Auto Insurance Industry [Complete Guide]
Auto insurance is meant to protect you against financial injury. It's illegal to drive without auto insurance in 48 out of 50 states. While the law requires you to purchase liability insurance, you can buy collision, comprehensive, and other optional coverages to better protect yourself. The average rate for full coverage is $79.58/mo. Compare quotes to find the best deal.
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UPDATED: Oct 30, 2020
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Cars are not luxuries, but essential commodities in today’s era. They are the foundation of modern transportation in the majority of our cities.
Think about it.
Cars have always been part of your life. You may have hopped in a car to go to school, bought your first car to go to college, or used it to attend your first job interview. They enable you to drop your kids to school, go to work, buy groceries, and much more.
We buy cars (mostly) to enable easy transportation. Considering the critical role a car plays in our lifestyle, it is logical for us to consider protecting our investment.
Auto insurance is meant to protect you against financial injury. While the law requires you to purchase liability insurance, you can buy collision, comprehensive, and other optional coverages to better protect yourself.
Enter your ZIP code above to find insurance options in your area.
Auto Insurance Benefits
Auto insurance has several benefits that help you and your family to get back on your feet faster:
- If you have collision coverage, you can safeguard yourself against car repair expenses
- If you are covered under comprehensive coverage, your insurer will reimburse you the cost of your car minus any depreciation
- You can opt for MedPay coverage to cover your medical bills in case you or your family members are injured in an accident
Remember, if you have substantial assets, you should purchase higher liability protection. If you cause an accident and the other driver sues you for damages, adequate liability protection can protect your financial assets.
This is why auto insurance has become integral to the modern transportation ecosystem.
Insurance is designed to reduce the stress of owning a car. It is meant to enable us to drive to work, to school, to weekend trips, and more without worrying about the financial implications.
In this guide, we will explore the history of auto insurance in the U.S., delve into the business model of insurance companies, discuss the main stakeholders, and help you understand why fighting insurance fraud is beneficial for us all.
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History of Car Insurance
Insurance was imported in the U.S. from Europe all the way back in 1752. Because of all the risks and unknowns, insurance was late to our shores. But when it did arrive, it found one of the most famous Americans as its supporter.
Benjamin Franklin organized the Philadelphia Contributionship for the Insurance of Houses from Loss by Fire in 1752. The Contributionship was the first fire insurance company in the U.S. and had a significant role in building code reform. The Philadelphia Contributionship refused to insure building projects that were considered fire hazards.
Life and health insurance were introduced to the market next, in 1759 and 1850, respectively.
Throughout our history, innovation in insurance products has kept pace with changing risks in the prevalent era. With the age of automobiles unfolding, insurance companies introduced a new auto insurance product at the very end of the 19th century.
Who invented auto insurance?
At the end of the 19th century, innovators introduced automobiles in the U.S. market.
The self-driven novelty was a great source of excitement, and, naturally, many companies and motorists jumped on the bandwagon.
By the end of 1899, over 30 manufacturers were making 2,500 automobiles every year.
The advent of automobiles in the U.S. introduced a new type of risk. Never before had people traveled on roads at such high speeds.
Automobile insurance products were designed to safeguard eager motorists in case they caused a crash, injuring others and damaging property.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the first insurance product was written by Travelers Insurance in 1898. Travelers sold the first insurance to Dr. Truman Martin of Buffalo, N.Y.
According to the Insurance Journal, the first policy provided Dr. Martin a $5,000 liability coverage at the cost of $12.25.
The car industry boomed in the United States. Within the first decade of the 20th century, 450 new companies entered the business of making automobiles.
Two prominent names that introduced their innovative models during the decade were Henry Ford and William Durrant, who founded General Motors.
In 1908, Henry Ford introduced the Model T, which would revolutionize the automobile market in the U.S.
What were the first states with car insurance?
Some governments introduced legislation that required proving financial responsibility as a prerequisite to vehicle registration. In 1925, Massachusetts made it compulsory for drivers to purchase liability insurance as a prerequisite for vehicle registration, the first time car insurance became mandatory.
In the same year, Connecticut also passed the first financial responsibility law for motorists. Under the new law, drivers that caused a collision must prove financial responsibility of at least $10,000 to satisfy any claim for damages.
Connecticut was also the first state to offer auto liability insurance.
In Connecticut, a driver involved an accident resulting in injury or property damage (greater than $100), was required to demonstrate financial responsibility (at a minimum level of $10,000) according to Connecticut Public Acts, Chapter 183 in 1925.
According to Connecticut law, the driver could comply with the financial responsibility demonstration by:
- Purchasing motorist liability insurance in this required amount
- Providing a bond at this amount when required to do so
- Depositing bonds, stocks, or other negotiable financial instruments of this amount or greater
- Depositing currency in this amount
If the driver didn’t perform any of these actions to demonstrate financial responsibility, his license was suspended. If an injured person didn’t complain after being involved in an accident, the state simply didn’t know about it!
Auto Insurance Industry Trends: How did auto insurance evolve?
Henry Ford’s spurring of the industrial revolution in automobile manufacturing meant a lot of Americans were now able to afford cars. Affordable cars meant more high-speed vehicles were on the road.
The rising number of cars on the road resulted in a serious problem. As early as 1908, auto accidents were recognized as a problem. In Detroit alone, 32 people were killed in car accidents.
The city of Detroit used many innovative solutions to curb the growing menace of traffic deaths. They used stop signs, lane markings, traffic lights, etc.
However, in the following decade, the problem grew.
In 1917, Detroit reported 7,171 accidents that resulted in 168 fatalities.
Therefore, the insurance industry and the government had to evolve and implement new measures.
Insurance also evolved to provide multi-line auto insurance plans. The nascent full-coverage plans included liability, fire, and property damage coverage.
Auto Insurance Industry Growth: What are the advancements in the auto insurance market?
