Automobile Insurance You Can Count On…One Hand
category: News

If you’ve ever had the misfortune of hitting an animal in the road while driving, you know that it’s a frightening and sad experience. While it’s almost always fatal for the animal, it can also cause human injury, loss of life and serious auto damage.

In certain parts of the country, collisions between vehicles and animals account for a surprisingly large percentage of the total accidents. This is especially true in areas that have large deer populations. According to the Federal Highway Administration, collisions between autos and animals are steadily rising.  Auto-deer collisions in particular increase during mating season in the months of October through December.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that there are about a million auto crashes involving deer annually that result in the death of 200 Americans.  Human injuries from these types of crashes number roughly 10,000 per year and result in $1 billion in damages to vehicles.

A 2010 article in the New York Times reported that deer-related collisions in the previous two years totaled 2.3 million, a figure that’s a 21% rise compared with the previous five years. Auto insurers estimate that the figure is higher, because many of these collisions are never reported to a police or insurers. The average auto-deer crash results in roughly $3,000 in damage, according to insurers.

As deer populations continue to rise and more deer inhabit suburban areas, so will collisions.  The reverse is also true: as human habitation spreads further into rural areas, cars will come in more contact with deer.  The white-tailed deer is the most prolific in the U.S. and the primary type involved in most collisions.

According to State Farm, the state with the greatest risk of deer collision is West Virginia, where the chances of hitting a deer are 1 in 42 during a twelve month period.  The second highest rate of deer collision occurs in Iowa, where drivers have 1 in 67 odds.  Michigan ranks third, at 1 in 70.  Statistics show that most of these crashes occur between dusk and dawn.

While most deer-related accidents don’t cause human injury, these types of crashes cause a serious risk. According to a report in USA Today, an Indiana accident in which a family was rear ended by a semi-truck when they slowed or stopped after a deer collision, killed three adults and four children.  Another crash in Minnesota sent a deer catapulting through the windshield, seriously injuring three passengers.

In Florida, Texas and California, crashes with animals take on a different form. Collisions with feral hogs are skyrocketing as the animals continue to spread into populated areas.  The animals can top out at 300 pounds, and are capable of causing serious damage.

A study completed by the University of Alberta features some good news when it comes to auto-deer crashes. When warning signs are set up in areas where deer are likely to cross roadways, collisions are reduced by 34%.  The lesson here: to avoid a crash, slow down when you’re driving in deer-populated areas, especially from dusk to dawn, whether or not there are warning signs posted.

category: News

Ever wonder what cars would be like if computers had been invented before the ‘horseless carriage’? Google wondered, and they’re finding out for themselves.  In case you haven’t heard, they’re championing what they call an autonomous car with computerized driving systems that replace the human behind the wheel.  The vehicles can drive themselves using a laser system, cameras and a detailed mapping system that allows them to navigate and sense other vehicles on the road.  In the initial phases, a driver sits in the driver’s seat in case something goes awry.

Google says the cars will significantly reduce the 33,000 auto fatalities and 1.2 million injuries suffered on U.S. roads annually, since most accidents are caused by human error, and computers – at least in theory – hardly ever make mistakes. Google product manager Anthony Levandowski says that a huge factor in Google’s autonomous vehicle program is an effort to improve public safety.  He says that research shows that 95% of vehicle crashes are the result of driver error and that most of that is caused by distracted driving. Computer systems, on the other hand, don’t get distracted from the task at hand.  They also don’t drink, take drugs, or fall asleep at the wheel.  Not only that, but Levandowski says that the computerized car outperforms professional drivers in averting collisions in some scenarios.

“Our mission to help improve people’s lives by transforming mobility,” Levandowski said at a recent transportation forum in Austin, Texas.

Last year, the pros and cons of autonomous vehicles were the subject of a symposium at Santa Clara University in California. The pros include the fact that if autonomous vehicles become the norm, they’ll bring the U.S. back to the forefront of the auto industry, an industry that’s been taken over largely by Asian and European automakers.  On the other hand, issues of legal liability are problematic with the vehicles.  When one of them crashes, who’s at fault, the automaker or the person who owns the vehicle? Insurance is another issue that remains to be addressed.

Google’s autonomous vehicle program has been around for eight years and according to program director Sebastian Thrun, as of August 2012, the company’s  test vehicles had achieved  300,000 miles of driving with almost zero accidents.

The next step is making legislative changes at the state level to allow autonomous vehicles to hit the nation’s highways. So far, only California, Nevada and Florida have passed laws permitting the cars on the road, with some restrictions.

An article in Forbes says that Google’s interest in the vehicles is more than altruistic. The business in autonomous vehicles could be worth trillions of dollars in the long run, making Google’s current portfolio look meager in comparison. Forbes says that driverless vehicles will be the norm by the year 2040 and that today’s vehicles will look quaint in comparison to the next generation of fully computerized cars.

