Auto insurance rates in Texas climbing
AUSTIN — The high cost of fixing damaged cars and trucks in Texas has pushed up the price of auto insurance in the state to 11th highest in the nation, according to a new study analyzing premiums across the country.
The study by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners shows that the price of collision coverage — the portion of an insurance policy that pays to repair damage after an accident — has been climbing in Texas and now ranks as the fifth highest among the states.
By contrast, the amount paid for liability coverage — which has been a target for advocates of limiting lawsuits — ranks 20th among the states.
Overall, Texas drivers paid an average premium of $1,022 a year for insurance, well above the national average of $901. Louisiana drivers were charged the highest premiums in the country, an average $1,270 a year. A dozen states have premiums above $1,000. Rates in the study were based on 2009 data, the most recent nationwide figures available.
Insurance industry spokesman Mark Hanna attributed the high cost of collision coverage to the large percentage of uninsured motorists in the state, as well as increased charges by auto body shops.
“Repair costs have been going up in recent years, and we are seeing ever higher price spikes in the metropolitan areas of Dallas and Houston,” said Hanna, a spokesman for the Insurance Council of Texas.
Rising costs for parts
Jim Quinten, president of the Texas-based Auto Parts and Services Association, said that body shops’ increased prices are the result of higher costs for parts.
“It certainly isn’t the cost of labor, which has not gone up much in several years,” Quinten said. “It’s a huge problem for body shops, and I don’t know how some of the independent shops keep going.”
The average auto insurance premium in Texas has been creeping up in recent years. It once was ranked near the middle of the pack among the states — unlike the rates for homeowners insurance, which have been among the highest in the country for several years.
“We are starting to see in auto insurance rates what we have seen in homeowners rates for a long time — continuous increases,” said Alex Winslow of Texas Watch, a consumer group that tracks insurance issues in the state.
He added that state officials should be wary of the price increases. “I don’t know of any factors that have changed to justify the kind of upward trend we’re seeing,” Winslow said.
Winslow also said the relatively lower cost of liability protection calls into question the arguments that policyholders suing insurers are the driving force behind increasing premiums.
More people, cars
Jerry Johns, president of Southwestern Insurance Information Service, said another factor in auto insurance rates is the growing population in the state, particularly in urban areas.
“Texas is a fast-growing state, and in cities like Dallas, Houston and San Antonio, the population density is contributing to more accidents, particularly where texting, speed or alcohol are involved,” Johns said. He also pointed to the popularity of larger vehicles in Texas such as SUVs and pickups, which are more expensive to repair.
Johns also insisted that the market is competitive and that drivers dissatisfied with what they’re paying can often find better rates by checking around.
Texas has nearly 200 companies selling auto insurance, compared with about 70 that offer homeowners coverage.
“It’s all about competition, and Texas remains one of the most competitive markets in the country,” Hanna said.
Insurers typically recommend body shops to drivers involved in accidents to help control costs and reassure drivers that their vehicles will be properly repaired, he said. But insurers cannot under the law specify that a driver has to go to a certain body shop to get the work done.
Quinten, whose trade association represents body shops, said there are problems with insurers trying to “steer” drivers to certain body shops.
His group was involved in passing legislation a few years ago that barred insurance companies from owning body shops. That measure was approved after Allstate and other companies began acquiring their own body repair shops in Texas, a move that consumer groups and others argued would lead to policyholders being steered to those shops.
The law was later upheld in federal court.
A study by The Dallas Morning News last fall showed that many drivers in the Dallas area saw their insurance rates jump by an average of 8 percent during 2011. Industry representatives attributed the higher premiums to increased medical costs and new minimum limits for liability coverage in Texas.
AT A GLANCE: Factors that affect auto insurance premiums
Driving record and claims history: A good driving record and no at-fault accidents reduces premiums.
Age and, for younger drivers, marital status: Male drivers younger than 25 and unmarried women younger 21 pay the highest rates, while drivers over 50 may get discounts.
Where the car is kept: Rates are higher in urban areas than rural areas because drivers in urban areas have more accidents and auto thefts.
Type of car: Collision and comprehensive rates are higher for luxury, high-performance and sports cars.
Car’s primary use: Rates for cars driven solely for pleasure are lower than rates for cars driven to and from work or used for business.
Credit score: Most companies use the driver’s credit score to decide whether to sell a policy and what to charge, with a better credit score bringing lower rates.
Whether the driver lacked insurance: Companies may charge more if the driver was uninsured in Texas for more than 30 days in the year before the driver applied for coverage.
Discounts that reduce the cost of auto insurance:
Defensive driving courses.
Driver education classes for young drivers.
Students with good grades.
Parent or family whose young driver is away at school without a car.
Two or more cars on one policy.
Policy renewal with good driving record and no at-fault claims.
Concurrent homeowners policy.
Vehicle options such as anti-lock brakes and anti-theft devices.
SOURCE: Texas Department of Insurance