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Survey: Drop the hammer on texters, drunks

Des Toups

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CarInsurance.com

Texting and speedingThink your car insurance company’s rules are unfair? Perhaps you should make up your own.

That was the task before 1,000 drivers in a new survey commissioned by CarInsurance.com. Motorists were asked how they would screen customers and price car insurance policies if they ran an insurance company.

Most said they wouldn’t penalize drivers for factors that aren’t directly related to operating a car.

But they would hold drivers much more accountable when moving -- ramping up punishments for those who break the rules and aggressively monitoring those who pose the highest risks.

Put down the cellphone

The survey came down hardest on those who use a cellphone to text or talk while driving:

  • 72.9 percent said a driver who texts should pay more for car insurance than one who speeds.
  • 52.9 percent said a cellphone ticket should bring an insurance surcharge.
  • 51.6 percent would offer a discount to drivers willing to install a cellphone-disabling device.

Is this happening now? No. Currently only a dozen states (Alabama, Colorado, Maryland, Nebraska, New York, New Jersey, North Dakota, Nevada, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin) plus Washington, D.C., treat texting as a moving violation -- one capable of increasing insurance rates. Other states are considering that step. No insurer offers a discount for a cellphone disabling device, but Esurance will give its customers a free app that blocks cell use while a car is moving.

Smile -- you’re on an insurance camera

Imagine a device that tracks where a car goes, how fast, and when. Imagine it can observe the behavior of all the people in the car as well. Given the ability to see inside a car, we asked respondents which distractions should result in a higher insurance rate.

  • 16.2 percent: A screaming child
  • 16.4 percent: Hogging the left lane
  • 26.4 percent: Playing very loud heavy metal music
  • 39.7 percent: Eating a sandwich
  • 47.4 percent: Holding a dog on your lap
  • 75.7 percent: Holding a cellphone to your ear.

Teenagers would be under much more scrutiny; 62.9 percent of respondents would require inexperienced drivers to install that monitoring device. Opinion was even firmer regarding drunk drivers: 81.3 percent would make a monitor a requirement before issuing a policy to someone with a DUI conviction.

Assuming that the monitoring device could detect turn-signal use, 74.5 percent would charge a driver higher rates if signals were not used when required.

Assuming that the monitoring device could detect the hours a car was being driven, 44.6 percent of respondents chose midnight to 6 a.m. as posing the highest risk; 30.5 percent chose evening rush hours of 4 p.m. to 9 p.m., and 24.9 percent chose morning commute hours of 6 a.m. to 9 a.m.

Is this happening now? No. Current pay-as-you-drive programs, known as telematics, use devices that can track speed, total miles driven, hard braking and hours of operation. None of them calculates insurance rates based on turn-signal use, but some do penalize drivers who are on the road in the wee hours.

All states require installation of an ignition interlock device after a DUI conviction in some circumstances. The devices do nothing except prevent a car from starting if alcohol is detected on the driver’s breath.

No state requires a dash cam, and no insurance company will give you a discount for installing one. But American Family Insurance offers one to parents who want to observe and help their teens. 

It’s how you drive that matters

A majority of drivers surveyed rejected current rate-setting practices that did not directly relate to actions behind the wheel.

Car insurance quotes typically begin with a base rate partly determined by ZIP code. But only 11.6 percent of respondents in the survey said drivers who live in a neighborhood with more claims should pay more than those who live in an area that makes fewer claims.

Credit history can be a rating factor in all but three states, California, Hawaii and Massachusetts. Just 38.5 percent of respondents said they would include credit in their price calculations.

A lapse in coverage can deal a major blow to insurance rates. 40.5 percent of those surveyed said they would not consider a gap in coverage in calculating a driver’s rates.

Is this happening now? No. Unless specifically prohibited by law, almost all major insurance companies use ZIP code, credit and insurance history in calculating insurance rates because they are seen as accurate predictors of risk.

About the survey

CarInsurance.com commissioned a survey of 1,000 drivers -- half male, half female -- on their opinions about how car insurance can be priced. Respondents answered 14 multiple-choice questions. The survey was performed in March 2013.

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