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Basics


What is auto insurance?
What is covered by a basic auto policy?
Can I drive legally without insurance?
What if I lease a car?
Is there a difference between cancellation and nonrenewal?

Buying a Policy and Saving Money


How do I choose an insurance company?
How much coverage do I need?
What determines the price of my policy?
What does my credit rating have to do with purchasing insurance?
What information do I need to give to my agent or company?
How Can I Save Money On Auto Insurance?
Five Insurance Mistakes to Avoid… And Still Save Money
Eight Auto Insurance Myths
What can I do if I can't find coverage?
Should I purchase an umbrella liability policy?
Will my insurance cover renting a car after an accident?

Filing a Claim


How do I file a claim?
How are the value of my car and the cost of repair determined?
What are my rights when filing a claim?
If I file a claim, will my premium go up?
What should I do if I am having trouble settling my claim?

Driving


Air Bag Safety
At the Scene of an Accident
Avoiding Deer / Car Collisions
Child Safety Seats
Distracted Driving
Driving in Bad Weather
Road Rage
Senior Drivers
Shopping for a Safe Car
Teenagers and Driving

What is auto insurance?

Auto insurance protects you against financial loss if you have an accident. It is a contract between you and the insurance company. You agree to pay the premium and the insurance company agrees to pay your losses as defined in your policy. Auto insurance provides property, liability and medical coverage:

  • Property coverage pays for damage to or theft of your car.
  • Liability coverage pays for your legal responsibility to others for bodily injury or property damage.
  • Medical coverage pays for the cost of treating injuries, rehabilitation and sometimes lost wages and funeral expenses.

An auto insurance policy is comprised of six different kinds of coverage. Most states require you to buy some, but not all, of these coverages. If you're financing a car, your lender may also have requirements. Most auto policies are for six months to a year. Your insurance company should notify you by mail when it’s time to renew the policy and to pay your premium.

What is covered by a basic auto policy?

Your auto policy may include six coverages. Each coverage is priced separately.

1. Bodily Injury Liability

This coverage applies to injuries that you, the designated driver or policyholder, cause to someone else. You and family members listed on the policy are also covered when driving someone else’s car with their permission.

It’s very important to have enough liability insurance, because if you are involved in a serious accident, you may be sued for a large sum of money. Definitely consider buying more than the state-required minimum to protect assets such as your home and savings.

2. Medical Payments or Personal Injury Protection (PIP)

This coverage pays for the treatment of injuries to the driver and passengers of the policyholder's car. At its broadest, PIP can cover medical payments, lost wages and the cost of replacing services normally performed by someone injured in an auto accident. It may also cover funeral costs.

3. Property Damage Liability

This coverage pays for damage you (or someone driving the car with your permission) may cause to someone else's property. Usually, this means damage to someone else’s car, but it also includes damage to lamp posts, telephone poles, fences, buildings or other structures your car hit.

4. Collision

This coverage pays for damage to your car resulting from a collision with another car, object or as a result of flipping over. It also covers damage caused by potholes. Collision coverage is generally sold with a deductible of $250 to $1,000—the higher your deductible, the lower your premium. Even if you are at fault for the accident, your collision coverage will reimburse you for the costs of repairing your car, minus the deductible. If you're not at fault, your insurance company may try to recover the amount they paid you from the other driver’s insurance company. If they are successful, you'll also be reimbursed for the deductible.

5. Comprehensive

This coverage reimburses you for loss due to theft or damage caused by something other than a collision with another car or object, such as fire, falling objects, missiles, explosion, earthquake, windstorm, hail, flood, vandalism, riot, or contact with animals such as birds or deer.

Comprehensive insurance is usually sold with a $100 to $300 deductible, though you may want to opt for a higher deductible as a way of lowering your premium.

Comprehensive insurance will also reimburse you if your windshield is cracked or shattered. Some companies offer glass coverage with or without a deductible.

6. Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist Coverage

This coverage will reimburse you, a member of your family, or a designated driver if one of you is hit by an uninsured or hit-and-run driver.

Underinsured motorist coverage comes into play when an at-fault driver has insufficient insurance to pay for your total loss. This coverage will also protect you if you are hit as a pedestrian.

Can I drive legally without insurance?