In the 1920s, the rise of the consumer culture, mass marketing, and general eagerness among U.S. consumers to adapt to the latest technology resulted in a spurt of growth.
The U.S. automobile sector witnessed a rise in car sales. The spurt in growth was led by the top three car manufacturers — Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler.
The United States produced more than 480,000 cars in 1913 — that’s around 80 percent of the global car production that year.
Alone, the Model T — introduced in 1908 — sold more than 15 million units until it was discontinued in 1927.
The unprecedented rise in popularity of cars also meant there were additional risks for the new motorists — chief among which was theft.
Stealing a car was easy, and that meant high risk for the motorists. This was a problem for insurers, too, as it meant a rise in premiums, making buying insurance unaffordable.
Despite that, the Bay State was the only state for the next 30 years to have compulsory insurance laws.
In 1956, New York became the second state to pass a law that made it mandatory for drivers to obtain insurance coverage before registering a vehicle.
In the 1960s and 1970s, other states followed suit and introduced various forms of financial responsibility and auto insurance laws.
Various forms of financial responsibility laws introduced by states during the period were:
- Compulsory auto insurance laws (e.g., Massachusetts)
- Financial responsibility laws (e.g., Connecticut)
- Uninsured drive penalties
Although financial responsibility laws required drivers to demonstrate financial responsibility after an accident, many motorists believed transferring risk before an accident is a better idea.
Therefore, although not many states had compulsory auto insurance or financial responsibility laws, people considered auto insurance as an optional risk mitigation tool.
After the roaring 1920s, the auto insurance industry was hit by the effects of the Great Depression. The car sales dropped, and therefore insurance companies found few takers for the policies.
The stock market crash of 1929 brought severe implications for insurers, including investment losses and shrinking demand for cover.
The severe depression led to the introduction of the New Deal. The increased regulations and unsustainable economic conditions led to the departure of many European insurance providers.
However, the insurance industry matured in the decades following World War II. The U.S. economy expanded with consumer-driven growth that proved an excellent basis for the growth of the automobile insurance market.
The post-war period saw an increased demand for transportation, and auto insurance products were developed to protect the growing assets.
The growth in automobiles resulted in a tenfold increase in auto insurance premiums in 25 years following the World War.
During this period, the auto insurance sector was changing on account of internal reforms or due to changing regulations.
For example, in 1971, Massachusetts introduced the no-fault law to the state. The move was to reduce litigation in the state due to automobile accidents.
The insurance companies started taking new factors such as geography, driver’s age, etc. into consideration while calculating the premium.
The cost of automobile insurance also increased considerably in the decades following the war.
The auto insurance premium benchmark increased to 189 in 1970 compared to the base year (=100) of 1957. According to the Insurance Information Institute, the rise in insurance premiums was accompanies by a rising number of accidents and automobile thefts.
In 1957, around 38,702 people were killed, and 2.5 million injured in automobile accidents. Compared to this, in 1969, there were 56,400 people killed and approximately 5 million people injured in accidents.
However, the rise in auto insurance premiums forced Detroit-based automakers to make safer cars. To reduce insurance losses due to claims, insurance companies now required specific standards of car safety as a prerequisite for providing insurance.
The increased focus on safe driving led to first vehicle safety tests. These standards also meant that insurers started pricing the policy according to the kind of vehicle you drive: the premiums for muscle cars such as the Chevrolet Corvette increased substantially.
Insurance companies also started offering discounts if you have certain safety features in your car. In the 1970s, Allstate started offering a 20 percent discount to drivers who have installed safety bumpers.
The move was also supported by government regulation as the Department of Transportation introduced a rule in 1972 that set standards for crash-resistant bumpers.
Various legislations and the insurance industry have helped evolved the car safety features in the last century.
Regulation of Auto Insurance
Now that we’ve covered the history of how auto insurance came about, we want to take a look at how regulations were put into place. Regulations are important, as they make sure insurance is provided in a controlled manner — so customers and providers can’t cheat each other.
Keep scrolling to learn about everything from federal regulations to third-party regulators.
What are the main federal laws regulating auto insurance?
In the 20th century, the insurance industry, in general, grew rapidly, with many new players offering many products. However, this growth in the insurance industry has not been without fraud and scandals.
The unprecedented growth and evolving regulations meant there were few companies offering policy cover without the necessary capital to pay claims. The lax laws also meant people were able to file inflated insurance bills to defraud the insurer.
In the first half of the 20th century, many states introduced laws that curbed the practice of insurers offering policies without access to adequate capital to pay the claims.
After World War II, to retain and hire and employees, large companies started offering health and life insurance to employees. The effort was to support the burgeoning domestic demand for wide-ranging goods.
Only the large companies were in a position to cater to the insurance requirements, and therefore a lot of smaller companies were closed or absorbed.
To ensure fair competition exists that protects consumer interests, the federal government tried to implement the antitrust law and bring the regulation of the insurance market under federal court.
The United States Supreme Court, in the famous United States v. South-Eastern Underwriters Association case, ruled that federal antitrust laws apply to the insurance sector, though this ruling didn’t last long.
The United States Congress introduced the McCarran-Ferguson Act, which put the regulation back at the state level. The McCarran-Ferguson Act is still applicable today and delegates the authority of regulation and taxation from the U.S. Congress to the state legislature.
Following the McCarran-Ferguson Act provided a legal basis for state insurance regulators to impose price regulations on insurance products in their respective states.
It might come as a surprise to many people, but there is actually no federal agency in charge of regulating insurance companies — be they medical, automobile, life, or other insurance agencies.
That’s one of the most hands-off approaches in the entire federal government, as federal agencies do regulate things like banks, food processors, and even corporate office environments.