Google isn’t the only company that’s getting into the driverless car market. Audi is developing its own fleet, as are Volkswagen, BMW, Nissan and Toyota. The 2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class, which hits showrooms in September of this year, will be the first offered to the public that’s able to operate driverless a portion of the time. The car has a steering assistance feature that keeps the vehicle in one lane at speeds of up to 124 miles per hour.  Turning, on the other hand, has to be done manually. The vehicle helps the driver navigate in stop-and-go traffic, using cameras and sensors that gauge the speed and distance of the vehicles nearby, and adjusts acceleration and braking accordingly.  The vehicle requires a human driver to be present and alert in the driver’s seat and will shut off if two hands aren’t gripping the wheel.

Toyota’s Lexus LS car uses light detection, cameras and a technology they call LIDAR to gauge distances and environmental changes in order to navigate driverless. The concept vehicle is currently being tested at a new Japanese facility that replicates actual driving conditions.

Audi’s driverless vehicle prototype employs a small laser sensor that fits inside the front grille in order to operate. Nissan is also getting in the computerized car act with its own self-driving project that uses a system that entirely bypasses the steering column in order to navigate.

Will drivers take to the idea of giving up the steering wheel and riding in a fully computerized vehicle?  A survey of 17,400 vehicle owners by J.D. Power and Associates revealed that only 37% of responders said they would be interested in owning a completely autonomous vehicle. That figure fell to 20 % when responders were told that the technology would cost an additional $3,000 per vehicle. With an additional cost of $3,000, 25% of the male responders said they’d be willing to pay the additional amount for the autonomous vehicle, while only 14% of women said they would buy it. Another survey of 2,006 people revealed that 49% of responders reported that they’d feel comfortable in a driverless vehicle.

category: News

According to a new report from the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) insurance investigators found a record number of dubious claim referrals in 2012. The NCIB which receives insurance claims from insurers for further investigation said that the number of referrals received hit an all time high last year.

Insurance companies refer questionable claims, referred to as QCs to the NCIB for further investigation, these claims are referred based on one or more indicators of possible fraud.

The bureau saw a jump of 26.7 percent in all QCs between 2010-12. The NICB says that while the increase was big this number still only makes up a fraction of the number of total processed insurance claims every year. While a referral to the NICB does not automatically denote fraud, it simply means that the insurer found it to be suspect.

Car Theft is Biggest Cause of Fraud

There was an increase of 15 percent from 2011-12 in the 16 vehicle-related categories for referrals of a QC.

During the time period for the study, hail damage saw the biggest rate increase as the reason for a referral. In 2012, the number of hail damage referrals hit 2,112, up from 1,505 in 2011. This was a 35 percent increase.

Dubious claims concerning cars that were hit while parked went up 30 percent during this time period, which was the second biggest increase according to the report.

When it comes to sheer number though “questionable vehicle theft,” is the big leader. A total of 12,193 cars, boats and heavy equipment thefts were referred to the NICB as QCs. These types of claims jumped up six percent from 2011-12.

California is Number One State for Questionable Claims

California leads the country in questionable claims during 2012 by a huge amount. The Golden State referred 21,935 QCs to the NCIB more than double the amount that came out of Florida, the second highest state in the country.

Here is a listing of the top 10 states when it comes to QCs in 2012.

  • California: 21,935
  • Florida: 10,693
  • Texas: 10,368
  • New York: 9,059
  • Maryland: 4,296
  • Georgia: 4,126
  • North Carolina: 3,855
  • Illinois: 3,538
  • Pennsylvania: 3,353
  • Ohio: 3,289

California has long been the king when it comes to vehicle related claims. California is one of the top states when it comes to generating questionable car insurance claims, which are related to organized crime. Los Angeles leads the state and the country when it comes to cities with the highest number of questionable claims related to vehicles.

California also comes out on top in regards to sports utility (SUV) and crossover utility vehicles (CUV) thefts. It also has a much lower than average recovery rate for these stolen vehicles.

When all types of car thefts are examined, 7 of the top ten cities for stolen car rates are in California. According to the NCIB report Fresno has the highest rate in the country.

All of these thefts drive up the cost of car insurance in California. Drivers may have a difficult time finding cheap coverage especially if they live in a high-risk area.

Fraudulent claims are on the rise, especially in California. All of these questionable claims can raise insurance rates dramatically in the highest theft prone areas.

category: News

Electric vehicles are making real progress in the Netherlands. They are going mainstream and an ever growing network of charging stations has made the switch to electric driving easier than any other place in the world.

The Netherlands has proven to be the perfect testing area for electric vehicles. The country is only 100 miles across and sports gas prices of roughly $8.50 a gallon. The Dutch are also know for their environmental activism and are eager to embrace electric vehicles.

The government is helping expand the fleet of electric cars on the roads by quickly deploying a national grid of charging stations in both the cities and along the country’s highways. Amsterdam offers free street parking and charging to owners of electric cars. The government also offers big tax breaks, and promotional leases which bring the cost of an electric vehicle in line with the cost of owning and operating a gas powered car.

