Category Archives: Auto Insurance

Catching All The Candy

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If your little monsters are determined to hunt down some spooky Pokémon on their trick-or-treat route this Halloween, be sure that the fun of finding Ghastly or Haunter doesn’t turn into a deadly distraction.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that Halloween is consistently one of the top three days for pedestrian injuries and fatalities, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that children are four times more likely to be struck by a motor vehicle on Halloween than on any other day of the year.

Excited trick-or-treaters often forget about safety, the American Automobile Association (AAA) warns, so motorists and parents must be even more alert.

The AAA offers these tips to keep young ones safe on Halloween.

Meanwhile, Pokémon GO’s virtual Halloween update is reportedly drawing players back to the mobile app that took the world by storm earlier this summer.

While catching all the candy could be a healthy alternative to eating all the candy, there are also some side effects that could prove hazardous.

Researchers at San Diego State University and UC San Diego found about 113,000 total incidences of a driver, passenger or pedestrian distracted by Pokémon GO in their review of Twitter postings over just a 10-day period (July 10 through July 19, 2016).

There were also 14 unique crashes—1 player drove his car into a tree—attributed to Pokémon GO in news reports during the same period.

The researchers noted that by rewarding movement Pokémon GO incentivizes physical activity.

“However, if players use their cars to search for Pokémon they negate any health benefit and incur serious risk.”

The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The good news is that injuries and property damage resulting from distracted Pokémon GO users are for the most part covered by insurance, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.).

In its smart road tips for Halloween safety, Consumer Reports advises the public not to use a cell phone or other mobile device while driving and to pull over safely to check voice messages or texts.

Check out I.I.I. facts and statistics on highway safety and distracted driving here.

Wishing all our readers a safe and happy Halloween!

Distracted Drivers, Meet the Textalyzer

After years of decline in road fatalities, numbers were up 8 percent in 2015. Many believe the rise is due at least in part to distracted driving and advocates are looking to programs that have successfully curtailed drunk driving for potential solutions.

The New York Times reports that one idea from New York lawmakers, would give police officers a new digital device that is the equivalent of the Breathalyzer — a roadside test called the Textalyzer.

An officer arriving at the scene of a crash could ask for the phones of any drivers involved and use the Textalyzer to tap into the operating system to check for recent activity, according to the New York Times article.

“The technology could determine whether a driver had used the phone to text, email or do anything else that is forbidden under New York’s hands-free driving laws, which prohibit drivers from holding phones to their ears. Failure to hand over a phone could lead to the suspension of a driver’s license, similar to the consequences for refusing a Breathalyser.”

However, the proposed legislation faces hurdles to becoming law, including privacy concerns, even though the Textalyzer bill would not give the police access to contents of any emails or texts.

If the law were to pass in New York, some believe it could spread across other states in the same way that the hands-free rules did after New York adopted them.

This is an interesting idea. The insurance industry has long been a major supporter of anti-drunk driving and seatbelt usage campaigns.

Distraction was a factor in 10 percent of fatal crashes reported in 2013, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data. Some 14 percent of distraction-affected crashes occurred while a cell phone was in use, the NHTSA notes.

A Highway Loss Data Institute study of collision claims patterns in four states (California, Louisiana, Minnesota and Washington) also found that texting bans may not reduce crash rates. Collisions went up slightly in all the states, except Washington, where the change was statistically insignificant.

The use of technology to better assess risk is something that insurers embrace in many different lines of business, including auto and health. Clearly, privacy concerns will need to be weighed, but this is a novel approach to tackling the distracted driving problem.

Check out Insurance Information Institute statistics on distracted driving here.

Industry Well-Prepared to Weather Hail Damage

Hail claims are making headlines following multiple springtime hailstorms in Texas, including one in the San Antonio region that is expected to be the largest hailstorm in Texas history.

While the estimated insured losses from the storms—$1.3 billion and climbing from two storms that hit the Dallas-Fort Worth region in March; as yet not estimated (but expected to be worse) insured losses from a third storm in the Dallas-Fort Worth region April 11; plus a further $1.36 billion early estimate of insured losses from the San Antonio storm April 12—may seem high, property insurers are well-prepared to handle such events.

In a new briefing, ratings agency A.M. Best says it expects limited rating actions to result as affected property/casualty insurers are expected to maintain sufficient overall risk-adjusted capitalization relative to their existing financial strength ratings.

Which insurers will be most affected?

A.M. Best explains that for property insurers, in particular in property lines of business, losses are expected to stem from broken windows and roof damage. This will have an impact on underwriting performance and overall earnings.

