Testimony before Commissioner Julianne Bowler, Division of Insurance
Good Morning. My name is Eric Bourassa and I am a consumer advocate for the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group (MASSPIRG). MASSPIRG is a statewide, non-partisan, non-profit public interest advocacy and watchdog organization with over 50,000 members across the Commonwealth. I am here today to present public comment in support of lowering the state set ceiling on private passenger auto insurance rate for 2007 and to encourage you to adopt a more aggressive campaign to reduce our highest-in-the-nation accident rate as another tool to lower insurance premiums for consumers.
Automobile insurance is a significant, legally mandated household expense, without which consumers place their financial security and livelihood at risk. Annual rates were cut this year by 8.7% and 1.7% in the year before and have declined 21% since 1996. Despite the rate reductions our average premium is still high and we ought to do everything in our power to lower the cost for consumers.
Given that the insurance industry has proposed a decrease of 3.7%, history would prove that the new state set ceiling should be significantly lowered. And, given the industries’ statements about the continual decline in claims, we hope you will be aggressive in determining the new rate.
Second, despite recent efforts and debates about various insurance regulatory reforms, the blame for our high auto insurance cost belongs to Massachusetts’s ultra-high accident rate. Massachusetts has the dubious distinction of having the highest accident rate in the country by far – an astounding 40% higher than the state with the second-highest rate, Rhode Island, based on claims data reported by the Insurance Research Council. Even improving our worst-in-the-nation accident rate to second worst could drop our premiums by nearly 25%, or about $250 on average per car, producing $1 billion in statewide savings.
The main factor driving our insurance premiums is our accident rate, since premiums correlate closely with the accident rate. Therefore the most effective way to reduce Massachusetts automobile insurance premiums is to focus on reducing the underlying costs of our auto insurance system, including the state's high rate of accidents.
The Division of Insurance should use their authority and resources to Identify and adopt a comprehensive plan to reduce the state's underlying costs, including our high accident rate. The reforms to reduce the state's costs and accident rate must involve state and local government, the insurance industry, police, drivers and insurance regulators.
A comprehensive plan should consider all proposals to lower rates including the following reforms;
- Identifying and redesigning the most dangerous intersections in the state;
- Adopting a primary seatbelt law;
- Informing drivers clearly and regularly about the full cost of at-fault accidents, speeding tickets, and other traffic violations on individual automobile insurance rates;
- Improving enforcement of traffic violations in conjunction with a review of existing traffic restrictions to ensure that they are appropriate, reasonable, and not unnecessarily restrictive such that they dilute the weight of their public safety purpose;
- Discounts for safer vehicles;
- Discounts for individuals who participate in driver education programs;
- Initiatives to combat drunk-driving;
- Discounts for consumers who agree to use their own health insurance in case of accident related injuries;
- Improving traffic lane markings, traffic lights and signals, and road/street signs;
- Prohibiting the use of wireless phones while driving;
- Making it easier for consumers to switch auto insurers;
- Disclosing and making accessible better and more information about any/all discounts companies are offering; and
- Eliminating incentives to engage in fraudulent activities, revising existing penalties for committing fraud, and increasing enforcement aimed at eliminating fraud.