Consumer Group: The Rich May Pay Less For Car Insurance Even If They’re Not Safe Drivers

Driving safely and avoiding accidents isn’t just common sense — injuries hurt, car wrecks are bad — but also a way to make sure drivers keep their auto insurance premiums down. But according to figures released by a consumer group recently, insurance companies are in the habit of charging higher premium to safe, low- or moderate-income drivers than to richer people who were at fault for an accident.

The review by the Consumer Federation of America (via Bloomberg News) says that out of 60 cases it studied, the good drivers were hit with higher prices two-thirds of the time, because of factors like education and occupation. But shouldn’t how well you drive be a pretty important factor?

Yes, according to the CFA, which studied prices in 12 cities from State Farm, Allstate, Geico, Farmers and Progressive. How far one drives and how safe you are doing it should be how the bar is set, or at least a major part of it.

Using two hypothetical characters the group compared premiums offered to two 30-year-old women. Both had driven for 10 years, lived on the same street in a middle-income Zip code and both wanted the minimum insurance required by whichever state the group was researching.

The imaginary woman who wasn’t married, rented a home, didn’t have coverage for 45 days but has never been in an accident or ticketed with a moving violation was compared to a married executive with a master’s degree who owns her home and has always had continuous insurance coverage. But she’d been in an accident (again, hypothetically) that was her fault and caused $800 in damage within the last three  years.

The results were somewhat surprising, although there were differences across the five insurers. Farmers, GEICO and Progressive always gave a higher quote to the safer driver than the woman who’d caused an accident. Across all 12 cities in the study, State Farm offered the lowest or second lowest premiums.

“State insurance regulators should require auto insurers to explain why they believe factors such as education and income are better predictors of losses than are at-fault accidents,” said J. Robert Hunter, CFA’s director of insurance and former Texas insurance commissioner.

“Policymakers should ask why auto insurers are permitted to discriminate on the basis of nondriving-related factors such as occupation or education,” he added.

We’re of the same mind. Rewarding good drivers with higher premiums seems like a backwards way to do it. If they’re going to get charged more anyway, where’s the motivation to be a safe driver, beyond insuring your own personal safety?

Largest Auto Insurers Frequently Charge Higher Premiums To Safe Drivers Than Those Responsible For Accidents [Consumer Federation of America]
Good Drivers With Low Incomes Punished by Insurers [Bloomberg]