Not only do traffic laws vary by state, auto insurance rules and coverage do too. And while the general idea of auto insurance is the same nearly everywhere in the U.S. – drivers must carry a minimum amount of insurance coverage in case they cause property damage or injury to another driver – beyond that, the particulars vary (sometimes by quite a bit). So what do you need to know about car insurance coverage when driving out of state? Do you have to tell your car insurance company if you take the occasional cross-country road trip or regular business meeting in a neighboring state? What happens if you get into a wreck out or get a ticket out of state?

The Zebra’s own licensed insurance agent and advisor Neil Richardson shares his expert opinions on our biggest questions about driving out of state.

car insurance out of state

Quoted: When you’re driving your car in another state, which state’s insurance rules apply if you get in a collision?

Neil Richardson: Your auto insurance coverage follows you in all 50 states, no matter your home base. Your coverage limits will adjust to meet whatever is required in the state where the crash occurs.

For example, if your home state is Louisiana (which requires minimum liability limits of 15/30/25*) and you have an collision while driving in Texas (30/60/25), then your policy limits for liability would automatically increase to meet the Texas minimum. If you are driving in a state that requires lower liability limits than your home state (like the reverse of the scenario just mentioned), your insurance policy will not decrease to meet that state minimum but rather provide the maximum coverage on your policy even if it is more than what the state you’re visiting requires.

Keep in mind: You can purchase coverage beyond your state’s minimum requirements and doing so is likely to actually save you money in the long run. In The Zebra’s own State of Auto Insurance Report, we found that drivers with a history of choosing insurance policies with higher coverage limits actually end up paying less for their auto insurance premiums in later years than if they only carried bare minimum coverage. People with a five-year history of carrying $100,000 of bodily injury coverage per person and $300,000 per collision (often designated as “BI 100/300” in insurance documents) can expect to pay an average of $184 less per year for the same new insurance policy as someone with no history of insurance coverage.

Why? Auto insurance pricing is based on risk. Purchasing more than the state minimum requirements demonstrates your responsibility as a customer and as a driver, and the insurance company therefore is less likely to have trouble collecting payments from you. Being a more responsible person financially also often correlates with safer driving, fewer claims, and less money the insurer pays out to you in the long run, so they’re more likely to offer you a better rate.

*Bodily injury (BI) coverage per person/BI total coverage per wreck/Total property damage coverage per wreck – in thousands of dollars

Quoted: What if rules about fault differ between your home state and the state in which you have a wreck?

NR: If you are driving in a no-fault state (which means your insurance company pays for your injuries regardless of who caused the wreck) and your policy is from a state that is NOT a no-fault state (also known as a tort state), your insurance policy will also adjust to meet what is required in the state where the crash occurs.

(More on defining and assigning fault here.)

speeding ticket out of state

Quoted: What should a driver do if he/she gets into a car crash out of state?

NR: Regardless of your location, you should always follow these general post-crash steps:

  1. Call the police (and emergency services if necessary)
  2. Assess and document the damage
  3. Exchange information with the other party
  4. Call your insurance company

(Bookmark this Car Crash Checklist for more details.)  

Beyond that, drivers don’t need to take any specific additional steps just because they’re out of state.

If you’re confused about whose insurance you’ll turn to first after a wreck, we have all the details here.

And, if any personal items are stolen from your vehicle (in state or out), your renters or homeowners insurance should cover them – not your auto coverage.

Quoted: What happens if you get a speeding ticket or other traffic ticket out of state?

NR: First, you should know that yes, you do need to pay the ticket. Failure to pay a ticket can result in the suspension of your driver’s license. While having a suspended license is not a violation in and of itself (according to your car insurance company), if you are caught driving with a suspended license, that would be considered a “driving while suspended” traffic violation, and would raise your insurance rates.

Next, you should try to have the ticket removed from your record. Always inquire about any defensive driving or deferred program options the state offers. These won’t be available in all situations, but it is worth asking since any ticket on your record will likely raise your auto insurance rates – even ones you get out of state.

Know the most expensive traffic violations in every state (and avoid them)!

If you get a speeding ticket out of state, you DO need to pay it or risk a suspended license.

Quoted: How much out-of-state driving can a person do without concerning his/her insurance company?

NR: Insurance companies use your home address when determining your policy rate (and where you live does significantly affect how much you’ll pay). However, there really isn’t any way to determine how much a driver will be operating his vehicle outside of his own zip code, much less out of state. Proximity to a state border might impact your rates, but that has more to do with the risks associated with your area and less about how often you may drive in a bordering state.

The caveat is why you are traveling. Commuting to work and traveling for business purposes are two completely different use categories when it comes to car insurance. So if you are driving for business, which for many people takes them across state lines, your insurance company will want to know about it. They will require that your policy be written as a ‘business use’ policy because of the increased risk of traveling for business, and that costs about 20 percent more than a standard personal auto policy.

Driving for business purposes on a personal auto policy, regardless of crossing state lines, could result in a claim denial or cancellation of coverage for not disclosing the business use. Telling your insurer about driving out of state isn’t necessary, but driving for business purposes is absolutely something you need to disclose to your company before starting your policy.