode Island does not require uninsured motorist coverage if you carry the minimum amount of bodily injury auto liability coverage. If you buy more than the minimum amount, though, you also must purchase uninsured motorist bodily injury coverage. Uninsured motorist coverage includes underinsured motorist, bodily injury and property damage coverage.
***Virginia does not require drivers to buy auto insurance if they can prove their ability to cover financial losses arising from an accident. If you do buy insurance, you must have uninsured motorist (which includes property damage and bodily injury) and underinsured motorist coverage.

The Bottom Line

To help prevent your finances from being wrecked by a crash, it's wise to consider uninsured motorist insurance if the state where you live doesn't require you to buy it. Coming up with more money for uninsured motorist coverage may be a small price to pay compared with digging into your own pocket to pay for damage or injuries caused by an insured driver.