Minimum requirements and driving laws in Tennessee
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Before getting auto insurance in Tennessee
Tennessee is a fun state to drive through, what with its rolling landscapes, lush forests and farmland, low mountain passes and bustling cities like Memphis and Nashville. But if you want to get behind the wheel in this state, you need to understand the rules and regulations of driving on Tennessee roads.
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How to get cheap car insurance in Tennessee
Average car insurance costs in Tennessee
When it comes to how much you’ll pay for car insurance, Tennessee was a bit less than the national average of $1,300 in 2017, with most drivers paying under $1,200 annually for coverage.
The most expensive areas to insure a car are typically the state’s big cities of Nashville and Memphis due to the additional risk for car accidents, vandalism and theft. In small towns and rural areas of the state, you’re likely to find lower insurance rates because of a decreased risk of damage.
While you can expect to pay something in the ballpark of that $1,200 average, you could also end up paying significantly less if you qualify for discounts and follow our tips for lowering your payments.
How can I save money on car insurance?
Looking for ways to save money on your auto insurance in the Volunteer State? No matter what state you’re in, see our general tips to lowering your premiums and getting value out of your coverage in our comprehensive guide to car insurance.
State minimum requirements in Tennessee
To legally drive in Tennessee, you’ll need liability insurance that includes at least:
Loan or lease gap coverage.If you total your car in an accident and you still owe money on it, this coveragepays the differencebetween what your insurer covers and the remainder of your existing loan or lease.
Rental. If your vehicle is disabled or needs extensive repairs following a crash, part or all of your rental car is covered until yours is fixed.
Uninsured drivers in Tennessee
A whopping 20% of all motorists in this state were driving without the legal minimum for car insurance in 2015, according to estimates from the Insurance Research Council. This means about one out of every five drivers on the road were uninsured or underinsured.
If you’re in an accident with an uninsured driver, you could end up saddled with extra costs due to their lack of coverage. To better protect yourself and your vehicle, consider uninsured or underinsured motorist insurance.
What can I do if I don’t want to buy car insurance in Tennessee?
The state allows you to avoid paying car insurance by making a deposit of $60,000 with the Department of Motor Vehicles. But it might not be your best option: In severe cases, such as when someone is seriously injured or killed, that $60,000 can be wiped out quickly, leaving you to pay any remaining costs out of your pocket.
For these reasons, most drivers in Tennessee choose to find a conventional car insurance policy that works for them.
Can I buy temporary car insurance in Tennessee?
Yes. You might need temporary car insurance if you’re in-between cars or if you’re borrowing a car from a friend for an extended period of time. It’s also an option for regular campers who drive their RV to the Great Smoky Mountains in the fall or summer.
While it’s possible to find temporary coverage, many major providers don’t offer it. If you find an insurer who does, expect a temporary policy to cost more monthly than you’re used to.
What happens if I’m driving in Tennessee and I don’t have insurance?
If you’re caught without the minimum car insurance coverage in this state, you face a steep $300 fine and could also have your car towed and held until you provide proof of insurance. You might also have to deal with a license suspension or even some jail time, depending on the severity of the situation and whether it’s your first time caught without insurance.
If you have coverage and simply can’t provide proof, you’re fined $25 and given two weeks to show an insurance ID card or a copy of your policy to the authorities. At the 15-day mark if you still haven’t shown proof of your insurance, you’re slapped with an additional $100 fine.
In addition to this fine, your license and registration can be suspended after the two-week grace period until you get your insurance issues resolved. You’ll also have to pay about $110 to reinstate your registration and license.
What laws do I need to follow when I’m driving in Tennessee?
While most US states share a common set of traffic laws, each state enforces a few unique regulations of its own:
Texting while driving in Tennessee is prohibited. However, no statewide laws exist banning you from making calls while you drive.
The maximum length of vans or trucks towing recreational trailers, such as campers, is 65 feet.
All motorcycle operators and riders must wear a helmet whenever they’re on the road.
Speeding in a construction or work zone can land you a steep fine — the minimum is $250.
What is the blood alcohol limit in Tennessee?
Like all states, Tennessee enforces an upper blood alcohol content (BAC) limit of 0.08% for typical drivers and 0.04% for commercial drivers. Underage drivers are subject to a BAC limit of 0.02%.
Violators of this state’s drunk-driving laws face steep fines, driver’s license suspensions and likely jail time, with worse penalties for repeat offenders.
2 days to 11 months
45 days to 1 year
3 to 12 months
5 months to 6 years
Fines and penalties
$350 to $1,500
$600 to $3,500
$1,100 to $10,000
$3,000 to $15,000
3 to 10 years
Minimum 5 years; could be indefinite
Ignition interlock device required
Implied consent law
Like most states, Tennessee enforces an implied consent law that requires you to comply with breathalyzers and portable breath tests (PBTs) if pulled over by a police officer. If you refuse, you can lose your license for up to a year on the first offense and longer, if it happens more than once. It doesn’t even matter if you were actually drinking or completely sober: This penalty is on the principal of refusal alone, not your actual blood alcohol content.