The government’s position is that insurance regulations should be maintained on a state-by-state basis, rather than at a federal level. This is largely due to language in the Constitution which makes it difficult — if not impossible — for the federal government to regulate insurance coverage.
Instead, the Constitution essentially requires states to perform these duties, and the federal government has been careful to side-step an issue which could land them defending a Constitutional lawsuit in federal court.
So instead of federal enforcement, it is the state laws that have considerable influence on the insurance sector. In the auto insurance sector, state insurance regulators determine the type of tort law applicable, the minimum insurance required, and how the insurance rates approval works in the state.
How do states regulate car insurance companies?
In the United States, insurance companies are regulated on a state-by-state basis. These agencies are typically referred to as the “Department of Insurance” or the “Insurance Bureau” or something similar.
Officials in these agencies are typically appointed by the governors of each state at the beginning of their term, much like cabinet secretaries at the federal level are appointed by the president.
Once these officials have been appointed, their job is to ensure that the insurance companies which operate in their state are providing fair prices to consumers and offering them coverage that matches their needs.
These officials are also constantly focused on the financial solubility of the insurance companies which operate in their state, as these companies must prove that they are able to pay out large claim amounts to their entire customer base that resides within state boundaries.
State insurance regulation officials are also responsible for licensing companies to operate within the state’s borders. This means examining and accepting new insurance companies, as well as assuring that existing companies still qualify for state licenses to offer their products to local consumers.
How Third-Party Companies Monitor the Car Insurance Industry
Dynamics of the car insurance industry have evolved over the last century. The automobile car insurance industry is comprised of many stakeholders that provide end value to the consumers.
In this section, we will review the different stakeholders in the auto insurance industry and what value they bring to the system.
Regulatory Bodies in the Auto Insurance Sector
Regulatory authorities across the country have a massive impact on the car insurance industry. They determine the type of tort law applicable in the state, the minimum car insurance mandatory to drive in the state, and how insurance companies can determine rates.
State insurance regulators also handle cases of fraud, complaints, and antitrust policies concerning insurance in the state.
Insurance regulators are tasked to protect the interests of consumers. To achieve this, insurance regulators oversee company licensing, broker licensing, product regulation, market conduct, financial regulation, and consumer services.
Company Licensing – In order to offer insurance in any given state, insurance providers must obtain a license from the state’s department of insurance. This license can only be obtained after a thorough and very specific investigation of the company’s policies, finances, and operations. If a state deems a company does not meet their specific requirements, they can deny this license.
Furthermore, this license is often subject to periodic renewal by state authorities. At that time, the state’s department of insurance will examine the company’s prior reputation in the state, as well as any disputes or problems filed with state officials by consumers.
Broker Licensing – Insurance agents and brokers are also required to be licensed before being able to sell insurance policies. They also have to follow all the laws and regulations in the state in which they operate.
Failure to follow the rules and regulations can lead to license suspension or revocation. State regulators also administer regular training and educational programs for brokers and agents.
- Product Regulation: State insurance regulators also make sure the products introduced by insurers meet the relevant laws and don’t have gaps in coverage that might leave a consumer unprotected. In some states, insurers may also need to file rates with regulators for their prior approval.
- Market Conduct: Insurance regulators aim to keep a fair market that provides competitive and reasonable prices to the consumers. The insurance regulators routinely conduct examinations to review the market conduct of insurance companies, including their claim handling processes.
- Financial Regulation: One of the major activities of an insurance regulator is to do periodic financial examinations of insurance companies. They ascertain if the insurance company is in good financial standing and whether it is in a position to handle the claims.
- Consumer Services: In the case of a grievance, a consumer can reach out to the state insurance regulator to file a complaint against the insurer.
Another significant regulatory body relevant to the automobile insurance industry is the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
NHTSA is a federal agency that sets the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. The agency provides vehicle safety ratings and is crucial in improving the safety standards of vehicles in the United States.
Auto insurers use the standards and data to understand the risk profile of consumers better.
NHTSA is also tasked with reducing the crashes and impact of crashes on our roads. It set standards on the frontal collision in cars and provides a base for many safety innovations in today’s cars.
Not-For-Profit Organizations in the Auto Insurance Sector
Several not-for-profit organizations play crucial roles in the auto insurance sector. Auto insurers, regulators, and consumers can all benefit from the research and data shared by these organizations on the automobile and insurance sectors.
NAIC: One of the most well-known not-for-profit organizations is the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC). NAIC is the standard-setting and regulatory support organization established in 1871, created and governed by the chief insurance regulators of 50 states, the District of Columbia, and other territories.
NAIC serves the following functions:
- Establishes standards and best practices
- Conducts peer review
- Coordinates regulatory oversight
- Shares resources among state regulators
- Provides technical expertise for financial and policy regulations
NAIC maintains several databases that are utilized by state regulators to manage insurance companies and agents efficiently.
Insurance Information Institute: The Insurance Information Institute is established to provide relevant information and education on the insurance sector. Consumers can benefit from the learning materials published routinely on the website and learn more about the sector.
Use III.org to improve your understanding of the fundamentals of the insurance sector. Better information may help you evaluate and optimize your coverage better.
III was established in 1960 to provide data-driven research studies, white papers, videos, articles, infographics, and other resources that disseminate relevant information about the insurance sector.
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety: The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety was established in 1959 by auto insurance companies to help reduce the number of motor vehicle collisions, rate of injury, and property damage.
The institute achieves its objective by researching traffic regulations, road design, safety features, and policy decisions. It also comes out with vehicle crash test ratings for passenger vehicles.
Agencies that Monitor Financial Strength
You buy insurance to protect yourself against unforeseen events that can cause financial loss or injury, but you need to know whether the company you are buying insurance from is capable of paying your claim.
The following stakeholders come into play when you want to find more about the financial standing of your insurer.
A.M. Best: A.M. Best is one of the most reputed credit rating agencies in the insurance industry. They evaluate an insurance company on its financial strength, credit rating, and ability to meet future claim obligations.
