Saturday, January 23, 2010

Pay-as-you-drive policy

A group representing the insurance regulators has been meeting over the last few days. There have been a number of issues on their agenda, but the most interesting has been whether to adopt a policy for every state to require its local insurance companies to offer pay-as-you-drive policies. These policies have a simple purpose. If motorists drive less, there's a reduction in the level of greenhouse gas emissions. This is a good thing because it will cut down on the overall damage to the environment. No matter what you believe about climate change, this will improve the health of the many who suffer from skin allergies and asthma caused by the pollution. The insurance companies therefore reduce the premiums for those who drive less. Not only is this environmentally responsible, it's also good business sense. Lowering premiums attracts more business, but if these drivers reduce the number of miles they drive a year, their risk profile is lower. They should be involved in fewer accidents. This becomes a way of reducing premiums but maintaining profitability.

The regulators advocating this mandatory approach were using a number of other programs as their model. In the appliance industry, there are rating standards called Energy Star. As an example of using this program to promote environmentally sound practice, Maryland is offering an appliance rebate scheme if local people buy energy-efficient refrigerators, water heaters and washing machines. In the building industry, there's a national building code called Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). A certificate issued by the US Green Building Council confirms the design meets the nationally accepted benchmarks for sustainability. Because of the savings in running costs, rents are usually lower and business benefits. Applying the same principles to vehicle insurance assumes drivers will act rationally when offered lower prices and drive less. The Brookings Institution estimates the introduction of this pricing model across the country would reduce the use of private vehicles for travel by about 8%. This would save every household about $300 a year and reduce emotions by about 2%. But the regulators decided not to force the adoption of this format of policy.

The reason for leaving this on a voluntary basis is the desire to encourage innovation, not to force it These policies are available in an increasing number of US states and represent an excellent way for you to buy cheap car insurance. But there's no standardisation. You will have to look carefully at the detail of each policy on offer to decide whether it's for you. Remember that, in some cases, the price of this cheap car insurance is the use of technology to spy on the number of miles you actually drive. Not all drivers are honest. They sign up for discount faithfully promising low mileage and then drive high miles. The pay-as-you-drive model assumes there will be checks on everyone's honesty. For the good drivers, this is a good thing. They will be rewarded with continuing low premiums. The dishonest drivers will find their policies cancelled. If you have Big Brother problems with this technology, you can always pay the full premium. A halfway house is to allow insurance agents to read your odometer on a regular basis.

© 2010 Ranjan Kumar

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