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RISKY BUSINESS

Even with insurance rates coming down, Dallas drivers will still pay more than almost anyone else.
By C.N. |

IF YOU THINK YOUR INSURANCE RATES seem rather high, they are. Auto insurance rates across Texas rose more than 15 percent between 1991 and 1995, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, making Texas’ average expenditure 23 percent higher than the national average. And Dallas County has the second-highest auto insurance rates in Texas-right behind Houston’s Harris County, according to the most recent benchmark rates compiled by the Texas Department of Insurance.

Why are our rates so high?

“Everybody’s got big cars, and they hit each other,” quips Dallas certified financial planner Alan Goldfarb.

While his explanation lacks some technical details, essentially, he’s right. Rates are based on a person’s likelihood of having an accident, sustaining an injury, and being a victim of theft. Typically, urban and metro areas tend to pose higher risks. In other words, we have a lot of accidents.

Add in a host of other actuarial dangers of Dallas life. Types of vehicles insured, medical costs, driver demographics, cell phone use. Cell phone use? Yes, say the brains at Rochester Institute of Technology, who recently found that people who use car phones have a 34 percent higher chance of having an accident than their less-communicative counterparts. And we love our cell phones.

Finally, a report by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners says that insurance prices are driven, above all, by the cost of claims. A recent study by the Insurance Research Council found that Americans are far more likely to claim auto injuries today than 15 years ago, even though the number of total accidents during that same period actually declined. In other words, we have a lot of lawyers.

What can we do about these high rates?

Since most of us spend all our “free time” stuck in traffic, both killing lawyers and personally lobbying for tort reform appear to be impractical options. However, we can use the advice of the experts and follow some basic consumer awareness and safety practices, such as these:

● Consider driving a “nice, four-door, family car like a Ford Taurus,” says Michael Bell of Bell Insurance Agency. “Aconvertible Mustang will boot you into the highest insurance category.”

● Ask your insurance agent about ways to get credits on your policies. For example, getting a defensive driving certificate may lower your insurance rates by almost 10 percent.

● Get an independent insurance agent who can shop the market for you at different agencies, suggests financial planner Goldfarb. The agent’s fee will be paid by agency commissions. He or she will also give you flexibility and personal service and can look for new, better deals for you at renewal time.

● Try one of the “high-risk” insurance companies. Insurance companies are regulated by the slate. In Texas, insurance carriers may be either classified as “admitted,” in which case rates are regulated, or “nonadmitted,” in which case rates can go outside the state benchmarks, says Bell. These companies may be able to give you lower auto rates. An independent insurance agent can check on the company’s business rating for you.

● Consider reducing your monthly premiums by increasing your deductibles.

● Move to Iowa, which currently has the nation’s lowest premiums.

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