The A.M. Best rating is a valuable tool for a consumer to understand and evaluate various insurance companies on their ability to service future claim obligations.
Here the different kind of ratings provided by A.M Best rating and the associated meaning:
|E||Under Regulatory Supervision
|F||Company is in liquidation|
|S||Company has been suspended|
NAIC: The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) also routinely publishes market share and loss ratio data for all major auto insurance companies in the state.
What is the loss ratio? Why is it essential, and more importantly, why you should know about it?
The loss ratio is the ratio of claims an insurer serviced compared to the earned the premiums.
If the loss ratio is too high, the insurer is losing money and may increase the premium in the future. You should compare the loss ratio to peers or historical data to understand the current trend.
A quick look at the loss ratio would also tell you if the insurer services claims are according to the market norm. If the loss ratio is too low compared to the peers, it may indicate the insurer is not too efficient with the claim settlement process.
Credit Rating Agencies: Credit rating agencies provide another important source of information that can indicate the financial health of an insurer.
Credit rating agencies such as S&P and Moody’s rate companies based on their financial and credit situation, which gives us a quick understanding of the current financial situation of auto insurance companies.
Customer Satisfaction & Shopping Experience
While buying insurance policies, consumers should make sure they have adequate coverage that will provide protection in case of an unfortunate event.
How to know if your insurer will handle your claim efficiently? Existing customer experience.
While states devote a vast department of regulators and investigators to keeping insurance companies fair and honest, there is perhaps no bigger test of an insurance company’s policies and viability than the free market.
Consumers are increasingly informed and discerning, and they’re using a new set of tools to double-check insurance company offers, policies, and practices.
These tools often come in the form of an online insurance comparison tool, which sends a customer’s information to multiple insurance companies are returns a set of policies offered by all of the insurance companies that operate in their state.
In an online auto insurance comparison, customers are then able to examine, side-by-side, which policies are the most robust, the most affordable, and which policies are loaded with fine print that may endanger their coverage or peace of mind.
As word gets around in reviews, and customers decide which companies are the most fair, those that offer poor policies or harsh terms are often left behind. Their profits suffer, their customer base shrinks, and they reconsider their commitment to doing business in a state.
So, even though insurance regulators are constantly overseeing insurance companies, the true test of policies and coverage levels is the free market that determines which company gets the majority of consumer preference and profits.
We may not have the time or resources to go through all the comments or understand the perspective of current consumers for all the major auto insurers, which is why we can leverage the annual review of car insurance companies provided by J.D. Power.
J.D. Power is a globally reputed automotive review and rating agency that provides customer satisfaction ratings for all major insurers in the U.S.
J.D. Power ranks auto insurance companies based on the quality of service, response time, ease of claim settlement, and more to help you figure out the best insurance provider for your needs.
Consumer Reports is another source that you can use to learn more about the service quality of an auto insurance provider. They provide product reviews of auto insurance that take into account the quality of service, claim settlement, and more.
If you are unhappy with the service or decision or resolution your auto insurer offered, you can register a complaint with your state insurance regulator. NAIC collates all the complaint information from different states and territories and provides relevant data on its website.
Auto Insurance Industry Challenges: Should we be forced to buy car insurance?
Whether or not drivers should be forced to buy auto insurance is a deeply debated topic. Those who believe that drivers should be required to buy coverage say that driving is a privilege, not a right.
They believe that insurance protects other drivers and bystanders and should be mandatory.
Opponents to enforced auto insurance coverage argue that no one should be made to buy anything they do not want to. For this reason, the state of New Hampshire remains the only state that does not require some form of mandatory auto insurance.
Each U.S. state, except NH, has its own minimum requirements for auto insurance. Motorists usually need to have a minimum of liability insurance to comply with the state laws. There are several reasons why these minimums are in place.
Liability insurance requirements exist to protect you financially in the event of a car accident.
In the event that you are at-fault for an accident that causes injury or damage to another motorist, you may be liable to cover damages and medical expenses.
Having automobile liability insurance protects you when an accident happens.
Liability insurance will not cover damages to your vehicle or your medical expenses.
It will ensure that you don’t have to cover any potential medical bills that result from bodily injury to the passengers in the other vehicle.
Why States Require Liability Insurance
Injuries and fatalities are potential ramifications of automobile accidents. States sets these minimums to ensure that injuries sustained from these accidents can be properly treated. Without the insurance, there are only two other options available:
States sets these minimums to ensure that injuries sustained from these accidents can be properly treated.
Without the insurance, there are only two other options available:
- The first is that the person injured in the accident is not treated for his or her injury.
- The second option is that the person is treated, and the large medical bill is sent in the mail. If the person doesn’t have the funds or the capability of paying the medical bill, it goes unpaid and credit is damaged.
There are several modes of public transportation that can be used without having to obtain auto insurance. Driving is one option.
As a motorist on the roadway, you have the potential to cause damage and bodily injury to other motorists and pedestrians. Insurance minimums help to protect pedestrians, passengers, and other drivers in the event that they are hurt from an automobile accident.
Most states do allow you to drive with only liability insurance. This does not protect you in the event of an accident.
Driving with only liability insurance means you still run the risk of high medical expenses and automobile damages.
It is for this reason that many believe you should be forced to buy a minimum of liability insurance to protect others that may be harmed if you become involved in an accident.
Do states require full coverage insurance?
States do not set laws that require full coverage on your automobile. There really is not any debate on this point since full coverage only protects you and your vehicle.
There are instances in which you may be forced to purchase a full coverage automobile policy. If you have a lien against your vehicle, you will likely be required to have collision and comprehensive coverage.
The bank or institution where your vehicle is financed needs to protect their investment.
