This Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start of summer, many are feeling a renewed sense of hope as COVID-19 infection rates fall and vaccinated individuals are given the green light to travel.
Over 37 million Americans are planning trips of more than 50 miles from their homes this weekend, according to AAA, an increase of more than 60 percent from last year, but still 6 million fewer than 2019’s pre-pandemic travelers on the same weekend.
Drivers are reminded to exercise caution on the roads, as Memorial Day has some of the highest auto accident rates, with alcohol consumption as a major contributing factor.
Triple-I recently spoke with Forbes magazine about avoiding some of the other hazards of summer, including car theft, grill fires, and dog bite liability.
We hope that you take the extra precautions outlined in the Forbes article — as well as review your insurance coverage – and have a safe, healthy summer.
Reintroducing wolves into areas where they’ve previously been decimated seems to reduce car crashes involving deer by nearly 25 percent.
Huh? What? Is this one of those “Correlation doesn’t equal causation” memes?
Not at all.
Scientists in Wisconsin have gathered data about road collisions and wolf movements in the state to quantify how the arrival of wolves affected the frequency of deer-auto collisions.
“In a pretty short period of time, once wolves colonize a county, deer vehicle collisions go down about 24 percent,” said Dominic Parker, a natural resources economist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and co-author of their new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
You might say, “Well, of course – wolves eat deer, fewer deer means fewer collisions.” But it’s a bit more subtle than that. The scientists found that reintroducing wolves created what scientists call “a landscape of fear.”
“When you have a major predator around, it impacts how the prey behave,” Parker said. “Wolves use linear features of a landscape as travel corridors, like roads, pipelines and stream beds. Deer learn this and can adapt by staying away.”
Just one study
Now, of course, this is just one study, and it’s not being embraced by everyone – for example, farmers and ranchers who don’t love the reintroduction of predators that might kill their livestock or add to the cost of protecting the animals they raise.
“People who value the existence of wolves are often not in the same communities where wolves are present,” said Jennifer Raynor, Parker’s colleague and co-author. “Urban wildlife lovers may be happy to know that wolves exist out there, but rural people have to stare at the carcasses of livestock and pets.”
Deer-vehicle collisions “are happening in both urban and rural areas,” Raynor said. “No one is avoiding this problem” – which means rural people are also benefiting from wolves, whether they realize it or not.
On average, 19,757 Wisconsinites collide with deer every year, leading to about 477 injuries and eight deaths. Wolves save the state $10.9 million in losses every year, the scientists determined —a figure 63 times greater than the total compensation paid for the loss of livestock or pets.
The average cost of an animal-strike claim under comprehensive coverage for 2001-14 models during calendar years 2004-13 was $2,730. That’s a hefty price but still lower than the average payout of $3,510 for a collision claim, the Highway Loss Data Institute has found.
More research needed
Guillaume Chapron at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, who studies large carnivores, says the team hasn’t provided enough information about their statistical methods, the degree of uncertainty in their results, or details on how to replicate their analysis.
“It may be that they found a new dimension to the role played by wolves, but their paper makes a critical evaluation of their findings impossible,” he said. “I’m sure it will be loved by wolf advocates, but much less by statisticians.”
Eyes on natural risk mitigation
More research clearly is needed before anyone should begin advocating large-scale reintroduction of wolves into populous areas with an eye toward reducing auto insurance claims and premiums. But the study highlights an area to which insurers are paying increasing attention: natural risk mitigation.
For example, interest has risen in how restoration of natural ecosystems – such as mangrove forests and coral reefs – can reduce insured losses caused by storm surge caused by hurricanes.
In many places, mangroves are the first line of defense, their aerial roots helping to reduce erosion and dissipate storm surge. A healthy coral reef can reduce up to 97 percent of a wave’s energy before it hits the shore. Reefs — especially those that have been weakened by pollution, disease, overfishing, and ocean acidification — can be damaged by severe storms, reducing the protection they offer for coastal communities.
In Florida, a recent study found, mangroves alone prevented $1.5 billion in direct flood damages and protected over half a million people during Hurricane Irma in 2017, reducing damages by nearly 25 percent. Another study found that mangroves actively prevent more than $65 billion in property damage and protect over 15 million people every year worldwide.