Most lawyers recommend that you accept a PBT test if an officer requests one. Police officers can get a search warrant to test you if you continue to refuse. But it’s worth noting that these roadside breath tests are often not admissible in court. The more official results come from a controlled breathalyzer or even a blood test typically administered at a police station or a hospital.
Can I get SR-22 insurance in Tennessee?
Yes, you can file an SR-22 in Tennessee. An SR-22 is a form your insurance provider files with the state that proves you have the minimum insurance needed to get behind the wheel. In Tennessee, you’re usually required to file this form if you’re convicted of a DUI, have an illegal lapse in insurance coverage or accumulate too many violation points on your driving record. It mandates a specific level of insurance coverage, typically for a period of three years.
What happens after an accident in Tennessee?
Even the smallest car accident can be traumatic, leaving you unable to clearly think out your next move.
After an accident, follow these important steps to protect yourself against any unnecessary worries when processing your car insurance claim:
Get to safety.Make sure that you and everybody involved in the accident is OK. If you need help or if anyone is injured, call emergency services immediately.
Notify your insurance company.Your insurance agent can advise you on what to do next to make your claims process as painless as possible.
Document the accident.Protect your claim by taking down the names of any police officers at the scene for later reference. Take pictures of each car involved from multiple different angles, and if possible, get information from any witnesses you might be able to contact later.
Exchange information.Get the contact information and insurance policy details from other drivers involved. Note the drivers’ car type, color, model and license plate number, as well as the approximate location of the accident.
When exchanging information with other drivers, many lawyers advise you against saying the accident was your fault, even if it may have been. If you admit fault, you run the risk of your car insurance company refusing to pay your claim.
Who’s at fault after an accident?
Tennessee is a fault or “tort” state. This means a driver with property damage or injuries after a crash can either file a claim with their own insurer or they can file a third-party claim with the insurer of the driver who was at fault. In addition, the driver with damages or injuries can sue for additional amounts related to “pain and suffering,” if necessary.
When should I report an accident in Tennessee?
If the accident results in injuries, death or property damages totaling $400 or more, you must report the accident on an Owner/Driver Report.
State law requires you to submit your report within 20 days of the accident, though your insurance provider may enforce tighter deadlines — some require a report within 24 hours before it considers your claim. If you’re unsure about your provider’s policy or worry about missing a deadline, talk with your agent to see if they can work with you.
When should I contact a lawyer?
After an accident, you may want to contact a lawyer if:
You’re not at fault and insurance won’t cover all of your damages or medical costs.
You’re charged with a crime after the accident.
You’re judged at fault for the crash.
A lawsuit is filed against you.
You intend to file a lawsuit against someone else involved in the crash.
Even if none of these situations look like yours, a simple consultation with a lawyer can be helpful. Lawyers are experts in the law, liability and protection from liability, and they may be able to lend perspective or advise you on your next steps.
How do I know when to file a claim?
When to file a claim depends largely on the costs you’re responsible for after the crash.
Let’s look at a hypothetical scenario: You’ve been in an accident, and the repair shop says you need $1,200 in repairs to your vehicle. If your deductible is $1,000, you will have to pay that full $1,000 just to get $200 in additional coverage from your provider. In this case, your claim might not be worth it, because your rates can increase after an accident and the benefit of filing the claim is minimal.
But if after an accident you need to pay for $5,000 in repairs with a $1,000 deductible, or if your vehicle is totaled and needs replacing, that $1,000 deductible cost starts to sound worth it. You would effectively pay $1,000 for a whole new vehicle, the remaining costs paid by your provider.
In severe accidents, you could end up paying the relatively low price of your deductible for tens of thousands of dollars in repair costs and medical bills. That’s a situation when you would almost certainly want to file that claim.
To drive in Tennessee, you’ll need to either purchase a conventional car insurance policy or prove your financial responsibility with a large cash deposit to the state. Make sure you understand the terms and limitations of your policy before you get behind the wheel to explore everything this incredible state has to offer.
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Frequently asked questions about car insurance in Tennessee
Yes. Most car insurance providers reserve the right to cancel coverage when it comes time to renew your policy. If you’re concerned about losing coverage after a claim, talk to your provider.
No. But your provider will probably only pay market average rates for parts and labor. If you choose a pricier body shop or mechanic, you could end up paying at least part of the final bill out of your own pocket.
Not likely. Your provider may waive the deductible for a glass repair, depending on your level of coverage, but for full coverage, you likely need to carry comprehensive car insurance.
Yes — that’s part of what liability insurance is for. Often there’s no limit as to how much your insurance provider will pay for legal defense costs. When it comes to the judgment and award amount, however, you’re covered only up to the limits of your policy. Excess beyond that might have to come out of your pocket.
Keep in mind, however, that your insurance company can refuse to represent you in court if you’re accused of intentionally damaging property or injuring someone.
If you’re in Nashville and need a quick cash advance, read this guide.
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