Companies with a heavy concentration of automobile physical damage will also have significant losses.

However, for property insurers the increased use of actual cash value (ACV) for roof repairs, increased deductibles, and improved risk management strategies will help limit the amount of the ultimate claim payment, A.M. Best explains.

The impact on most auto physical damage insurers is also expected to be mitigated given the generally large economies of scale of major writers in the market, A.M. Best adds.

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So, while the Texas hailstorm damage is poised to exceed the nine-year average of $1.2 billion for the United States, most insurers are well-capitalized and able to handle these severe weather events.

Nevertheless, as A.M. Best says:

“The volatile weather is a harsh reminder of the damages a property and casualty writer can be exposed to and the need for companies to continue to practice prudent and evolving risk management.”

Check out this review of research and testing related to hail damage by the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety.

The Insurance Information Institute also has some handy statistics on hail here.

More On Employment and Claim Frequency

Earlier this month Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) chief actuary Jim Lynch linked teen employment to the spike in claim frequency. I.I.I. chief economist Steven Weisbart responds:

I think Jim’s post draws the wrong inference from the data. Specifically, the slide pairs the drop in the teenage unemployment rate with the rise in overall collision claim frequency. He infers that if teens are not unemployed, they’re employed and, presumably, driving to work.

But the drop in the unemployment rate of this age group isn’t solely—or even mainly—because they’ve taken jobs. To start with, in 2006-07, there were seven million people ages 16 to 19 in the labor force. That began falling in 2008, crossing six million in 2010 and plateauing at about 5.6 million midway through 2011. So in the space of less than five years, about 1.5 million people ages 16-19 disappeared from the labor force.

In contrast, the number unemployed in this age range dropped from about 1.1 million in 2006-07 to about 0.9 million in 2015. So about 200,000 got jobs. Some who had been in the labor force in 2006-07 must have gone to school, joined the military, were imprisoned, or simply gave up looking for a job (and therefore were not considered to be in the labor force).

If, instead, you look at the number in this age group who were employed in this period, it was 6 million in 2006-07, dropped to 4.3 million in mid-2010, rose to 4.5 million by mid-2014, and was 4.75 million in 2015:Q4. So the number of people in this age group who were employed is still 1.25 million below what it was before the Great Recession and subsequently.

I’ve put together a different slide (below), showing the change in employment and the change in claim frequency. As the number of employed falls with the Great Recession, so does claim frequency. And as employment numbers climb, so does claim frequency.

Employment and Collisions

So I’d say that Jim has a good explanation for the spike in the number of claims; more people get jobs, start driving to and from work and unfortunately get into accidents more often.

But it wasn’t just teen workers. It was everybody.

Teenage Drivers and the Surge in Claim Frequency

Insurance Information Institute Chief Actuary James Lynch looks at teenage driving:

2016.02.25 LYNCH teen driving slide

This chart shows how closely the teen unemployment rate tracks overall auto accident rates countrywide. It’s eerie. When the teen unemployment rate rises in 2008, the rate of accidents plummets.

And in 2013, when teen unemployment falls, claim frequency takes off.

Here accident rates are measured as collision frequency — the number of collision claims per 100 vehicles over the previous 12 months, as measured by ISO. The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate is from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The correlation is so strong (R2 = 0.629, for you data geeks) that I’m tempted to hedge. The data seem to say that teen drivers are behind the current spike in auto rates. I think they are part of the reason, maybe even a big part.

Certainly teen drivers with jobs have to get to work, so they log more miles, and that will lead to more accidents in any group, but particularly teens, whose driving records are notoriously bad.

But many people in this age group can’t drive legally. It would take more research to see how much of the spike in claim frequency is driven by younger drivers.

I was inspired to put this together by an article in the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety’s (IIHS) Status Report, which showed how more teens are on the road.  Their point was to dispel the idea that teens had given up driving for good, that young people would rather text their friends than see them face to face. Instead, IIHS showed, teens were driving less because they didn’t have jobs. Once they got jobs, they started driving again.

At the Insurance Information Institute, we speak frequently about how driving trends affect insurance. We post our PowerPoint slide decks here. We also collect many facts and statistics on auto insurance here.

Q and A: How Does Driver Assistance Tech Impact Premiums?

Our mission at the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) is to help people understand how insurance operates. Sometimes that means understanding how insurers handle new technologies, particularly auto insurance. Chief Actuary James Lynch answers a question we got last week:

Q: I am researching driver assist technology and the advantages and pitfalls that could be associated with it. Do driver assist  technologies raise or lower insurance premiums? A few of the technologies I’m looking at are lane-keeping devices, blind spot warning systems and hands-free cruise control.

