Is auto insurance in effect during a state of emergency?

Most of the time, you can still use auto insurance during a state of emergency. Read on to learn the specifics of how coverage works depending on the emergency.

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Rachel Bodine graduated from college with a BA in English. She has since worked as a Feature Writer in the insurance industry and gained a deep knowledge of state and countrywide insurance laws and rates. Her research and writing focus on helping readers understand their insurance coverage and how to find savings. Her expert advice on insurance has been featured on sites like PhotoEnforced, All...

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Written by Rachel Bodine
Feature Writer Rachel Bodine

Dan Walker graduated with a BS in Administrative Management in 2005 and has been working in his family’s insurance agency, FCI Agency, for 15 years (BBB A+). He is licensed as an agent to write property and casualty insurance, including home, auto, umbrella, and dwelling fire insurance. He’s also been featured on sites like Reviews.com and Safeco. He reviews content, ensuring that ex...

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Reviewed by Daniel Walker
Licensed Auto Insurance Agent Daniel Walker

UPDATED: Jun 16, 2022

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Things to Remember

  • In most cases, your auto insurance company must accept any claims you file during a state of emergency
  • If you file a claim during a travel ban associated with a state of emergency, you may have to prove that you had just cause to drive
  • If you violate your insurance contract during a state of emergency, expect your claim to be denied

Insurance companies do not provide separate state of emergency car insurance plans. Still, if you get in an accident after the president or your state governor declares a state of emergency, your insurance company almost always has to process your claim.

States can set their regulations for driving during states of emergency. Furthermore, not every state of emergency affects your ability to drive. As a result, it can be difficult to understand when you’re legally allowed to drive and when driving violates your insurance contract.

Can you claim auto insurance during a state of emergency?

In most states of emergency, your car insurance still applies because you’re allowed to travel. The same hazards that could cause you to hit someone else’s car or property exist regardless of emergency status:

  • Distraction
  • Obstacles in the road
  • Intoxicated drivers
  • Car malfunctions

As a result, your insurance company must honor your contract even if you’re filing a car insurance claim during a national or state emergency. These declarations do not affect the legally binding nature of your contract. Just make sure you understand how to file a car insurance claim correctly.

At the same time, your insurance coverage does not expand during a state of emergency. For example, if you only have liability auto insurance coverage, you cannot file a claim to repair your car during an emergency. Similarly, your limits do not increase, and your deductible remains in place.

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When does a state of emergency affect your car insurance?

Some states of emergency do not affect your ability to drive. This is especially true when the threat comes from disease.

For example, on March 5, 2020, the governor of Maryland, Larry Hogan, declared a state of emergency because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This declaration was meant to control the spread of COVID-19, which is not directly related to being on the road. As a result, people who drove after the March 5 declaration could still count on their insurance coverage.

In other cases, people have to drive during states of emergency. For example, if your governor declares an emergency because of flooding and you live near a river, you may need to evacuate your house. Similarly, if a tornado heads for your area, you might drive to a local emergency shelter. In these cases, your insurance covers any damages you cause or sustain on the road.

Some states of emergency restrict or limit travel altogether. For example, on March 30, 2020, Hogan amended his state of emergency declaration to keep Marylanders from traveling except in essential cases. Similar declarations often go out during severe snow and ice storms. However, if you have to go to the hospital, buy food, or perform an essential job during these emergencies, your auto insurance remains in effect.

Understand State Laws, Travel Bans, and Exceptions to Car Insurance Coverage

The president can issue national states of emergency that affect your ability to drive legally. For example, on September 14, 2001, President George Bush declared a national state of emergency because of the terrorist attacks on September 11th. If any proclamations included a travel ban, you would have to follow it, although your auto insurance would likely be unaffected.

Whenever the federal government releases a national state of emergency, states are likely to take similar actions. Your state’s response to the emergency may be stricter than the federal government’s, so it’s important to know your local policies. For example, if the federal government does not have a travel ban in place and your state does, you could be prosecuted for driving.

When it comes to travel bans, states of emergency, and car insurance, it’s essential to read your insurance contract carefully. If you’re supposed to stay home during a state of emergency, and you get in an accident, you may have violated your right to coverage. Remember, your insurance company cannot deny your claim if you’re fulfilling an essential function:

  • Evacuating your home after a natural disaster
  • Fleeing from a hostile or violent area
  • Purchasing groceries or medicine
  • Taking someone to the hospital
  • Assisting with evacuation or law enforcement efforts
  • Performing a government-sanctioned job

When in doubt about which actions could breach your insurance contract during a state of emergency, ask your insurance agent or a lawyer.

Other Potential Exceptions To Know For Auto Insurance During a State of Emergency

There are a few other exceptions to your right to maintain auto insurance coverage during a state of emergency. First, if you deliberately damage your vehicle or someone else’s, you void your right to file a claim. 

For example, if you’re participating in the act of civil disobedience and drive your car into company property, your liability auto insurance coverage will not assist with the damages. If you intentionally cause an accident, your insurance company does not have to cover your bills, regardless of a state of emergency.

Additionally, if you violate a travel ban without just cause, your insurance company may be able to deny you coverage. These cases are rare and difficult to prove. In most cases, insurance companies will accept claims filed during a state of emergency.

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The Final Word on State of Emergency Car Insurance

In general, your car insurance continues to work even during states of emergency, including during travel bans. If you have to evacuate because of a natural disaster-related to a state of emergency, you can file a claim for any damages that occur. Your insurance company may have the right to refuse a claim if you cause an accident or unnecessarily violate a travel ban.

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