Communities, businesses, and families looking to reduce damages and their associated costs should look closely at natural, pre-emptive mitigation.
By James Lynch, Chief Actuary, Senior Vice President of Research and Education, Triple-I
You’ve probably been reading news stories about rising inflation, and auto insurance has been pulled into the picture. But that is a little misleading.
Auto insurance rates aren’t soaring. They are returning to normal, pre-pandemic levels.
Consumer prices in April were 4.2 percent higher than a year ago, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Wednesday, and its report picked out auto insurance as one of the areas that had “a large impact on the overall increase.”
Auto insurance rates were 2.5 percent higher in April than in March and 6.1 percent higher than a year ago.
That doesn’t mean, though, that the cost of auto insurance is skyrocketing. Remember that a year ago – April 2020 – insurers were busy returning billions of dollars to consumers because of the drastic change in driving patterns the pandemic brought on.
Those givebacks – which eventually totaled $14 billion – drove down the price of insurance, and the official inflation numbers reflected that.
Now driving patterns are returning to pre-pandemic norms – more or less. People are driving somewhat less than before, but they are driving faster and are much more likely to tinker with their smartphones or practice other distracting behaviors.
Premiums are reflecting the new normal, and in terms of the cost of insurance, that looks a lot like the old normal. The price of insurance, using BLS indices, is virtually unchanged from pre-pandemic levels – 0.01 percent higher than it was in March 2020, when the pandemic/recession began.
Hailstorms are among the most destructive weather events, with hailstones ranging in size from a pea to a grapefruit. When these frozen missiles plummet from the sky, damage to cars and buildings can be severe.
Steve Bowen, a meteorologist at Aon and director of the broker’s Impact Forecasting unit, has said hail can contribute as much as 50 percent to 80 percent of severe convective storm losses in any given year, with tornadoes, wind and flooding providing the rest.
An April 28 storm that included apple-size hail in in some parts of the Dallas-Fort Worth region caused close to $400 million in insured losses, according to the Insurance Council of Texas. Spokesperson Camille Garcia says the loss estimate is based on 32,000 car and homeowners claims sent to insurers through May 3. Most came from Tarrant County and the city of Keller. Once roof inspections are completed many more claims are expected.
State Farm alone paid out $474.6 million in hail claims in Texas in 2020, according to the company’s most recent Hail Damage report.
While you can’t prevent hail from failing on your property, you can lessen the possible damage by putting vehicles in the garage and moving patio furniture under cover. Close blinds and curtains to prevent broken glass from blowing inside and possibly causing injuries or damage.
If you do experience hail damage, your auto and home insurance policies will cover it. Take lots of pictures of the damage and submit your claim as soon as you can.
If contractors come knocking on your door, hold off on signing repair contracts. Do your due diligence, deal with reputable contractors, and get references. Consult your insurance adjuster before signing any contracts.
Properly selected, placed, and maintained trees can provide excellent wind protection for a house, which can reduce heating costs and noise from neighbors and traffic. By putting thought and energy into planting and maintenance, homeowners can reap these benefits while preventing much potential damage.
While some trees don’t handle wind well, others can withstand some of the most powerful gusts. Blue River Restoration Services in Indianapolis recommends live oaks and maples, crepe myrtles, and cypress trees as “safe bets” when considering wind damage.
“These trees have strong roots to keep them in place and thick bark that supports them in windy conditions,” Blue River’s website says. It also recommends not to plant large shade trees within 12 feet of structures that could be damaged by tree roots.
“While most trees’ roots are not invasive enough to cause damage to your house or pavement, some will,” the website says. “Aspens, willows, American elms, and silver maples all have root systems that can stretch for acres. With these types of trees, there is no way to control their roots that can disrupt the foundation of your home.”
Tree roots don’t destroy the foundation but instead shift the soil under and around them, causing them to become unstable.
“Some homeowners deal with intrusive roots by grinding down or removing them,” Blue River says. “This can be expensive and is very harmful to the tree. Wounding a tree’s roots creates points of entry for pathogens, leaving a tree vulnerable to disease.”