Until you pay the loan in full, the vehicle is partially owned by the bank. If you become delinquent on the loan, the bank has the right to repossess the car.
If your auto is totaled, it becomes less likely that you will consider the payment to the bank as an obligation.
Financial institutions know that you are less likely to pay for something that you don’t have, or for something that doesn’t work.
If you become delinquent on your loan, the bank won’t have anything to repossess to recover the lost revenue.
Your auto insurance company will compensate you for the value of your car when the accident happens. If the value is worth more than what you owe on your loan, then you will be given the difference.
If the value of the vehicle is less than what you owe on the vehicle you are expected to pay the difference unless you have a GAP insurance policy.
If you have a loan on your vehicle, the financial institution has the right to require you to carry full coverage. If you own the vehicle, you have the right to carry the minimum insurance required by your state.
This gives you an opportunity to save money on your premium.
You will need to determine if the risk of not having full coverage is worth the savings on your auto insurance premium.
The Auto Insurance Market & Auto Insurance Industry Profits
Although the auto insurance industry has evolved in many ways over the last century, it has always been in demand, because motorists want to minimize risk.
In the modern era, the internet has revolutionized the car insurance industry in a big way. Now you can, with a click of a button, find the cheapest rate in the market.
The democratization of information has been incredibly useful for the end customer. You can find the best insurer, the appropriate coverage, the average rate in your ZIP code, and much more.
The growth of automobiles, along with compulsory insurance laws in almost every state, has resulted in a rapidly growing auto insurance sector.
According to the III, premiums in the U.S. Property & Casualty insurance grew to $612 billion in 2017. The P&C insurance sector is comprised of auto, home, and commercial insurance.
Many auto insurance providers feature in the list of country’s top 10 P&C insurance providers.
|Direct premium written in 2018 (in $ billion)|
What is the role of auto insurance?
Though liability auto insurance is compulsory across 48 states and the District of Columbia, there are immense benefits of holding insurance coverage.
Auto insurance has contributed immensely to changing the way we drive, the cars we drive, and where we drive. In this section, let us analyze the different impacts we see due to the auto insurance industry.
Financial Protection – Insurance has played the role of mitigating financial risk. The coverage we buy from the insurance provider protects us from the financial loss caused by an unforeseen event.
Collision coverage protects us if we cause an accident while driving on the road. Your insurer will pay the other driver the cost of damages and injury as per your coverage limits.
If you purchased a car and have comprehensive coverage, your insurer will compensate you for the value of the vehicle (minus deductions), so you can get on your feet faster.
In 2015, as per NAIC, the US auto insurance industry serviced 33.6 million claims from customers, meaning an incurred loss of $136 billion for the industry.
|Coverage (in 2015)||Number of Claims||Incurred Losses ($ billion)|
|Bodily Injury Liability||1,871,356||33.4|
|Property Damage Liability||7,116,875||28.1|
|Personal Injury Protection||1,220,315||11.8|
Traffic Fatalities and Collision: The auto insurance industry has been at the forefront of traffic safety improvement. The industry established the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety to research ways to improve driving safety.
IIHS has been advocating various safety improvements and comes out with vehicle crash test data for passenger cars.
The road safety rules, coupled with improvements such as road design and speed traps, have also resulted in a drop in fatal crashes per capita. The use of airbags and safety belts, coupled with innovations such as the crumple zone, has dramatically reduced the traffic-related fatalities in the country.
According to the National Highway Safety Traffic Safety Administration, the crashes and fatalities per capita have steadily decreased over the last few decades. Check out these auto insurance industry statistics:
|Year||Motor Vehicle Deaths per 100,000|
Even though the population in the United States has been increasing steadily, the rate of crash deaths per 100,000 is about half of what it was four decades ago.
Car Safety Features: The considerable drop in the traffic fatality rate is partially due to the many safety features in our modern cars. Some of the important safety features that can prevent fatalities in case of an accident include seat belts, airbags, child seats, and crumple zones.
Governments across the country have also introduced laws that require motorists to use seat belts or child seats. The laws are designed to increase a driver’s use of safety precautions while driving their cars.
To increase vehicle safety, governments also introduced laws requiring automakers to install a safety feature. In 1998, the federal government passed a law requiring all passenger cars to come standard with dual frontal airbags.
The insurance industry plays a significant role in improving car safety and thereby reducing crashes and the resulting deaths.
The auto insurance industry established the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety that tests the crashworthiness of passenger vehicles. It helps them not only to understand the risk attached to a vehicle but also indirectly suggests to automakers to include safety features in modern cars.
How Auto Insurance Companies Make Money
But why are the auto insurance companies interested in making the car safer? To understand this reason, you have to understand the business model of an auto insurer.
Watch this video to understand the business of insurance:
While the insurance industry is a complicated business, we will simplify the process to help you understand how an auto insurance company makes money.
Insurance is essentially a tool to spread the risk from an individual to a large user base.
An auto insurance company generates revenue through earned premiums they charge you for providing you auto insurance coverage. The “loss” in insurance parlance is the amount of money the insurance company pays out in claims.
In a competitive market, an auto insurance company will try to match the total premiums to total expected claims, plus any administrative expenses. They may do this so they do not undervalue the risk or overprice the coverage.
An insurer makes money by investing the earned premiums in investment vehicles that provide returns.
However, the key is to value the risk accurately. Insurance companies employ actuary study to understand risk and price the policy appropriately. To calculate your auto insurance premium, the actuaries use your driving record, age, geographical location, credit score, vehicle type, claims history, coverage required, etc.
An auto insurance company may have a small profit or loss through underwriting alone. However, an insurance company will try to maximize their investment income.
How Companies Keep Claims Down
As noted earlier, the number of claims received and paid have a direct effect on the insurance company’s ability to stay in the black.
Very often a few large claims can trigger significant costs as they may include another party’s car damage, medical injuries, the covered driver’s injuries and damage to his own car.
