The 1978 Diplomatic Relations Act's Liability Insurance Provision--A Requirement Needing Added Attention

ID-81-31: Published: Apr 28, 1981. Publicly Released: Apr 28, 1981.

Additional Materials:


Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800

The Diplomatic Relations Act requires all foreign missions, members of missions and their families, and officials of the United Nations entitled to diplomatic immunity to carry liability insurance against risks arising from their operation of motor vehicles, vessels, or aircraft in the United States. It also creates a substantial right of an injured party to proceed directly against the insurance company where the insured member enjoys immunity from suit. GAO reviewed the Office of Protocol's administration of this requirement.

Based on a random sample of the foreign diplomatic representatives residing in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, there has been substantial compliance with the requirement by those owning motor vehicles. However, the locally established minimum limits of liability coverage which the Department of State requires the foreign diplomatic representatives to have are inadequate and should be higher. In the District of Columbia, there have been 69 traffic accidents involving foreign diplomatic representatives or their families, and these individuals were at fault in 39 of the accidents. The required liability insurance must provide no less than the minimum limits of liability specified by law in the jurisdiction where the car is garaged. It also suggests that every person subject to the Act should have and maintain adequate insurance to afford reasonable compensation to accident victims. Although it recommends higher limits, the State Department cannot ensure that they are being obtained. GAO believes the higher limits should be required. The minimum limits established and required do not adequately afford reasonable compensation to victims of accidents caused by foreign diplomats. The need exists to impose separate limits for the foreign missions that are higher than those imposed by State and local jurisdictions because of the inability of accident victims to sue and successfully collect damages from those enjoying diplomatic immunity.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status:

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State should establish, for those who enjoy diplomatic immunity, minimum limits of liability that are in excess of the minimum limits prescribed by State and local governments that will adequately afford reasonable compensation to accident victims.

    Agency Affected: Department of State


Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Oct 26, 2020

Sep 30, 2020

Sep 10, 2020

Sep 8, 2020

Aug 13, 2020

Jul 29, 2020

Jul 8, 2020

Jun 22, 2020

May 26, 2020

May 12, 2020

Looking for more? Browse all our products here