Question: Can states close roads or restrict driving during a state of emergency? If so, would your car insurance pay if you were to drive and be in an accident?
Answer: Yes, states can restrict the use of roads during a state of emergency and ticket you for being out on closed roadways. Car insurance covers accidents due to drivers’ negligence or mistakes, whether it’s crashing during a snowstorm or other severe weather, or under some other type of public health emergency.
What is a state of emergency?
A state of emergency is declared to augment local resources during a public health emergency. Typically, this is due to severe storms and natural disasters, but it can also be due to other events, such as the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. By declaring a state of emergency, federal and local officials are better able to provide resources such as food, water and shelter. Or, it can mean having medical supplies and medications more readily available. It also can help state governments get reimbursed for expenditures.
The president can declare a state of emergency for the entire nation. States of emergency also can be implemented on the state level by a governor, or in some states, on the city or county level as declared by those municipal officials. Each state has its own laws that govern what is defined as an emergency.
A state of emergency does not necessarily mean a travel ban, though one may be put in place if safety officials deem it necessary.
What are the rules of your state?
State laws vary on what is required of motorists during a state of emergency (SOE). Some states request you not to drive in certain circumstances, while others order it.
For instance, Massachusetts says that if the governor declares an SOE, a request for drivers to stay off the roadways, employers to release employees, and other such actions to promote public safety may be issued. Travel bans and closures are not automatically deployed with a state of emergency declaration.
In other states, there are emergency classifications beyond an SOE, such as snow emergencies.
For example, when the governor declares a state of emergency in Delaware, the state limits the use or operation of vehicles on the roads using the state’s three-level driver warning and restriction system. If drivers fail to comply, they may be penalized. This system includes:
- Level 1 driving warning: Drivers are discouraged to drive and must exercise extra caution in the operation of motor vehicles.
- Level 2 driving restriction: Roadway use is restricted to certain drivers, such as emergency workers.
- Level 3 driving ban: Complete ban on driving except for essential vehicles, such as first responders, snow removal and utility personnel.
Car insurance covers accidents during a state of emergency
Drivers who drive during bad weather or a public health crisis are still covered by most car insurance policies. Thus, claims resulting from an accident during a state of emergency would usually be paid, up to the policy’s limits, by your auto insurer.
If you have an accident during a severe weather restriction, your liability coverage should take care of others’ injuries or property that you damaged, up to your limits. Collision insurance coverage would take care of your vehicle if you collided with another car or object or rolled your vehicle.
What your car insurance coverages won’t cover is intentional damage or if you were driving against the restrictions or exclusions of your policy.
For instance, if your policy excludes offroading and you decide to go offroading in the snow and roll your vehicle or hit a hidden tree stump, then your collision coverage may not come to your rescue.
No coverage for intentional damage
Car insurance providers also won’t cover damage if a driver intentionally causes an accident or damages their own vehicle. So, if a motorist goes out looking to wreck on the icy roads and that motive is uncovered during the claims process, then claims would be denied.
If your state has closed roads, warned drivers about driving or announced driving restrictions, stay home if possible. Driving in severe weather can impede emergency workers and snowplows that must be out on the roadways.
— Penny Gusner contributed to this story.
Mass.gov. “State of Emergency Information.” Accessed January 2023.
State of Delaware. “1101 Regulations Governing Travel Restrictions During A State Of Emergency.” Accessed January 2023.