To ensure that the claims received are valid, a car insurance company will screen and filter them. This involve multi-level approach of checking out the accident scene itself, the vehicles, witness statements, and any other evidence.
The insurance company can then arguably deny a customer’s claim if it feels justified to do so. However, this is risky since many state laws offer triple damages for a bad faith denial just to avoid a large cost.
Insurance companies instead try to low ball the payouts or work with lower-cost mechanics to reduce claim payments. Make sure you do not get fooled by a car insurance scam.
Alternatively, car insurance companies also try to lower claims when monies are sought by injured parties. Their own insurance companies may call or the individuals may sue directly.
In those cases, the target car insurance company will try to work towards a settlement and stay away from the court which can be potentially far more expensive just in legal fees and possible damage awards.
How Companies Filter out Risks
Car insurance companies also have to incorporate good judgment of risk in new customers and existing ones.
Where a policyholder or new customer shows serious signs of high claim risk, many car insurance companies move to either deny a coverage application or end an existing one.
Where its a new customer, an insurance company may just politely deny the coverage application outright.
Where an existing customer is involved, the car insurance company may pay off the latest claim and then cancel the policy outright for any more service.
The policyholder doesn’t owe any funds to the insurance company but he’s then out in the cold and has to find a new insurer for coverage.
Car insurance companies are not automatically evil businesses because they aim to make a profit. It’s the fact that they do make profits that allows them to expand and provide more people more coverage policies for their cars.
However, some companies do practice aggressive risk avoidance which can end up low-balling a claim payment or denying a valid charge that should have been covered.
When that occurs, the company has to decide whether to make amends quickly or take on its own risk of higher legal costs if disputed.
What is the current auto insurance landscape?
Auto insurance has continuously evolved with the changing automobile industry landscape. With the introduction of new technology, auto insurers have taken advantage and tweaked their offerings.
One example of this is the auto insurer offering a discount on premiums to drivers that have cars with safety bumpers.
Changing Regulations: The landscape is again changing, with several states banning insurers from including gender as a factor for rate determination. There are now seven states in the country that to do not allow gender in the rate calculation. Governments in California, Hawaii, and Massachusetts do not allow auto insurers to use credit scores in the rate calculation.
Telematics Insurance: Data-driven technologies are rapidly transforming the global automobile market. The auto insurance sector is also expected to see a significant shift toward technology-enabled insurance – Insurtech.
With the introduction of telematics-based auto coverage, technology is expected to change the auto insurance landscape soon.
Telematics will rapidly change the actuarial process of assessing risk and pricing the policy. Factors such as your occupation, credit score, and gender may be replaced by factors such as how fast you drive, how hard you brake, and at which time you regularly drive.
Changing Mobility: Disruption is also expected from autonomous cars that provide mobility as a service. Autonomous car manufacturers may own the telematics data from the car and may generate the question of who should purchase the insurance. Is it the owner who is using the car as a service or the manufacturer who is providing the service?
This is a rapidly evolving aspect that may change the face of auto insurance in the coming decade.
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What do auto insurance companies do?
The Process of Underwriting
With all the knowledge of requirements about insurance, what do auto insurance companies do? Through a process called underwriting, auto insurance companies determine the risk a new applicant poses. During underwriting, a company drafts an insurance policy to match the new applicant’s credentials.
Companies assess risk differently – companies may use similar standards but with varying degrees of severity. As a result, your quote can range across multiple insurance companies.
It is best to shop around to see what each company can offer you. Get started by using our FREE comparison tool right now!
How Risk Is Determined
Auto insurance companies consider several things before deciding if they can insure an applicant. A few of those features are:
- The ZIP code of the applicant
- The number of miles the applicant drives daily
- The type of vehicle the applicant drives
- The applicant’s occupation
- Marital status
- Whether the car is parked in a garage or on the street
- Whether or not the car has anti-theft devices
- The applicants’ driving records
- Does the vehicle have safety features, such as anti-lock brakes?
- Does the applicant have a high or low credit score?
Required Liability Coverage
Auto insurance companies always sell packages with liability auto insurance coverage since most states require drivers to purchase it.
Liability car insurance is what is used to prove to a state that a driver can take financial responsibility in the case of a collision.
The Required Amount of Bodily Injury Liability
Auto insurance companies are required to offer bodily injury liability coverage in the amounts that each state has set. This coverage ensures that the driver will be able to cover medical expenses in the case of an accident.
The Required Amount of Property Liability
Auto insurance companies must also sell property damage liability coverage. This insurance is used to pay for any property that is damaged in a car collision. It can include other vehicles as well as city property, like traffic lights.
Insurance and Risk
Auto insurance companies define a high risk as someone who is very likely to cause an accident. This kind of person is a risk to the company because they are more likely to file a claim for the payment of damages.
Companies use several factors to assess risk. For example, a non-married male applicant under the age of 25 would be considered to be a high risk. This type of applicant is likely to receive a high rate for an insurance policy.
On the other hand, auto insurance companies may offer lower rates to those they deem low risk.
For example, a female driver driving a vehicle with several safety features, such as seat belts and air bags, would be considered lower risk and may be offered a more affordable policy.
Charging the Clients
No matter what payment option you choose, make sure you are not paying more than you need to for your car insurance coverage. Compare rates online to save significant cash on your auto insurance rates.
Investigating Car Collisions
In the event of an accident, an insurance company must determine the party at fault.
The company conducts an investigation – they examine the police report, interview witnesses, and survey the scene of the accident.
Injured parties can file a claim for bodily injury liability coverage. If property is damaged, parties can file claims for property damage liability coverage. The insurance company processes these claims and pays expenses according.