Over the last year the number of electric vehicles has gone up eightfold. There are currently about 7,500 electric cars out on the roads of Netherland and charging stations are readily available on the sidewalks.

While all of this is good news, there is still a lot of progress to be made. Sales are lower than automakers and the government had hoped, representing less than one percent of new vehicles sold. If sales fail to pick up it could result in investors pulling out, effectively ending the Dutch electric car experiment.

In 2012, there were a total of 120,000 plug-in electric cars sold worldwide according to Pike Research, an industry analyst group. Pike predicts 40 percent annual growth in sales between now and 2020. J.D. Power found that in the United States, 52,000 electric vehicles were sold and there were a total of 12,000 charging stations spread throughout the country. The major problem is that charging stations are few and far between making owning an electric vehicle difficult.

Most experts claim that electric vehicles are often used as secondary cars but a 2012 Accenture survey of Dutch drivers found that the majority of electric car owners ended up using them as their primary vehicle.

Electric Vehicle Owners Have to Plan

Experts say that electric vehicle owners learn to plan when they are driving, often starting off cautiously, driving well within the range of the vehicle and then heading out further as they gain more confidence in the vehicle. Charge points can actually be found using a smartphone app, which increase the range of the vehicle. Shops in the Netherlands have started offering parking spots with charging outlets so drivers can charge up while eating or shopping.

Unfortunately there is still a bit of guesswork involved. Finding a charging outlet can be a challenge and a bit like a puzzle. Driving hundreds of miles a day still requires a gasoline powered vehicle making electric cars unfit for many drivers. Charging a vehicle at home requires four to eight hours. While high-voltage rapid charging stations can get a car back to 80 percent charge in 20 to 30 minutes they are expensive and fairly rare.

The lack of a uniform charging model is hindering the adoption of electric vehicles. In some countries a charging contract is often sold with the vehicle which ties the vehicle to a charging network, much like cell phone contracts. This can limit the number of charging points as most networks are not nationwide or use different technology than other networks. Telsa Motors runs it own network of high performance superchargers. The uncertainty can be a turn-off to potential buyers.  A nationwide network would be a big boost to the industry.

While electric vehicles still have a ways to go, the Dutch have embraced the technology and have become a unofficial testing ground for the effectiveness of electric cars.

category: News

If you watch TV, you’ve become accustomed to the plethora of ads touting auto insurance products. The Australian accented GEICO lizard and the uber-chipper Progressive saleslady Flo have become friendly fixtures in our living rooms. But do they translate to cheaper rates for consumers?  Insurers say they do.

According to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.), drivers can count on insurance rates becoming more competitive as the number of insurers – and advertisers – remains strong. The group says the large number of insurers in the marketplace is a boon for drivers, as it increases availability and affordability for consumers.

The statement by I.I.I. is in direct contest to a Consumer Federation of America (CFA) report that says insurers are structuring rates to increase for lower income drivers. The CFA report countered a study by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners that asserted that rates had steadily declined for U.S. drivers every year from 2005 to 2009.

Dr. Robert Hartwig, I.I.I.’s president said, “Auto insurance provides important, cost-effective financial protection to millions of Americans, and most drivers have dozens of auto insurers constantly competing for their business.”

The NAIC study showed that the average consumer paid $785 in insurance for a passenger vehicle in 2009, an amount that’s $4 lower than what they paid the previous year in 2008. The figure includes liability, collision and comprehensive coverage. The cost of coverage in 2005 was $832 per vehicle and declined steadily each year until the figure of $785 in 2009.

I.I.I. further contends that another indicator of a fair insurance marketplace is seen in the decrease in the percentage of income the average family spends on auto insurance annually.

According to Risk Information’s Auto Insurance Report, the percentage of insurance cost to income decreased from 1.27% to 1.05% in 2009.  Part of this decrease is attributed to drivers who participate in their state’s insurance pool, which gives low income consumers reduced insurance costs.  As overall insurance rates decline, fewer drivers need to participate in state insurance pools.  The bottom line is that the more people purchase insurance in the open marketplace, the lower rates should become.

“As anyone who watches television commercials knows, auto insurance coverage is widely available in every U.S. state,” says Robert Hartwig, the president of the Insurance Information Institute. “Drivers should shop around if they feel as though their current auto insurer is not meeting their needs, or charging too high a price.”

Hartwig added that insurance regulators closely monitor and control the rates that insurers are allowed to charge for their policies, a factor that keeps prices down.  Regulators also must approve the criteria used when calculating rates, such as age, gender and other demographic information. Insurance premiums are determined by consumer’s driving records, as well as by the car they drive and the amount and type of coverage.

Criteria that auto insurance companies use to calculate rates, such as consumer credit scores and zip codes, has been contested by consumer groups as unfairly penalizing low income drivers. Insurers insist that this information is used only as it relates to risk and thus is a fair method of determining rates.

No doubt the difference of opinion between consumer groups and insurance representatives will continue, but no one can argue that a continuing decline in rates is good for U.S. drivers.