For most drivers, the all-time most resented vehicle expense is not gas, oil changes or even those triple-digit transmission repairs, but auto insurance.
Every six months to a year, drivers voluntarily or, in some states are required to, play Premium Poker: the high-stakes game in which you bet your driving fortunes against the car insurance companies, all of which have better hands than you do.
Even in these days of almost universal nationwide mandatory coverage, about 15 percent of motorists drive uninsured, according to Insurance Research Council estimates. "The problem of uninsured motorists persists," said Elizabeth A. Sprinkel, IRC senior vice resident. "Responsible drivers who purchase insurance end up paying for injuries caused by uninsured drivers."
Other unofficial estimates of uninsured drivers, which include illegal aliens, the underage, elderly, medically unfit and disqualified individuals who are driving, put the total at a much higher level than the quoted 15 percent. An even more frightening recent GMAC study found that one in six licensed drivers currently on the road are unfit to drive. It is estimated that 600,000 drivers in New Jersey alone are hitting the roads without car insurance. However, they (the car insurance agencies) know that sooner or later the odds catch up with nearly everyone, and your chances of making it through your driving years without a major automotive incident are outstandingly rare. Last year there were there were 5,930,182 police-reported motor vehicle traffic crashes, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, resulting in an average of one fatality every 12 minutes (every 31 minutes in alcohol-related crashes), an injury every 12 seconds, and 4,181,000 cases of property damage.
Even more sobering, is the U.S. Department of Transportation's estimate that an additional 10,000,000 crashes go unreported, many because the drivers have no car insurance and just as many because the drivers are trying to avoid a possible increase in their car insurance prices due to the accident.
So what makes up the cost of your car insurance prices? There are four basic standards:
- Who you are: age, occupation, marital status, geographic location, medical condition.
- What you drive: SUV, sports car, minivan, luxury sedan, high performance model, truck.
- How you drive: tickets, DUIs, accidents, high mileage.
- Where you drive: high crime and crowded urban areas, suburban town, rural and wide open spaces.
There are multiple other factors punched into the cost calculator: is your vehicle financed so the cost can be recovered if totaled; what safety equipment does it have (side impact airbags and curtain airbags are much better); driver education courses taken; history of illnesses which could affect driving safety and that occupational information which shows some drivers (like professors and engineers have) as a sub-culture with much better driving records than, let's say, young, blonde celebrities and aging movie stars.
There can also be a credit check and another verification to see if you are one of the 36 million licensed Americans who have been judged unfit to drive in a study by GMAC, the 2007 Insurance National Drivers Test. That probe found that one in six current drivers could not pass a written DMV exam if taken today. The worst odds of running into one, or perhaps one of them running into you, are on the East Coast, while your chances of fewer encounters would be among the best-educated drivers in Idaho and Oregon.
With all of those factors stacked against your chances of continuing to drive without incident or accident, there are things you can do to lower your car insurance prices, like not driving drunk and giving up street-model NASCARs. Then again, there are those you can't control, like where you drive.
Of course if you decide to move in order to lower auto insurance costs, here are some actual numbers to juggle:
The national average annual outlay for liability coverage alone was projected to be $847 for 2007, according to the Insurance Information Institute. The estimate was based on combined stats of the institute and the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, an organization which assists state regulators. It does not include collision or comprehensive coverage.
Car insurance figures like those can be misleading. For example, consider the highway robbery for drivers in major urban areas. According to Insurance.com, drivers in Detroit, Philadelphia, Newark, New York and Los Angeles were paying, from $5,984 to $3,303 a year, in that order as of February 2006, for $100/300/50* liability, $500 deductible each for collision and comprehensive and $100/300* for uninsured. These multi-thousand-dollar car insurance prices are due, to higher density of traffic, increased likelihood of theft or vandalism and greater incidence of fraudulent claims, according to insurers.
The good news about auto insurance costs is that despite the increasing costs of medical care and vehicle repair plus cumulative weather-related damage such as the Katrina disaster, car insurance experts have anticipated a drop in rates. The Insurance Information Institute forecast a drop of 0.5 percent in 2007, once again, for liability coverage alone. That would be the first decrease since 1999.
Making state-by state comparisons is trickier, however, as the official Insurance Information Institute premium charts are only as recent as 2004; the highest car insurance price for that year was $1,221.08 in New Jersey, the lowest, $579.95 in Iowa.
Below are the most up-to-date state figures from the Mid-Year Auto Insurance Pricing Report by Insurance.com. It's based on car insurance quotes given to consumers by participating auto insurance companies in the 47 states where Insurance.com operates, plus the aggregate profile of consumers who shop using their Web site.
The cost of getting caught driving without auto insurance can vary from state to state, depending on the percentage of drivers who are uninsured in that state. In Massachusetts, residents can be charged anywhere from $500 to $5,000 in fines and receive a one-year jail sentence. In Florida, Louisiana, Connecticut and New Jersey, drivers operating a vehicle without the state required minimum will have their vehicles impounded, which can cost thousands depending on how long it takes to recover the vehicle.
Finally, even though there remain two states New Hampshire and Wisconsin -- which do not require motorists to carry liability insurance, all 50 have some auto insurance requirement about. In many states, motorists can't register a car without showing proof of liability insurance. In others, they don't ask for proof of car insurance until drivers have accidents or tickets on their records.
* In car insurance-coverage shorthand, coverage amounts described such as 100/300/50 are explained as follows: the first number (in thousands) is the financial limit of liability paid to or for the insured motorist for bodily injury for any one person, the second shows the top limits for all persons injured, and the third is the car insurance company's limit for property damage for any event created by the insured or any person allowed to drive the vehicle. For example, 100/300/50 means coverage up to $300,000 for all persons injured in an accident with a limit of $100,000 for one individual and $50,000 coverage for property damage. In addition to liability insurance (above), these policies also cover a $500 deductible paid by the insured to cover damage in any collision and a $500 deductible paid by the insured for each event of comprehensive damage such as windstorm or vandalism. Uninsured motorist coverage of 100/300 is similar to the above except this coverage is for an event caused by another motorist who is uninsured or underinsured or by a hit and run driver.