A: As far as technological innovations go, insurance companies adjust their rates after a technology has proved its worth on the road. Only then do they know that a technology is effective and how much discount is warranted, if any. That means hands-free driving systems, which have only been introduced in the past couple months, are not earning anyone discounts right now.

You mention lane departure warnings. That is a technology that has yet to prove valuable on its own. The feature alerts a driver that is beginning to drift from one lane to another. When the driver drifts, an alarm beeps. One problem, it appears, is that drivers have trouble understanding what the beep means.

In addition, the feature can be turned on and off by the owner, and owners frequently find it so annoying that they turn it off. I happen to have a car with this technology, and I drove with it for about 10 minutes before turning it off. You would be surprised how many times your wheels touch a lane line; I know I was, particularly when the road curved. So insurers probably aren’t giving a lot of credits for the system.

That doesn’t mean that the idea of a lane departure warning is useless. The problem may be that the notification system doesn’t help the driver do a better job. There’s every chance that manufacturers will be able to refine the system so that it does better later. If that happens, rates will eventually adjust.

Another possibility: Sometimes a feature by itself doesn’t work as touted but will become an important part of a larger system. An example here is antilock brakes, which were introduced a couple of decades ago. The brakes had a special feature that was supposed to help a car stop more quickly when its brakes were slammed on. By itself, they weren’t much of a help — which surprised a lot of people – but they have become an important part of electronic stability control, a computerized system that figures out when a car is starting to skid and corrects the situation.

Electronic stability control is perhaps the biggest safety advance of our generation. The feature, standard since 2012 on all new vehicles, has cut the risk of a fatal single-vehicle crash in half. Insurers closely monitor this stuff, particularly the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and its sister organization, the Highway Loss Data Institute.

Here at I.I.I. we offer more information on auto crashes in our Issues Update on the topic.

A Happy—and Safe—Halloween

As we put the finishing touches to our Halloween costumes we’ve rounded up some of the not-so-spooky posts from around the insurance blogosphere to keep the ghouls and ghosts away.

First up is Erie Insurance with its post 4 Lesser-Known Halloween Safety Tips. Read all the way to the end and you’ll learn of the dangers of glow sticks. As a parent to two young children who gravitate towards anything that glows, I appreciate the tip that glow sticks cause an increase in poisoning on Halloween. Make sure to tell your kids to keep them away from their mouths.

Next up is Zillow and HomeInsurance.com with an excellent post on how Halloween carries potential financial risk for homeowners. Whether it’s Halloween-related fires leading to property damage or liability claims from trick-or-treaters injured on your property, some practical safety steps and a homeowners or renters insurance policy can help protect your most valuable assets.

Do you have a secure place to park your car? In this Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) post (from 2013)  we learn  that vehicle vandalism peaks on Halloween with nearly twice as many insurance claims on October 31 as on an average day. Such claims include things like slashed tires and smashed windows. Hence the importance of comprehensive auto insurance coverage.

And for the insurance fans  among you, last but not least is a post on WillisWire, reflecting not on make-believe monsters, but on the scariest real risks faced by their clients during the year. Which one keeps you up at night? Have your say and take their poll.

Wishing all our readers a safe and Happy Halloween!

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Too Fast, Too Young

Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) chief actuary James Lynch brings us a cautionary tale from  the open road:

It’s a gritty drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco as I learned with my wife and older daughter this summer — a climb through dry mountains, then across the nation’s Salad Bowl, the San Joaquin Valley, passing strings of tractor-trailers headed up the interstate toward Sacramento and cow country.

Like most tourists, we left the trailers behind by turning west on state Route 46. My wife drove. We passed a thicket of oil derricks and, frankly, not much else. The roads were well-designed and well-kept. Everyone drove fast. Far off we saw the hills that would lead us to Highway 101 and north again.

We came upon what, for that desolate place, was a major intersection — a flashing yellow light and a lane that let oncoming traffic turn left in front of us. A line of cars waited to make that left. Daylight was fading, and it was hard to pick out exactly how many wanted to turn or whether any had begun to.

“That looks like a dangerous spot,” I said.

Then we saw the sign: James Dean Memorial Junction.

Yeah. Right there, 60 years ago — September 30, 1955 — actor James Dean was cruising maybe 85 in his Porsche Spyder when Donald Turnupseed turned left. In moments Dean went from an astounding actor (East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause, Giant) to a roadside tragedy.