NO! Almost every state requires you to have auto liability insurance. All states also have financial responsibility laws. This means that even in a state that does not require liability insurance, you need to have sufficient assets to pay claims if you cause an accident. If you don’t have enough assets, you must purchase at least the state minimum amount of insurance. But insurance exists to protect your assets. Trying to see how little you can get by with can be very shortsighted and dangerous. The insurance industry and consumer groups generally recommend a minimum of $100,000 of bodily injury protection per person and $300,000 per accident since accidents may cost far more than the minimum limits mandated by most states.

If you've financed your car, your lender may require comprehensive and collision insurance as part of the loan agreement.

What if I lease a car?

If you lease a car, you still need to buy your own auto insurance policy. The auto dealer or bank that is financing the car will require you to buy collision and comprehensive coverage. You'll need to buy these coverages in addition to the others that may be mandatory in your state, such as auto liability insurance.

  • Collision covers the damage to the car from an accident with another automobile or object.
  • Comprehensive covers a loss that is caused by something other than a collision with another car or object, such as a fire or theft or collision with a deer.

The leasing company may also require "gap" insurance. This refers to the fact that if you have an accident and your leased car is damaged beyond repair or "totaled," there's likely to be a difference between the amount that you still owe the auto dealer and the check you'll get from your insurance company. That's because the insurance company's check is based on the car's actual cash value which takes into account depreciation. The difference between the two amounts is known as the "gap."

On a leased car, the cost of gap insurance is generally rolled into the lease payments. You don't actually buy a gap policy. Generally, the auto dealer buys a master policy from an insurance company to cover all the cars it leases and charges you for a "gap waiver." This means that if your leased car is totaled, you won't have to pay the dealer the gap amount. Check with the auto dealer when leasing your car.

If you have an auto loan rather than a lease, you may want to buy gap insurance to protect yourself from having to come up with the gap amount if your car is totaled before you've finished paying for it. Ask your insurance agent about gap insurance or search the Internet. Gap insurance may not be available in some states.
 

Is there a difference between cancellation and nonrenewal?

There is a big difference between an insurance company canceling a policy and choosing not to renew it. Insurance companies cannot cancel a policy that has been in force for more than 60 days except when:

  • You fail to pay the premium
  • You have committed fraud or made serious misrepresentations on your application
  • Your drivers license has been revoked or suspended.

Nonrenewal is a different matter. Either you or your insurance company can decide not to renew the policy when it expires. Depending on the state you live in, your insurance company must give you a certain number of days notice and explain the reason for not renewing before it drops your policy. If you think the reason is unfair or want a further explanation, call the insurance company’s consumer affairs division.

The company may have decided to drop that particular line of insurance or to write fewer policies where you live, so the nonrenewal decision may not be because of something you did. On the other hand, if you did do something that raised the insurance company’s risk considerably, like driving drunk, the premium may rise or you may not have your policy renewed.

If your insurance company did not renew your policy, you will not necessarily be charged a higher premium at another insurance company.

How do I choose an insurance company?

There are many insurance companies, so choosing between them can be a challenge. Here are the main points to keep in mind when selecting an insurance company:

  • Licensing
    Not every company is licensed to operate in each state. As a general rule, you should buy from a company licensed in your state, because then can you rely on your state insurance department to help if there’s a problem. To find out which companies are licensed in your state, contact the state insurance department.
  • Price
    Many companies sell insurance policies and prices vary greatly from one to another, so it really pays to shop around. Get at least three price quotes from companies, agents and from the Internet. Your state insurance department may publish a guide that shows what insurers charge for different policies in various parts of your state.
  • Financial Solidity
    You buy insurance to protect you financially and provide peace of mind. Select a company that is likely to be financially sound for many years, by using ratings from independent rating agencies.
  • Service
    Your insurance company and its representatives should answer your questions and handle your claims fairly, efficiently and quickly. You can get a feel for whether this is the case by talking to other customers who have used a particular company or agent. You may also want to check a national claims database to see what complaint information it has on a company. Also, your state insurance department will be able to tell you if the insurance company you are considering doing business with had many consumer complaints about its service relative to the number of policies it sold.
  • Comfort
    You should feel comfortable with your insurance purchase, whether you buy it from a local agent, directly from the company over the phone, or over the Internet. Make sure that the agent or company will be easy to reach if you have a question or need to file a claim.
How much coverage do I need?

