About three years ago the Insurance Information Institute noticed a strong correlation between the number of people employed and the amount of driving done, as measured by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s monthly survey of vehicle-miles traveled. Of course, it is reasonable to expect that as more people hold jobs, most would drive to work. And as those who had been unemployed gained incomes, they would also logically be likely to drive more for leisure.
Further, we noticed another strong correlation between vehicle-miles traveled, on the one hand, and the collision paid claim frequency rate (as captured by Fast Track Monitoring Service), on the other—which is also a logical relationship. This, in addition to other factors, such as an increase in distracted driving, higher speed limits on some roads and other causes, helped explain the unusual spike in the frequency of auto insurance claims in 2015 and again in 2016.
However, lately these relationships appear to be weakening. For example, the year-over-year increase in vehicle-miles traveled was more than 2 percent in 2015 and 2016, and despite continued steady growth in the number of people employed, was 1.5 percent in the first half of 2017, just under 1 percent in the second half of 2017, and under 0.5 percent in the first five months of 2018 (the latest data available).
It’s possible that the rise in the price of gasoline is affecting vehicle-miles traveled. For most of 2016 the retail price of a gallon of gas (all grades) was less than $2.40, but for the first half of 2017 it averaged $2.50 and for the second half of 2017 averaged $2.65. For the first half of 2018 the average was roughly $2.85.
The collision paid claim frequency rate has also flattened, echoing the pattern of vehicle miles traveled. These new patterns suggest that the beleaguered private passenger and commercial auto claims might finally see some relief following a few years of combined ratios well north of 100.