A diseased tree is more likely to have branches that will break off and cause damage during high winds. Trees with inadequate root systems may blow over or break off at the ground line. A general rule is that you should not plant any trees within 20 feet of your house.
Insurance “what ifs?”
What happens if a neighbor’s tree falls on your house? You’ll need to file a claim with your insurance company. If negligence can be proved—such as a diseased tree or tree that wasn’t properly maintained — your company may try to collect from your neighbor’s policy. If that happens, you may be reimbursed for your deductible.
If a tree falls on your car, damage is covered under the comprehensive portion of your auto insurance policy.
Standard home insurance polices also provide coverage for damage to trees and shrubs due to fire, lightning, explosion, theft, aircraft, vehicles not owned by the resident, and vandalism Coverage is generally limited to about $500 for any one tree, shrub or plant.
The future looks brighter every day for the cannabis industry.
From recent findings that cannabis components may lead to treatment or even prevention of coronavirus infection in lung cells to yesterday’s vote by the House of Representatives in favor of the Safe Banking Act, barricades to full legalization just keep falling.
This isn’t the first time the act – which would protect banks from federal penalties for doing business with cannabis-related businesses that comply with state laws – has made it through the House. It was first introduced in March 2019, and the House has approved it three times, only to have the Senate Banking Committee block its progress. But with the current Democrat majority, apparent bipartisan support, and growing public and state-government support for cannabis legalization, the fourth time just might be the charm.
The Drug Enforcement Agency characterizes cannabis as a Schedule I drug, defined as having “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” Without legislative change, banks and insurers can’t do business with business without risking running afoul of federal drug laws.
“There’s more optimism now and an assumption that they’re going to work to pass some of these bills that have been in motion for a while now, but never hit the point of actually moving forward,” said Max Meade, cannabis insurance advisor at Brown & Brown Insurance. “I’m also seeing more conversations around working to bundle some of these bills that they’ve been talking about and do a larger cannabis reform.”
As states continue to decriminalize marijuana to different degrees, one of the biggest issues facing cannabis businesses is the 280E federal tax burden, which means cannabis businesses can’t expense the normal cost of goods or anything a normal business can during the course of operation, from utilities to payroll and rent. This means marijuana businesses often pay federal income tax rates in the 65–75 percent range, compared to 15-30 percent for other businesses. They are taxed on their gross revenues, unlike all regular businesses, which pay tax only on income after their expenses.
The Small Business Tax Equity Act would provide an exception into the Internal Revenue Code to let cannabis operators – as long as they’re in compliance with state laws – make the same deductions as any other business.
Easier to operate
Passage of these laws would make it easier for cannabis-related businesses to operate. The CLAIM Act would let these businesses obtain insurance to cover the same risks of theft, damage, injury, loss, and liability as all other businesses.
“There are upwards of 30 surplus lines carriers and several managing general underwriters that currently service the cannabis industry across many lines of coverage,” the National Law Review reports. “There also is a small handful of admitted carriers that operate in California, and most recently in Arizona.”
While market capacity for property, commercial general liability, product liability and workers’ compensation coverage has expanded – these policies remain more expensive than the same coverage purchased by similar companies in other industries. Passage of the CLAIM Act would open the doors for more insurers and should bring the cost of insuring marijuana-related businesses much less expensive.
THC persistence a challenge
But challenges will remain – particularly with respect to the workplace. When marijuana was illegal under both state and federal law, employers would typically prohibit employees or employment candidates from using marijuana off-duty as a condition of employment. But as states have begun to permit medical marijuana, things have gotten a bit hazier.
No state requires companies to accommodate on-duty marijuana use. As with recreational marijuana, no state that permits medical marijuana requires employers to accommodate on-duty marijuana use, possession, or impairment. States will often explicitly state that medical marijuana laws don’t affect an employer’s drug-free workplace policy.
Does workers compensation cover a workplace accident in which the injured employee tested positive for marijuana? Persistence of THC – the main psychoactive compound in marijuana – complicates this question, and state courts have differed on this issue, depending on the individual details of each case.