Almost every state requires you to buy a minimum amount of liability coverage. Chances are that you will need more liability insurance than the state requires because accidents cost more than the minimum limits. If you’re found legally responsible for bills that are more than your insurance covers, you will have to pay the difference out of your own pocket. These costs could wipe you out!

You may want to talk to your agent or company representative about purchasing higher liability limits to reflect your personal needs. You may also consider purchasing an umbrella or excess liability policy. These policies pay when your underlying coverages are exhausted. Typically, these policies cost between $200 and $300 per year for a million dollars in coverage. If you have your homeowners and auto insurance with the same company, check out the cost of coverage with this company first. If you have coverage with different companies, it may be easier to buy it from your auto insurance company.

In addition to liability coverage, consider buying collision and comprehensive coverage. You don't decide how much to buy. Your coverage reflects the market value of your car and the cost of repairing it.

Decide on a deductible—the amount of money you pay on a claim before the insurance company reimburses you. Typically, deductibles are $500 or $1,000; the higher your deductible, the lower your premium.

What determines the price of my policy?

There are many factors that influence the price you pay for auto insurance. The average American driver spends about $850 a year. Your premium may be higher or lower, depending on:

1.     Your driving record.
The better your record, the lower your premium. If you've had accidents or serious traffic violations, you will pay more than if you have a clean driving record. You may also pay more if you haven't been insured for a number of years.

2.     The number of miles you drive each year.
The more miles you drive, the more chance for accidents. If you drive a lower than average number of miles per year, less than 10,000, you will pay less. For instance, some companies will give discounts to policyholders who carpool.

3.     Where you live.
Insurance companies look at local trends, such as the number of accidents, car thefts and lawsuits, as well as the cost of medical care and car repair.

4.     Your age.
In general, mature drivers have fewer accidents than less experienced drivers, particularly teenagers. So insurers generally charge more if teenagers or young people below age 25 drive your car.

5.     The car you drive.
Some cars cost more to insure than others. Variables include the likelihood of theft, the cost of the car, the cost of repairs, and the overall safety record of the car.

6.     Your Credit.
For many insurers, credit-based insurance scoring is one of the most important and statistically valid tools to predict the likelihood of a person filing a claim and the likely cost of that claim. Credit-based insurance scores are based on information like payment history, bankruptcies, collections, outstanding debt and length of credit history. For example, regular, on-time credit card and mortgage payments affect a score positively, while late payments affect a score negatively.

7.     The amount of coverage.
Of course, like anything else, the more coverage you have, the more you pay. However, you may qualify for discounts.

What does my credit rating have to do with purchasing insurance?

Credit scores are based on an analysis of an individual’s credit history. These scores are used for many purposes such as securing a loan, finding a place to live, getting a telephone and buying insurance. Insurers often generate a numerical ranking based on a person’s credit history, known as an “insurance score,” when underwriting and setting the rates for insurance policies. Actuarial studies show that how a person manages his or her financial affairs, which is what an insurance score indicates, is a good predictor of insurance claims. Insurance scores are used to help insurers differentiate between lower and higher insurance risks and thus charge a premium equal to the risk they are assuming. Statistically, people who have a poor insurance score are more likely to file a claim.

As a result, establishing a solid credit history can cut your insurance costs. To protect your credit standing, pay your bills on time, don’t obtain more credit than you need, and keep the balances on your credit cards as low as possible—ideally, try to pay off the bill in full each month. Also, check your credit record regularly, and request that any errors be corrected immediately so that your record remains accurate.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires each of the nationwide consumer reporting companies—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—to provide you with a free copy of your credit report, at your request, once every 12 months. For more information, go to the Federal Trade Commission’s Web site on credit.

Free annual credit reports can be ordered from AnnualCreditReport.com.

What information do I need to give to my agent or company?

Your agent will ask you what make and model cars you own, roughly how many miles you drive each year, and what kind of liability coverage you will need. The agent will also want to know how many people drive the cars, how old the drivers are, where you live, and driving records of each household member.

