Question: I’m 15 and have a learner’s permit. Does the insurance of the person who’s driving with me (and over 21 as required) apply to me while I'm driving in their car, even if I'm not on their policy? For instance, if I crash my uncle’s car, will his insurance cover the accident as if he were driving?
Answer: In general, yes, you should be covered. Insurance usually goes with the car. But it all depends upon the car owner’s policy.
Typically, if you live with the person whose car you are driving, their insurance company would ask to be notified when you obtain your permit and start to drive. Some insurers require that you be added to the policy while holding the learner’s permit, and some wait to add you as a driver until you receive your driver’s license. (See “A parent’s guide to insuring a teen driver.”) If you have been added to an insurance policy, you are a "named insured."
If you are driving a vehicle belonging to someone that you don’t live with -– a friend or a relative -- and aren’t listed on their policy, then most auto insurance policies will cover you as long as the car owner gave you permission to use the vehicle. That makes you a "permissive user."
If you are either a named insured or a permissive user, then you should be covered up the policy limits of the car owner. (See “Who can drive your car.”)
Of course there are exceptions, usually made in an effort to bring down insurance premiums.
Some policies have certain restrictions or exclusions that would keep you, as a permissive user, from being fully covered by the car owner’s policy. That would leave you and the car owner personally responsible if you were to be in an accident.
For example, some auto policies have restrictions in place that exclude coverage for young drivers – such as those under 25 years of age. Most commonly this is seen with specialty policies on collectible cars, but the same provision can be used to help lower rates on a standard policy as well.
In some states, auto insurers are allowed what is known as a step-down provision. If a permissive user has an accident in the insured car, the liability limits are dropped down to the state minimum requirements, even when the owner has higher limits.
So if you want to practice driving with your uncle in his car, he should review his policy and speak to his agent to make sure you’re covered before you operate his car. If his insurance company says you are covered, then if you had an accident in his car, his insurance should cover it the damage to others with his liability coverages and damage to the uncle’s car under his collision coverage (if he has it).