As a former trial attorney with a successful law practice for 12 years, I appreciate that discussing insurance coverage is about as exciting as watching somebody else's kid play goalie in a pee wee soccer game. But, keep reading because I'm about to explain a little known part of your automobile insurance policy that actually covers you while bicycling
, jogging, walking or performing any other activity in the midst of street traffic.
Take a look at the declarations page of your auto policy--a fancy name for the paper sent to you by your insurance company that summarizes the types of coverage included in your policy. Likely, you'll see words and titles like "comprehensive," "collision" or "medical pay." Now, look for an "uninsured motorist" and/or "underinsured motorist" reference (it may be abbreviated as UM and UIM). Do you see it listed? If not, call your insurance company to determine whether you have both. If UM and UIM coverage are not currently part of your policy, order them immediately--especially if you jog or ride a bike near vehicle traffic
. Why? Keep reading.
What is Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist Coverage?
Let's say you're driving your car and another car crashes into you. In the best case scenario, and assuming the crash was the other person's fault, the other driver carries a large auto-insurance policy that will cover all of your property damage (car), medical bills (if you're injured), and any pain and suffering or other out-of-pocket expenses you incur.
But, what if the person that crashes into you was driving without auto-insurance? That's when your uninsured motorist coverage comes into play--if you have it. Since the person who hit you has no insurance, all of your property damage, medical bills and any pain, suffering or other out-of-pocket expenses will be paid by your own insurance company--up to your UM limits.
Similarly, let's assume that the driver who hits you has auto-insurance, but only pays for what's required under state law--most state minimums amount to a measly $20,000. If your expenses total more than $20,000, you would make a claim on your own underinsured motorist coverage (underinsured meaning the person that crashed into you does not carry enough insurance to pay for the fair value of your losses). In this scenario, you would obtain the first $20K from the other driver's insurance company (with your insurance company's consent), then make a claim for the remainder with your own insurance company up to the UIM limits.
Not Just For Driving a Car
What makes UM and UIM so important and valuable for active folk is that its coverage is not limited to driving your car. That's right. If you're hit by a driver without insurance while riding your bike, your automobile uninsured motorist policy will cover it. And the same holds true for jogging, walking, etc. This benefit is invaluable as runners and cyclists
are more vulnerable to suffer severe injuries if involved in a crash with a car.
How likely is an accident with an Uninsured or Underinsured Driver?
Although the statistics vary from state to state, 15 to 25 percent of drivers do not have any insurance with California, Arizona and Mississippi having the highest percentage of uninsured drivers. Roughly another 25 percent carry only the state minimums. So, approximately half of the cars you see on the road are being driven without adequate insurance to cover a significant accident or without any insurance at all.
Making matters worse, the ailing economy is causing more drivers to drop their car insurance coverage. A study by the Insurance Research Council (to be released in January 2009) estimates several hundred thousand drivers failed to renew their insurance in the past year as the jobless rate climbed.
How Much Does UM and UIM Cost?
The cost is surprisingly low. I paid an additional $35 per year to increase my UM/UIM coverage to the maximum amount available by my insurance company--$500,000. Since half the states require some form of UM/UIM coverage to be included in any auto-policy, you may only need to increase your existing coverage limits--probably for less than $100 per year--well worth the added protection it offers vulnerable cyclists, joggers, and walkers...not to mention drivers.
Editor's Note: Not all policies are the same so please check with your individual insurance company regarding coverage. Please also remember it is the responsibility of every cyclist to follow the rules of the road.