The agent will then ask more detailed questions about your cars, such as their Vehicle Identification Numbers (VIN), whether they have passive restraint systems or air bags, anti-lock brakes or anti-theft devices. If you already have another insurance policy with the company for home or life insurance, you might receive a discount on your auto policy. You should also mention if you or other drivers in your household have completed safe-driving courses and if student drivers in your home are getting good grades—both of these may qualify you for discounts on your auto policy.

Once the agent has assembled all of the information, he or she will quote you a premium. The premium will depend on all the factors above and on the deductibles you choose.

How Can I Save Money On Auto Insurance?

The price you pay for your auto insurance can vary by hundreds of dollars, depending what type of car you have and the insurance company you buy your policy from. Here are some ways to save money.

 

1. BEFORE YOU BUY A CAR, COMPARE INSURANCE COSTS

Before you buy a new or used car, check into insurance costs. Car insurance premiums are based in part on the car’s price, the cost to repair it, its overall safety record and the likelihood of theft. Many insurers offer discounts for features that reduce the risk of injuries or theft. To help you decide what car to buy, you can get information from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (www.iihs.org).

 

2. ASK FOR HIGHER DEDUCTIBLES

Deductibles are what you pay before your insurance policy kicks in. By requesting higher deductibles, you can lower your costs substantially. For example, increasing your deductible from $200 to $500 could reduce your collision and comprehensive coverage cost by 15 to 30 percent. Going to a $1,000 deductible can save you 40 percent or more. Before choosing a higher deductible, be sure you have enough money set aside to pay it if you have a claim.

 

3. REDUCE COVERAGE ON OLDER CARS

Consider dropping collision and/or comprehensive coverages on older cars. If your car is worth less than 10 times the premium, purchasing the coverage may not be cost effective. Auto dealers and banks can tell you the worth of cars. Or you can look it up online at Kelley’s Blue Book (www.kbb.com). Review your coverage at renewal time to make sure your insurance needs haven’t changed.

 

4. BUY YOUR HOMEOWNERS AND AUTO COVERAGE FROM THE SAME INSURER

Many insurers will give you a break if you buy two or more types of insurance. You may also get a reduction if you have more than one vehicle insured with the same company. Some insurers reduce the rates for long-time customers. But it still makes sense to shop around! You may save money buying from different insurance companies, compared with a multipolicy discount.

 

5. MAINTAIN A GOOD CREDIT RECORD

Establishing a solid credit history can cut your insurance costs. Most insurers use credit information to price auto insurance policies. Research shows that people who effectively manage their credit have fewer claims. To protect your credit standing, pay your bills on time, don’t obtain more credit than you need and keep your credit balances as low as possible. Check your credit record on a regular basis and have any errors corrected promptly so that your record remains accurate.

 

6. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF LOW MILEAGE DISCOUNTS

Some companies offer discounts to motorists who drive a lower than average number of miles per year. Low mileage discounts can also apply to drivers who car pool to work.

 

7. SEEK OUT OTHER DISCOUNTS

Companies offer discounts to policyholders who have not had any accidents or moving violations for a number of years. You may also get a discount if you take a defensive driving course. If there is a young driver on the policy who is a good student, has taken a drivers education course or is away at college without a car, you may also qualify for a lower rate.

When you comparison shop, inquire about discounts for the following:*

Antitheft Devices
Auto and Homeowners Coverage with the Same Company
College Students away from Home
Defensive Driving Courses
Drivers Ed Courses
Good Credit Record
Higher deductibles
Low Annual Mileage
Long-Time Customer
More than 1 car
No Accidents in 3 Years
No Moving Violations in 3 Years
Student Drivers with Good Grades

*The discounts listed may not be available in all states or from all insurance companies.

The key to savings is not the discounts, but the final price. A company that offers few discounts may still have a lower overall price.

Five Insurance Mistakes to Avoid… And Still Save Money

We are all concerned with saving money and it is important to shop around when looking for insurance coverage. However, simply reducing your coverage or dropping important coverages altogether can leave you dangerously underinsured in the event of a disaster.