To maintain a competitive private-passenger auto insurance market, state lawmakers must allow insurers to use rating factors aimed at having lower-risk drivers pay less for coverage, according to the Insurance Information Institute’s (Triple-I) Chief Actuary.
“It seems clear that all parties sincerely want a more equitable society,” stated James Lynch, the Triple-I’s Chief Actuary, in testimony today to the National Council of Insurance Legislators’ (NCOIL) Special Committee on Race in Insurance Underwriting. “Working cooperatively, we can find solutions that address the issue of systemic racism while preserving the competitive environment that allows the insurance industry to keep its promises and protect its customers. At the same time, it is important that the discussion be based on thorough, fact-based research.”
In his prepared remarks to NCOIL’s 2021 Spring Meeting, Lynch underscored the importance of fact-based research when pricing accurately a private-passenger auto insurance policy. The Triple-I’s Chief Actuary emphasized how actuarial evidence supports the effectiveness of auto insurance rating factors (e.g., a driver’s age and driving record). These factors, combined with dozens of others, such as credit-based insurance scores, effectively gauge the likelihood a driver will file a claim, multiple studies have found. In addition, Lynch noted rating factors are approved by state-based insurance regulators and insurers cannot use information about either a driver’s race or income when pricing their policies.
While addressing NCOIL’s Committee members, Lynch pointed out flaws and errors associated with a 2017 study conducted by ProPublica, in conjunction with Consumer Reports. It alleged insurers systematically overcharged drivers in minority communities in four states: California, Illinois, Missouri, and Texas.
“Once elemental errors in this report are corrected, findings show the exact opposite of what ProPublica asserted: auto insurers charge prices that properly reflect the actual risk in majority white and majority nonwhite neighborhoods,” Lynch stated.
Lynch shared in his testimony findings from Pinnacle Actuarial Solutions, a highly respected actuarial firm retained by the Triple-I, that found “multiple concerns with the analysis and resulting conclusions” in the ProPublica study. Moreover, Lynch also cited state regulators who disputed the key assertion made in ProPublica’s 2017 study.
A comprehensive analysis by the state of Missouri in 2018 determined, “no evidence was found that would indicate that higher-rated territories are charged more relative to risk than lower-rated territories.” Private-passenger auto insurers generally charge drivers more in higher-rated territories.
“The growing awareness of historical injustices make these unprecedented times,” Lynch added. “As the insurance industry, along with the rest of America’s business and governmental institutions, examines past injustices and appropriate remedies, it makes sense to incorporate high-quality, relevant research.”
Activities that take drivers’ attention off the road, including talking or texting on mobile devices, eating, and talking with passengers, are a major safety threat.
During the pandemic, while overall driving decreased, unsafe behavior by drivers rose in an alarming way. Motor vehicle deaths were up 8 percent in 2020 from the prior year – the highest percentage increase in 13 years, according to the National Safety Council.
Perhaps unaware of the danger, one in four drivers thinks roads are safer today than they were before the pandemic, yet a growing number of people reported using their mobile devices in unsafe ways while driving, according to the 2021 Travelers Risk Index on distracted driving.
The study found increases in the following behaviors:
Texting or emailing (26 percent, up from 19 percent pre-pandemic).
Checking social media (20 percent, up from 13 percent pre-pandemic).
Taking videos and pictures (19 percent, up from 10 percent pre-pandemic).
Shopping online (17 percent, up from 8 percent pre-pandemic).
“Traffic volumes were lower during the early days of the pandemic, which may have given drivers a false sense of security,” said Chris Hayes, Second Vice President of Workers Compensation and Transportation, Risk Control, at Travelers. “Not only did distracted driving increase, data from our telematics product IntelliDrive shows that speeding also became more prevalent. As travel restrictions are lifted around the country, it’s critical to slow down and stay focused on the road by eliminating distractions.”
Travelers’ findings suggest that many people may be feeling increased pressure to always be available for their jobs. This year, 48 percent of business managers said they expect employees to respond frequently to work-related calls, texts or emails, compared to 43 percent pre-pandemic. One in four respondents said they answer work-related calls and texts while behind the wheel, citing the following reasons:
46 percent said they think it might be an emergency.
