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(ARA) - The number of auto accidents is decreasing -- and that’s a trend both drivers and auto insurance companies are happy about. As a result, many consumers could see a decrease in their auto insurance premiums this year.

During the last year, auto claims at General Casualty and Unigard Insurance Companies have dropped more than 10 percent, a trend occurring across the property and casualty insurance industry. In addition, almost 90 percent of General Casualty customers have been accident-free during the last three years.

Fewer accidents lead to savings

The Insurance Information Institute predicts auto insurance rates will rise only 1.5 percent in 2005, just one half the inflation rate and the smallest increase in five years. Auto owners with good driving records and safer cars could notice a decrease in their auto insurance premiums. How much savings will vary by state, insurance company and individual driver. In 2005, General Casualty auto insurance rates could decrease up to 8 percent. Unigard policyholders could save even more, thanks to decreased claims and a new policy pricing system available later this year.

John Blodnick of Unigard and Charles Valinotti of General Casualty explain several factors contributing to this decrease, including safer and smarter vehicles and drivers.

“Driving safely protects not only you and your passengers, but others out on the road. A clean driving record can also affect your insurance rates,” Valinotti said.

Driving safer vehicles

Valinotti recommends consumers purchase safer automobiles to help prevent accidents and protect their pocketbooks. “Airbags and anti-lock brakes are two auto features that insurance companies consider when pricing auto coverage. They’re virtually standard on all new vehicles,” said Valinotti.

He notes that upcoming safety innovations could lead to even fewer accidents while saving consumers money on their auto insurance:

* Smart cars: Auto manufacturers are upgrading new vehicle models with safety devices such as radar, digital cameras and navigational systems to detect objects in drivers’ blind spots and avoid heavy traffic or collisions. While some models already contain sensors that warn drivers when they’re too close to objects, Toyota, Lexus, Honda and Nissan will begin incorporating other advanced technology soon.

* Smart highways: Future highway technology could help better manage traffic flow and improve safety. Controlled steering, electronic brakes and other devices would help maneuver smart cars on specially engineered highways, helping avoid collisions.

* Breakaway engines: Some vehicles include engines designed to drop down under the vehicle’s floor instead of being pushed into the front passenger area during a frontal collision, helping reduce leg injuries.

* Redesigned vehicles: Auto manufacturers are continually building safer cars. GM’s Uplander minivan model was rated “good” in recent frontal crash tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The rating is a vast improvement over its predecessor, GM’s Chevrolet Venture and Pontiac Transport/Montana, rated one of the worst performing vehicles in the history of IIHS’s frontal crash tests. Small pickup trucks including the Toyota Tacoma, Chevrolet Colorado and Dodge Dakota also scored better in the tests.

Driving wisely

“Safer, smarter cars only offer so much protection,” said Blodnick. “Safety starts with being an intelligent driver. Pay attention to others on the road and drive appropriately for the weather and traffic conditions.”

To encourage safe driving, Unigard policyholders can accumulate up to 16 percent in savings credits for being accident-free. This credit is reduced if they’re involved in any "at fault" auto accidents, but they may continue receiving a savings for having a safe driving history.

Later this year, General Casualty will also begin rewarding good drivers with a new auto accident forgiveness program. If a policyholder who hasn’t been “at fault” in any auto accidents during the past five years is in a collision and has been insured with the company during that same time period, his or her insurance rates will not include any accident surcharges. This could prevent rates from increasing anywhere from 20 to 50 percent, depending on where the policyholder lives.

Other factors

In addition, Blodnick points to the increase in states with graduated driver licensing programs. As more states implement the program to gradually phase new drivers to full driving privileges, the number of teen driving accidents is decreasing. According to the IIHS, since states began enacting graduated licensing laws in the 1990s, the fatal crash rate for 16-year old drivers has dropped 26 percent (from 1993 to 2003).

Valinotti notes families may have more vehicles than drivers, meaning an insured vehicle spends more time sitting in the driveway or garage and is less likely to be involved in an accident. Rising gas prices could also lead to fewer cars on the road, especially larger, less fuel efficient vehicles.

For more information about safer vehicles and driving and how they can lead to insurance savings, contact your independent insurance agent.


Courtesy of ARA Content