 

Following are the five biggest auto, home, flood and renters insurance mistakes consumers can make, along with suggestions to avert those pitfalls while still saving money:

 

1. Insuring a home for its real estate value rather than for the cost of rebuilding. When real estate prices go down, some homeowners may think they can reduce the amount of insurance on their home. But insurance is designed to cover the cost of rebuilding, not the sales price of the home. You should make sure that you have enough coverage to completely rebuild your home and replace your belongings.

 

A better way to save: Raise your deductible. An increase from $500 to $1,000 could save up to 25 percent on your premium payments.

 

2. Selecting an insurance company by price alone. It is important to choose a company with competitive prices, but also one that is financially sound and provides good customer service.

 

A better way to save: Check the financial health of a company with independent rating agencies and ask friends and family for recommendations. You should select an insurance company that will respond to your needs and handle claims fairly and efficiently.

 

3. Dropping flood insurance. Damage from flooding is not covered under standard homeowners and renters insurance policies. Coverage is available from the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), as well as from some private insurance companies. Many homeowners are unaware they are at risk for flooding, but in fact 25 percent of all flood losses occur in low risk areas. Furthermore with the significant snow fall this winter, spring related flooding may be particularly severe, thus increasing the importance of purchasing flood insurance.

 

A better way to save: Before purchasing a home, check with the NFIP to determine whether the property is situated in a flood zone; if so, consider a less risky area. If you are already living in a designated flood zone, look at mitigation efforts that can reduce your risk of flood damage and consider purchasing flood insurance. Additional information on flood insurance can be found at www.FloodSmart.gov.

 

4. Only purchasing the legally required amount of liability for your car. In today’s litigious society, buying only the minimum amount of liability means you are likely to pay more out-of-pocket if you are sued—and those costs may be steep.

 

A better way to save: Consider dropping collision and/or comprehensive coverage on older cars worth less than $1,000. The insurance industry and consumer groups generally recommend a minimum of $100,000 of bodily injury protection per person and $300,000 per accident. 

 

5. Neglecting to buy renters insurance. A renters insurance policy covers your possessions and additional living expenses if you have to move out due to an insured disaster, such as a fire or hurricane. Equally important, it provides liability protection in the event someone is injured in your home and decides to sue.

 

A better way to save: Look into multi-policy discounts. Buying several policies with the same insurer, such as renters, auto and life will generally provide savings.

Eight Auto Insurance Myths

When purchasing car insurance, it’s important to understand the factors that affect your car insurance premium rates and coverage. But how do you differentiate between truth and fiction? A good place to start is by dispelling some  common myths about auto insurance:

Myth 1 – Color determines the price of auto insurance

It doesn’t matter if your car is red, green or purple. What does matter is the type of car you select. Before you buy a new or used car, check into insurance costs. Auto insurance premiums are based on make, model, body type, engine size, the age of the vehicle and the age, driving record and credit history of the driver. Premiums are also based, in part, on the car’s sticker price, the cost to repair it, its overall safety record, and the likelihood of theft. Many insurers offer discounts for features that reduce the risk of injuries or theft. These include daytime running lights and anti-theft devices. 

 

For years there has been a notion that color plays a significant part in calculating insurance premium costs, many people believing that red cars cost more to insure because they are linked to aggressive driving or speeding. The fact is, insurers have no interest in the color of a car, but they are interested in knowing if you have had any previous car accidents, the number of miles you drive annually and where you live. 

Myth 2 – It costs more to insure your car when you get older

Quite the opposite—many drivers over 55 years of age can, in fact, qualify for a reduction in auto insurance rates, typically for three years, if they have successfully completed an accident prevention course. Insurance companies will usually provide up to a 10 percent discount on car insurance, but check with your provider before you sign on. Mature driving courses are available through local and state agencies as well as through the AAA and AARP. You can also check with your insurance agent to find out which defensive driving courses are approved by your insurer. If you are retired or are not employed full time, you may also be eligible for a discount of up to 5 percent off your car insurance. Age requirements for this type of discount vary by state and insurance carrier.

Myth 3 – Your credit has no effect on your insurance rate

Your credit-based insurance score does matter. An insurance score is a measure of how well you manage your financial affairs, not your financial assets. Many insurance companies take your insurance score into consideration when you want to purchase, change or renew your auto insurance coverage. Because the majority of people have good credit, and insurance scores are derived from a person’s credit history, most people pay less for insurance when insurance scores are entered into the pricing equation.

