When Americans abruptly cut back on driving early in the pandemic, many auto-insurance companies gave customers credits or refunds on their premiums, reflecting the lower risk of accidents with fewer cars on the road.
Now consumer advocates say insurers should give drivers another break, since driving habits haven’t returned to normal and insurers have continued to reap the benefits of fewer accident claims.
An analysis from the federal Bureau of Transportation Statistics found that even though driving rebounded after steep drops in the spring, the overall number of miles driven has generally stayed below normal.
A separate report on crash data from four states, published by the Consumer Federation of America and the Center for Economic Justice, found that car crashes remained “well below” 2019 levels.
The two groups sent letters to state insurance commissioners, urging them to require another round of refunds.
Insurers overall have returned about $14 billion to auto customers because people are driving less, said James Lynch, chief actuary for the industry group Insurance Information Institute. The industry has been flexible about working with strapped customers on payments during the pandemic, he said, and has contributed $280 million to charitable endeavors related to the coronavirus.
The insurance industry has had a challenging year in other ways, Lynch said, with significant claims related to hurricanes and wildfires. Yet, he said, “the industry has done as much to help people out as anyone.”
Insurance relief offered in the spring typically “shaved” 15 to 25% off customers’ premium payments for one or more months, according to a report in October from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, a group of state regulators.
But a report published by U.S. PIRG’s Education Fund affiliate, examining relief given by the 10 top insurers in each state, found that most hadn’t given customers more than half of one month’s premium. Relief varied by state and insurer, but in many states, State Farm, GEICO and USAA provided “better” relief than their competitors, the report found.
The Insurance Information Institute noted that many factors besides miles driven and accidents affected company claims and costs, including natural disasters like wildfires and floods.
State Farm announced on Dec. 11 that it would adjust rates upon policy renewal, beginning in January, because “our data indicates more people are driving, resulting in more auto claims.”
Ann Carrns writes for the New York Times.