29 percent said their supervisor would be upset if they don’t answer.
22 percent said they are unable to mentally shut off from work.
Yet, a higher number of employers are concerned about liability from distracted driving. More than one-quarter (27 percent) indicated that they worry a great deal about their liability should an employee be involved in a crash because of distracted driving, up from 21 percent pre-pandemic.
April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month. Here are a few resources to help reduce preventable crashes and keep everyone safe on the road:
One in eight drivers on U.S. roads was without auto insurance in 2019, according to a report released today by the Insurance Research Council (IRC).
At-fault drivers who don’t comply with state insurance requirements raise insurance costs for everyone else. Insured drivers paid more than $13 billion in 2016 (about $78 per insured vehicle) for protection against at-fault drivers who have inadequate coverage for medical costs and property damage they inflict on others.
“Keeping auto insurance affordable is more difficult when a significant number of drivers refuse to carry their fair share of the costs,” said David Corum, vice president of the IRC.
While countrywide the uninsured motorist rate was 12.6 percent in 2019, these rates varied substantially across states, ranging from 3.1 percent in New Jersey to 29.4 percent in Mississippi.
Although the uninsured motorist rate increased only 1.2 percentage points nationwide from 2015-2019, several states experienced more significant increases, including Washington (6.9 percentage points), Rhode Island (6.8 percentage points) and Mississippi (6.4 percentage points). Other states experienced decreases in uninsured motorist rates, including Michigan (10.1 percentage points) and Delaware (2.9 percentage points).
The IRC report, Uninsured Motorists, 2021 Edition, examines data collected from 11 insurers representing 60 percent of the private passenger auto insurance market in 2019. For more information on the study’s methodology and findings, contact David Corum, at (484) 831-9046, or by e-mail at IRC@TheInstitutes.org. For more information about the report, visit the IRC’s Web site at www.insurance-research.org.
Class action lawsuits filed in Nevada last month against 10 auto insurers are more likely to hurt policyholders than help them.
The suits contend that discounts, rebates, and policyholder dividends provided in 2020 – amounting to about $14 billion nationally – were not “meaningful” and that the rates charged violate state law against excessive premiums. The $14 billion figure does not include the more than $280 million in philanthropic contributions the industry has also made during COVID-19 to support communities.
The fact is, auto insurance premium rates fell nationally in 2020 for the first time in a decade. Insurers’ net income after taxes fell 26.1 percent through the third quarter of 2020, compared with the same quarter the previous year. A major factor was the pandemic-related discounts granted in 2020.
“The rate is lower because people are driving less,” said Triple-I chief actuary James Lynch, noting that during a lockdown period in the spring driving was down as much as 50 percent. Fewer cars on the road should lead to fewer accidents, and this expectation is what led insurers to proactively provide discounts and other policyholder benefits during the pandemic. Many auto insurers have built these discounts into premium rates for 2021, Lynch said.
Accidents down, fatalities up
Accidents did decline in 2020; unfortunately, traffic fatalities and claims increased. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), fatalities rose 4.6 percent in the first nine months of 2020, despite overall vehicle miles traveled having decreased. Fatalities in the third quarter of 2020 were 13 percent higher than in the same period of 2019 – the largest such increase in more than a decade. This suggests that driver behavior deteriorated rapidly and significantly during the pandemic.
The 2020 premium reduction would have even been larger, Lynch said, “if people had slowed down.”
The 2020 trend of increasing fatalities could worsen as traffic volume returns to pre-COVID levels. Data show that many motorists who substantially increased their driving speed when traffic was 50 percent below normal have not slowed down as traffic increased, Lynch said.
“The concern is that frequency patterns will return to the norm, but fast driving will keep claim severity high, putting upward pressure on rates,” Lynch said.
The salient point is this: Insurers have kept their promises to pay claims, given $14 billion back to policyholders, and generously supported communities through philanthropy – even as rising accident severity during the pandemic dented their net incomes. Defending themselves against frivolous litigation will only add to their expenses, and lower premiums are unlikely to be the result.