Myth 4Your insurance will cover you if your car is stolen, vandalized or damaged by falling tree limbs, hail, flood or fire

Comprehensive and collision coverage are optional coverages. Lenders frequently require drivers to buy comprehensive and collision coverage as a condition of a car loan agreement. Those driving older cars sometimes drop these coverages as a way of saving money. If a car is worth less than $1,000 or less than 10 times the insurance premium, purchasing the optional coverages may not be cost effective. But bear in mind that you need to purchase both collision and comprehensive coverage in order to fully protect your vehicle from all types of damage.

Myth 5You only need the minimum amount of auto liability insurance required by law

Almost every state requires you to buy a minimum amount of auto liability coverage. Chances are that you will need more liability insurance than the state requires because accidents often cost more than the minimum limits. In today’s litigious society, buying only the minimum amount of liability means you are likely to pay more out-of-pocket for losses incurred after an accident—and those costs may be steep. The insurance industry and consumer groups generally recommend a minimum of $100,000 of bodily injury protection per person and $300,000 per accident.

Myth 6If other people drive your car, their auto insurance will cover them in the event of an accident

In most states, the auto insurance policy covering the vehicle is considered the primary insurance, which means that the owner’s insurance company must pay for damages caused by an accident. Policies and laws differ by state, and you should be familiar with these differences when allowing another person to drive your car.

Myth 7Soldiers pay more for insurance than civilians

If you are in the military—regardless of which branch—you actually qualify for a discount on auto insurance. In some situations you might be able to have your commanding officer make a phone call on your behalf, but for most auto insurance companies, you will need to supply documentation that lists your name, rank and the time that you will be enlisted in the service. This allows insurance companies to determine how long you will be eligible to receive a military discount. Many auto insurance companies provide discounts for former members of the military as well as their families.

Myth 8Personal auto insurance covers both personal and business use of your car

If you are self-employed and use your vehicle for business purposes, personal auto insurance may not protect you. While auto insurance geared for businesses can be more costly than a personal policy, one of the best ways to keep your auto rates down is by having a good driving record. If there are others, such as employees, using your car make sure they also have good driving records. Check the records of your employee drivers at least twice a year to ensure they maintain a clean driving record.

What can I do if I can't find coverage?

There may be several reasons why you can’t get insurance through traditional private insurance companies:You have a poor driving record

  • You own a special, high performance car
  • You have not driven long enough
  • You have not owned your car very long and therefore have no insurance record
  • You live in an area where theft and vandalism losses are high.

In this case, you have two options:

1.     Join a state assigned risk pool.
State assigned risk pools operate under a system in which every auto insurer participates in proportion to the amount of business they do in that state on a voluntary basis. Each insurer must accept the motorists assigned to it, retaining the profit or absorbing the loss that comes with that customer. The premiums you will pay will be substantially higher under assigned risk pools than directly with a private insurance company, but at least you will be able to obtain coverage. To find the assigned risk pool or the equivalent in your state, ask your insurance agent or the state insurance department.

2.     Get a policy from a private insurance company that specializes in “high-risk” drivers.
You may find a better deal by checking with a private insurance company specializing in “non-standard” auto policies. These companies write policies for people with bad accident records, high-performance cars, or who live in “high-risk” neighborhoods. These companies also may be able to sell you more comprehensive coverage than is available through assigned risk pools. To get a list of companies selling non-standard insurance, contact your insurance agent or state insurance department.

Should I purchase an umbrella liability policy?

 If you are ever sued, your standard homeowners or auto policy will provide you with some liability coverage, paying for judgments against you and your attorney's fees, up to a limit set in the policy. However, in our litigious society, you may want to have an extra layer of liability protection. That's what a personal umbrella liability policy provides.

An umbrella policy kicks in when you reach the limit on the underlying liability coverage in a homeowners, renters, condo or auto policy. It will also cover you for things such as libel and slander.

For about $250 to $400 per year you can buy a $1 million personal umbrella liability policy. The next million will cost about $75, and $50 for every million after that.

