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I didn’t get my driver’s license until I was 20-years-old. Fresh out of college with my first car (a silver stick-shift Hyundai Accent I liked to call my “box-on-wheels”) I hadn’t the foggiest when it came to picking the right auto coverage. Like many drivers in Washington, I hesitated at the webpage where I had to pick my policy limits.

To me, choosing the cheapest option seemed like the way to go. This gave me the following minimum amount of coverage:

$25,000 of bodily injury or death of one person in an accident

$50,000 of bodily injury or death of two people in an accident

$10,000 of injury to or destruction of property of others in an accident

This seemed to fit the bill just fine. After all, I wasn’t driving that much. And when it came to the possibility of hitting someone, I carried the common early-20s mentality of “it will never happen to me.

And it didn’t, thank goodness. But a few years of maturing later, another factor came into play: medical costs. I was fully aware that my car insurance policy was the only thing protecting me financially should I injure someone else in an accident. But would these minimum policy limits be enough?

In Seattle, one ambulance ride alone can cost up to $900. A medical helicopter ride from Tacoma to Harborview Medical Center is over $11,000. A typical day at Harborview costs around $20,000. It is easy to see how easily you can max out your policy limits.

The mandatory limits were enacted in 1968. Between 1960 and 2003, health care services increased by 1,465 percent. This raises the obvious question: why haven’t the minimum policy limits changed? The legislature enacted the minimum limits with the idea that they would be sufficient to cover most claims. This may have been the case in 1968. It certainly isn’t the case now. If the limits were actually keeping up with the cost of healthcare, today they should be at least $250,000/$500,000.

It is clear that Washington’s minimum limits are not enough to cover the medical expenses should you injure another person in an automobile accident. Choosing a higher coverage policy is the best way to prevent you from paying anything out of pocket.

But the uninformed driver is likely to carry on buying the cheapest policy possible. Until the minimum auto policy limits are changed to keep up with rising health care costs, Washington drivers will continue to be insufficiently covered, whether they realize it or not.

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