He wasn’t a teen-ager, but he was a teen idol squeezed between the Sinatra and Elvis eras, and now his case is one I can’t help but think of as that older daughter baby-steps toward her first license this fall.

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James Dean Memorial Junction still seems dodgy, but overall driving is much safer. The accident rate has fallen on average about 1 percent a year for decades. But long-term trends have statistical blips. We are in one now.

As we at the I.I.I. note in our Facts and Statistics on highway safety, traffic fatalities at mid-year are 14 percent higher than the same period last year, according to National Safety Council estimates. The economy has improved. People are driving more and perhaps less safely — faster, more texting.

The third week in October is National Teen Driver Safety Week, an event my daughter will be made well aware of, but this year we should all heed its message: Be careful behind the wheel.

 

 

Fairness In Auto Insurance

Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) chief actuary James Lynch offers some perspective on underwriting and auto insurance pricing.

The journalist was working a story on how insurers vary rates in some surprising ways. Over the past few days, industry skeptics have questioned how insurers could have the audacity to charge widows more than married couples, and they have questioned whether drivers with poor credit histories should pay a higher surcharge than a driver with a DUI.

“Does that sound fair?” he asked.

I can’t tell you what the journalist thinks is fair, and of course, my reader friend, I can’t tell what is in your mind.

However, state laws tell insurers what the word fair means, and stripped of legalese, they say a fair rate has to follow the risk as much as possible. People who present great risk must pay more than people who present less risk.

Insurers collect tremendous amounts of data to prove just that.

If an insurer can show that married couples present less risk than others, they deserve a discount. That is fair. It is also fair that men pay more than women and the young pay more than the middle-aged, because the driving records prove it.

Most people think this is OK. They have seen married couples cruising safely in their minivans, and they have been cut off by young, male drivers. Rates follow what they have seen.

By the same standard of fairness, people with poor credit records should pay more than people with excellent credit. Here skeptics balk, yet the data is just as strong, perhaps stronger. Credit information is an excellent predictor of future accidents.

This is harder to understand, I think, because we can’t observe it. I can tell a lot about that fellow who just blew past the stop sign — young or old, male or female — but I can’t tell you, just by looking, whether he is late on his mortgage.

I’ve asked actuaries a lot about credit scores and insurance the past few days. They uniformly tell me its predictive power. People with poor credit incur losses at two or three times the rate of people with excellent credit.

What has surprised me is the certainty and reverence of their answers. One told me, in the jargon: “The models have lift; the standard error is low.” (Translation: Driving record deteriorates steadily, predictably, inexorably as credit score does, without a sliver of doubt.)

Like most actuaries, I’ve known these facts for a while. What surprised me was the respect, bordering on awe, with which these actuaries spoke. They seem to feel they were granted a privileged window, observing something few have — something hard to understand without witnessing it, but once witnessed becomes simple and obvious — as Leeuwenhoek may have felt when he found a drop of water teeming with microbial life.

“The math is there,” I was told. “People just can’t believe what they can’t see.”

Most people benefit from credit scoring. Removing it would raise rates for most people and lower it for a few. And those few will cause more than their share of accidents.

Does that sound fair?

Pride in Insurance

June is Pride month and our annual round-up of the latest insurance news around the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community takes on added significance with today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage.

The Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v Hodges means that the U.S. Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage in all 50 states. This has a number of implications for health, life, and auto insurance.

For example, health and life benefits that currently exist in states that recognize same-sex marriage will—once the law goes into effect—extend to all states.

Some of these benefits include: coverage of a same-sex spouse and children under health insurance plans; equal tax treatment of health insurance premiums for married gay couples; and recognition of a spouse for survivor benefits, including social security and life insurance.

For auto insurance offerings, too, this means that LGBT customers who are married will be entitled to the married rate, regardless of where they live.

Esurance, one of the first car insurers to extend the married rate to LGBT customers, points to what equality means for auto insurance in a just-issued press release here.

For LGBT couples who are married or are planning to get married, Esurance offers the following advice:

In addition to saving money with the married rate, married couples in states newly recognizing same-sex marriage can be identified as a spouse on their partner’s insurance policy. This will allow them to receive additional benefits on that policy such as coverage while driving a rental or borrowed car.

Until the ruling goes into effect in individual states, Esurance will continue to extend its married rate to either married gay couples, domestic partners or those in civil unions–even in states that have yet to recognize same-sex marriage. Something it has done since 2011.”