Because the personal umbrella policy goes into effect after the underlying coverage is exhausted, there are certain limits that usually must be met in order to purchase this coverage. Most insurers will want you to have about $250,000 of liability insurance on your auto policy and $300,000 of liability insurance on your homeowners policy before selling you an umbrella liability policy for $1 million of additional coverage.

Will my insurance cover renting a car after an accident?

Many drivers don't think about their insurance coverage until after they have an accident and call their insurance company to file a claim to help pay for car repairs, a rental car and other expenses.

Unfortunately, many insured drivers are surprised to find out that their auto insurance does not automatically cover the cost of a replacement rental car after an accident. Since the average car is in the repair shop for two weeks after an accident, it can cost as much as $500 to rent a replacement car. But, some insured drivers pay little or nothing to rent a car because of an inexpensive but often overlooked option known as rental reimbursement.

Rental reimbursement coverage is available for only $1 or $2 a month with almost every auto insurance policy, but it is bypassed frequently by those who believe they will not have a car accident or those shopping only for the lowest cost premium. The cost of a rental replacement car adds up fast, so even if you don't have an accident for eight or nine years, the coverage pays for itself when you need it most.

Sometimes working out the details of a claim with the auto insurance company can take time. Even if the accident is the other driver's fault, you may have to wait several days or longer to get the other insurance company to agree to pay for a rental car. With your own coverage, there is no waiting.

How do I file a claim?

To file a claim, follow these steps: 

1.     Call your insurance agent as soon as possible, regardless of who is at fault. Find out whether you're covered for this loss. Even if the accident appears minor, it is important that you let your insurance company know about the incident.

2.     Ask your agent or company representative how to proceed and what forms or documents are needed to support your claim. Your insurance company will require a “proof of claim” form and, if there is one, a copy of the police report. Increasingly, companies allow you to monitor the progress of your claim on their web site.

3.     Supply the information your insurer requests. Fill out the claim form carefully. Keep good records. Get the names and phone numbers of everyone you speak with and copies of any bills related to the accident.

4.     Ask your insurance agent or company representative the following:

§  Does my policy contain a time limit for filing claims and submitting bills?

§  Is there a time limit for resolving claims disputes?

§  If I need to submit additional information, is there a time limit?

§  When can I expect the insurance company to contact me?

§  Do I need to get repair estimates for the damage to my car?

§  Will my policy pay for a rental car while my car is being repaired? If so, how much?

5.     Remember, each state has its own laws governing the claims process. If you have any questions, call your agent, company representative or your state insurance department.

How are the value of my car and the cost of repair determined?

There are several standard guidelines for determining the value of your car for insurance purposes. You and your insurer can refer to one of the books that list the depreciated value of all new and used cars. One of these books is published by the National Association of Automobile Dealers another is published by Kelley Blue Book.

When you file your claim, your insurance company will refer you to a claims adjuster. The adjuster will verify the loss and determine what it will cost to repair the car. The adjuster’s estimate can serve as a benchmark to which to compare your own mechanic’s estimate.

No good adjuster or insurance company will expect you to sign an agreement accepting the insurer’s estimate as the total claim payment until you’ve established, to your own satisfaction, that it will cover the cost of repair. The insurer will expect you to get your own estimate from your mechanic, garage or car dealer. Don’t allow yourself to feel pressured into accepting the insurer’s estimate of repair costs without getting at least one estimate of your own.

Your insurance company can’t require you to have repairs done at a particular shop. But they can insist that you get more than one estimate for the work to be done on your car. Just as you want to make sure that your car is adequately repaired, the insurer wants to make sure it doesn’t pay a grossly inflated repair bill.

Don’t be surprised if your insurance company opts to pay for the lowest bid. You don’t have to accept that bid if you believe the low bid won’t adequately repair your car. Don’t hesitate to argue with the adjuster if you really believe his repair estimate is too low based on what your mechanic has told you.

One factor that could reduce the amount of your claim for a repair job is what insurance companies call betterment. If your old car is repaired with brand-new parts, your insurer may argue that the repairs have actually enhanced the car’s value and therefore they can legitimately reduce your claim by the difference between a used part and a new one.