Optional Auto Insurance Coverage
Auto insurance companies also sell optional insurance coverage in addition to liability. Clients can opt to pay more for extra coverage. Some examples of optional coverage are:
- Comprehensive insurance
- Mechanical breakdown insurance
- Guaranteed auto protection
- Personal umbrella policy
- Rental reimbursement
- Emergency roadside assistance
Since companies judge different characteristics differently, it is important to compare rates from several different companies.
Fraud and the Auto Insurance Industry
Insurance is a tool that allows us to share our individual risk. Any coverage is contingent on accurate risk assessment and pricing is achieved through a rigorous actuarial process.
However, insurance fraud can change the risk profile for every stakeholder, leading to lower profits that translate to higher premiums.
According to the Insurance Information Institute, auto insurance fraud alone totals $30 billion a year. Insurance fraud is one of the biggest concerns for the industry and various governments.
It is estimated that 10 cents on every dollar the industry pays toward claims are being paid to a fraudster.
Insurance fraud is not a victimless crime — it impacts the honest consumers paying the premiums on time. It increases the rates for everybody while decreasing the quality of service while filing a claim.
In this section, we’ll help you understand how insurance fraud impacts us and what can be done to fight this menace.
What are the different types of insurance fraud?
There are numerous types of insurance fraud schemes. In this section, we will introduce some of the most common types of fraud prevalent in the market.
Fraud by Consumers
We can divide individual consumer fraud into three categories:
Opportunistic Fraud: An individual claimant may use an actual accident to file an inflated claim. Sometimes mechanics can team up with a motorist by deliberately overstating the extent of damage and inflating their profits.
Occasionally, these types of fraud are instigated by mechanics. Imagine a driver who has a little fender bender and approaches the body shop for repairs. The body shop gives an estimated cost of $500; however, the driver’s policy has a $1,000 deductible.
The body shop, to keep the business, may suggest filing an inflated claim of $1,000 so that the driver doesn’t have to pay the deductible.
Premeditated Fraud: Certain individuals might stage accidents and file fraudulent claims. These can be done by organized crime rings that repeat such methods to make money from claims. They will use different accounts and individuals to repeatedly file inflated claims for the cost of goods and services required for car repairs and/or medical expenses.
Accidental Fraud: These types of fraud are committed inadvertently by consumers due to a lack of knowledge. A driver may report the car is parked in a garage for a discount, whereas he only has access to street parking.
To receive a discount, some motorists may intentionally furnish incorrect information on the insurance application. This is a common fraud committed by a lot of drivers that have severe consequences on the validity of your policy or claims.
According to the Insurance Information Institute, almost 29 percent of people have lied on the auto insurance application. This means that more than 10 million Americans have lied to get the best coverage at the lowest price.
Fraud by Individuals
Your agent or broker can also be implicit in fraud without your knowledge. If you purchase a policy from an agent/broker, make sure you have a valid policy written by an approved insurance company.
If you are not careful, an agent or broker may collect premiums from you without providing you any coverage.
Sometimes physicians and lawyers may suggest inflating certain bills, such a bodily injury, to get more money in claims from an auto insurance provider. This may also include no fee or payment from your side.
Fraud by Companies
Fraudulent companies are offering unsuspecting consumers counterfeit or unlicensed products.
Legitimate companies have to file for rate approval from the state insurance regulator. Unlicensed policies and fake companies are a significant risk for consumers. These types of companies may offer you little to no coverage and charge you a premium for that policy.
You will remain underinsured or uninsured and may not be in a position to file a claim.
There are also instances where smaller insurance companies write ‘piggyback’ policies. They provide you coverage and use your premium to acquire another consumer or pay the claim. These companies are not investing the money but using it to acquire new customers.
The policyholder should be informed that the policy is piggyback.
How Fraud Impacts the Car Insurance Industry
Insurance is a massive industry. Fraud impacts a lot of stakeholders and is not a victimless crime.
Insurance fraud increases the losses for car insurance companies. The higher losses are reflected in the higher-than-peer loss ratio.
A lower-than-average loss ratio might indicate the company is not paying claims efficiently. However, a higher-than-average loss ratio might indicate the earned premium to claim payout is not balanced. Therefore, the insurer may increase the overall premium amount in the near future.
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, insurance fraud can increase the annual insurance cost of an average U.S. family by as much as $400 – $700.
Insurance companies charge higher premiums to cover the losses due to fraud. These higher costs are eventually borne out by consumers and policyholders. Businesses paying the increased premiums might pass on the cost to their customers, thereby increasing the cost of goods and services for the community.
The high impact of insurance fraud is the reason why insurance fraud is a crime in all 50 states. Depending on the nature of the crime, it may be a felony or a misdemeanor.
How to Detect and Fight Fraud
Combating insurance fraud requires resources, technology, and a good amount of coordination among different stakeholders.
Both governmental and non-governmental organizations, along with insurance companies and law enforcement, work together to fight insurance fraud.
How are companies and governments fighting fraud?
Almost all states now have a fraud investigation unit or a fraud bureau to fight insurance fraud.
Here is the summary of state laws against insurance fraud. You can search for the relevant state:
|State||Insurance fraud classified as a crime||Immunity statutes||Fraud bureau||Mandatory auto photo inspection|
All states classify auto insurance fraud as a crime and can coordinate and share data to investigate an alleged crime.
Immunity statutes among states mean they can share data pertaining to an insurance fraud investigation.
All fraud bureaus also coordinate with the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), which is a not-for-profit organization designed to fight insurance fraud.
All state investigation units and insurance companies share claim and fraud data with the NICB that enables them to carry insurance investigations. NICB also develops data-driven solutions that help insurance companies and law enforcement detect fraud.
