You might wonder precisely what kind of behavior your insurance
company will cover if you're in an accident, and what kind of
behavior is excluded.
What if you rear-end another car while texting?
What if you crash while street racing?
What if you sideswipe a guardrail while scarfing a double
cheeseburger, extra mayo, while talking on a cellphone and tuning
the radio with your pet dachshund on your lap?
In the end, the rules wind up being pretty simple, experts say.
Stupidity tends to be covered. Intentional misbehavior usually
isn't. (See whether you're covered under six of the most common
accident scenarios with
the Crash-o-Matic guide
Intentional acts are excluded from coverage
"When insurance companies describe accidents, you'll find words
like unforeseen, sudden, unexpected or fortuitous," says Penny
Gusner, consumer analyst with CarInsurance.com. "And they are every
bit as explicit about labeling what is not an accident."
Policies typically have an exclusion for intentional or criminal
acts, such as fleeing from the police or crashing your car into
other people's vehicles deliberately.
That includes any sort of road rage type of behavior, Gusner
points out. "If you intentionally ram into the car in front of you,
your insurance company will not cover you," she says. "That scene
Fried Green Tomatoes
' was fiction."
(In the movie, Kathy Bates' character, cheated out of a parking
space, rams the offender's car repeatedly. "Face it, girls," she
drawls. "I'm older, and I have more insurance.")
Another example of an intentional act that would not be covered
is if you set your car on fire to cash in on the policy, says Pete
Moraga, spokesman for the Insurance Information Network of
California in Los Angeles. (See "
Suspicious claims on the rise
Prohibited uses are excluded from coverage
But it's not necessarily criminal behavior that leaves you
exposed. Most insurance policies exclude certain types of use as
Many typically won't cover your car if you use it as a taxi or
act as a chauffeur, or if you rent it out to strangers through a
car-sharing program. (See "
Who can drive my car?
Many policies will also have exclusions on where you can drive
your car, Moraga says. "If you like to drive into the desert and
you go off-road driving with a four-wheeler, many policies will
exclude that if you crash into a creek bed," he points out. "Or if
you have a fast car and go speed racing and then have an accident,
you won't be covered," he says. "Some policies are very specific
about what they exclude."
Yet if you accidentally drive off a cliff (and actually
survive!), your insurance company will cover you, Moraga says.
Medical conditions may or may not be covered
In general, accidents caused by medical issues are covered by
For example, if you have a heart attack while driving, the
damage to your car would be covered, says Moraga.
But your own specific-state laws will dictate whether or not an
insurer will pay, says Gusner. (As an example, see Maryland's
medical self-reporting requirements.)
"You need to look into your current state laws to see if you
need to report your medical condition to the DMV or your insurer,"
she says. "If you don't report your medical condition and you have
an accident, you might be denied your insurance benefits. You also
have to tell your insurer about any medical condition you have so
that they can rate you according to your risk," she adds.
Distractions while driving are usually covered
In most cases, distractions fall under unintentional acts and
would be covered: a spider crawling across your windshield as
you're driving, a bee flying onto your window, or having to
suddenly sneeze as you're driving down the highway at 60 mph.
Lap dogs? Covered. (We hope your car insurer threw in pet
Herd of wild animals? Covered.
Of course, "if there is a herd of cows, and you intentionally
hit them, you wouldn't be covered," Moraga notes.
Gusner recalls another very unusual claim that was denied.
"There was a claim put in by a couple who were making love while
they were driving. That claim did get denied!" Gusner says.
And even though texting and talking on the phone is against the
law in many jurisdictions, that behavior would be covered by
insurers if you get into an accident, both Moraga and Gusner point
out. (See "Please make me stop texting.")
Altering your car's equipment
If you alter your car in any way that affects the safety of your
automobile, sometimes insurers will not pay claims. (Rocker Neil
Young knows this well.)
"If you add a different exhaust system or you are a street racer
and you add a different system, sometimes insurers will not cover
that," Moraga notes. "And if you're driving in a car without a seat
-- I knew of someone who had removed the seat in his car -- that
wouldn't be covered," Moraga adds. (See "Aftermarket parts: What
you need to know.")