NICB, along with state legislatures, introduced legislation in many states that would increase the funding to fight insurance fraud:
- California: Increases the assessment of automobile insurance policies to fight fraudulent auto insurance claims and vehicle theft
- New York: Grants the superintendent of financial services authority to investigate motor vehicle insurance fraud and theft
- South Carolina: Doubles the minimum funding for the Insurance Fraud Division of the Office of the Attorney General
Auto insurance companies also have in-house fraud detection and investigation units that utilize the following methods to detect fraud:
Using Analytics-Based Technology – Companies use third-party fraud detection software that uses shared data to enable real-time fraud detection. According to Friss, over 60 percent of insurers utilize fraud detection software to enable real-time fraud detection. The insurers also pool fraud data to enable sophisticated statistical predictions about fraud.
Predictive analytics is changing the way insurance companies can detect insurance frauds. These methods use a combination of rules, modeling, text mining, database searches, and reporting to identify fraud sooner.
Red Flags: Insurance companies also understand your circumstances of filing a claim. Any typical red flag is investigated before a claim is processed. Any increase in a specific coverage right before the claim filed under the specific coverage will raise a red flag. Other red flags can be a delay in filing a police report, improper documentation, no witnesses, and more.
Claim adjusters visit the sight of the accident for evidence collection, gather social media evidence, conduct interviews, and gather documentation.
Reporting: Agents and individuals can report suspected insurance fraud to insurance companies or to NICB that leads to an investigation. Investigators might collect evidence and information that may lead them to understand if fraud occurred.
How can you guard yourself against insurance fraud?
The first thing that you can do is to understand what is insurance fraud and not commit it. Law enforcement and insurance companies take fraud very seriously and hand out fines, imprisonment, and the rejection of insurance policies.
The second important thing to do is to report a suspected crime to either of the following:
- State Fraud Bureau: All states have a local fraud bureau you can reach out to, to let them know of alleged fraud
- Insurance Companies: If you are aware of the insurance company being defrauded, reach out to them to let them know
- NICB: You can directly call NICB at (800) 835-6422 to report insurance fraud, or you can submit the online form
- NAIC: You can file a report online on their website
- FBI: You can also reach out to your local FBI office to report any suspected insurance fraud
You should also be aware of the common scams, including inflated estimates, faulty airbags, offer of burying the deductible, glass frauds, etc.
Car Insurance Industry FAQs
We’ve covered a lot about the car insurance industry. If you still have questions, keep reading to see answers to common questions about the car insurance industry.
Are there any states today that don’t require insurance?
New Hampshire, the Live Free or Die State, still allows drivers the choice to drive uninsured. It remains steadfast in its support of each driver’s financial responsibility to operate and drive an automobile. It’s why uninsured motorist protection remains very important.
What are the benefits of car insurance?
The advantages of having auto insurance far outweigh the disadvantages when you think about the potential loss of property due to an accident.
Here are some of the advantages of having car insurance:
- It reduces the number of lawsuits: By carrying insurance, you are protected from accidents, regardless of whether they are considered your fault
- It gives you peace of mind: If you do not have insurance, you would have to use your own money to get your car fixed after an accident
- It ensures reliable transportation: – Many insurance policies offer additional car rental insurance as an option
As well, having car insurance is the law in all states except New Hampshire.
How can I find out the regulations that exist for auto insurance in my state?
Do a search for insurance on your state government’s website. You will be able to find out whether your state is an at-fault or a no-fault state.
There will be explanations of other regulations for consumers and insurance companies. You should also have resources available to contact for further information or assistance.
Making sure to do this research in advance can save you a lot of time and headache in the event of an accident. You are the one who is ultimately responsible for the protection of your family and loved ones. Don’t delay, do your research today!
Do states set limits on what auto insurance companies can charge?
Only Massachusetts sets a limit on allowable auto insurance rates. All other states have a certain regulation in place in which the insurance company will file the rates through the state.
The state then determines if these rates are acceptable for auto insurance rates for the public, to ensure the company is not overcharging or committing unethical business practices.
State auto insurance laws also determine if there is a minimum amount of auto insurance required that each motorist needs to carry on his or her vehicle.
Driving without insurance can result in a severe penalty, depending on which state you operate your vehicle.
What should I look for when comparing policies?
When you are shopping for car insurance, there are some important aspects that you should look for to ensure that you get what you need.
Many auto insurance carriers have all of these, but some have none or only some of them, so you should consider carefully before purchasing:
- Uninsured Motorist Coverage: This type of coverage is designed to cover anything the driver does not carry with his insurance if they are ruled at fault in an accident
- Underinsured Motorist Coverage: Underinsured motorist coverage is intended to cover damages or injuries that you receive from a motorist who does not have adequate coverage
- Accidental death rider: Some insurance providers allow for an extra accidental death benefit in the event of an accident in which you or others in your car are killed
- Medical Expenses Coverage: This type of coverage covers any medical expenses and loss incurred due to the accident in which you are involved
- Motorcycle coverage: If you ride a motorcycle, it would be wise to purchase motorcycle coverage as well. Remember that auto insurance itself does not cover motorcycle accidents
- Car rental: Car rental insurance covers the cost of car rentals that you use while your vehicle is being repaired
These are a few of the options that you will encounter when shopping for car insurance.
Whether or not you select these extra options and riders is totally up to you.
You will just have to consider whether your risk is significant enough to justify the cost you would spend on monthly premiums when you choose any or all of these options.
How much coverage should I get?
When shopping for car insurance, the ultimate question you need to be able to answer is how much coverage you actually need.
Start with the state minimum requirement for auto insurance, and then consider whether adding more coverage to your policy would be a good choice.
You always have to balance this with how much insurance you can actually afford. If you take on more insurance premiums than you can afford, you may end up dropping all of it. So stick to the highest amount of coverage you can comfortably afford and compare rates among similar carriers.
By now, we think you’ve learned a lot about the auto insurance industry and can utilize this knowledge for your car insurance research in the future.
The more a company sees you as a low risk, the more affordable your policy may be. Save time by comparing auto insurance rates at once.
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