It is up to your insurer to decide whether to pay for repairing your car or to declare it a total loss and pay you its book value. Most standard auto policies will not pay to repair a vehicle if the repairs cost more than the cash value assigned to the car. There won’t be any dispute about whether to repair the car if it was completely totaled. But you may argue about what the pieces of the car were worth when they were assembled as a car. For you to get a settlement higher than the book value of your car’s make and model, you will have to submit evidence such as mileage records, service history and affidavits from mechanics to show that your car was worth more. You’re entitled to the market price of the car you just lost. You shouldn’t get more or less than what you are due.

What are my rights when filing a claim?

As a policyholder, you have certain rights. Every state has laws protecting consumers. Your policy is a legal contract between you and your insurer. It defines your rights and obligations as well as the rights and obligations of the insurance company.

If you have any questions regarding your rights under the policy, talk to your insurance agent or company representative. You may also contact your state insurance department, state attorney general's office, or your state's consumer affairs department.

If I file a claim, will my premium go up?

You may be reluctant to file a claim because you fear that your premium will go up or your insurance will be canceled. Practices vary from company to company. In general, an insurer will increase your premium by specific percentages for each chargeable claim made against your policy above a specific dollar amount. A chargeable claim is one the insurer considers primarily your fault. The percentages and ceilings vary from company to company. These increases generally stay on your premium for three years following the claim.

Your company may also decide not to renew your policy if your driving record gets markedly worse or you have several accidents. Different insurers have different rules about what constitutes an unacceptably bad driving record. But some accidents, such as those caused by drunk driving, will probably trigger a nonrenewal from virtually every insurance company.

If you have an accident but don‘t report it to your insurer, you are taking a risk, even if the damage seems minor. If the other driver sues you weeks or months later, your failure to report the accident might cause your insurer to refuse to honor the policy. And even if they do honor the policy, the delay will certainly make it harder for the insurer to gather evidence to represent you.

What should I do if I am having trouble settling my claim?

If you are not satisfied with how your claim is being handled, there are steps you can take.

1.     Let your agent or company representative know that you are unhappy.
If the agent or representative is unable to solve your problem, get the name and phone number of the head of the insurer's claims department. Your insurance company may also have a consumer complaint department that can help.

2.     Be prepared to support your case.
Send documents and a letter explaining why you are not satisfied and make sure you have the figures to back up your argument. Be certain to include your address, claim number, day and evening phone numbers and any other important identifying information.

3.     Review your auto insurance policy.
Most companies offer either arbitration or appraisal services to help settle differences and disputes. Your insurance policy will explain these options.

4.     Contact your state insurance department.
Explain the reasons for the disagreement to a consumer services representative at the department.

5.     Contact an arbitrator to hear your case.
An independent arbitrator with experience in insurance matters can decide if the settlement you were offered is fair. Your insurance company may suggest an arbitrator or you can get your own from the American Arbitration Association at 212-484-4000.

6.     Consult an attorney.
As a last resort, consult an attorney who specializes in auto insurance. Each state’s bar association offers a free legal referral service, which will give you names of qualified candidates. Attorneys work either on an hourly rate or on a contingency basis, depending on the type of case. Get the attorney's fee structure in writing. You can remain current on the progress of your claim by requesting that you receive copies from your attorney of all correspondence. Your attorney must have your agreement before committing to any settlement.

 

After your claim has been settled, take time to re-evaluate your auto insurance coverage to make sure you have adequate protection to cover you against any future damage or liability claims.

Air Bag Safety

 Air bags save thousands of lives each year, according to The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). In frontal crashes, air bags reduce deaths among drivers by about 30 percent and among passengers by 27 percent.

Air bags, however, can be dangerous. If small children sit unbelted in the front seat, they can be catapulted into the path of a deploying air bag, which inflates with great force. This risk also applies to small adults—who must sit close to the steering wheel in order to reach the pedals—pregnant women and the elderly. Infants in rear-facing safety seats on the passenger side can be severely injured because their heads are in the direct path of an inflating air bag. If your airbag is stolen or it deploys, you must get a new one, but you will be reimbursed under the comprehensive portion of your auto insurance policy. 

Preventing air bag injuries

Drivers should have all children sit in the backseat wearing a safety belt. Infants should be placed in rear-facing car seats and put in the backseat. Small adults should move the seat back so that their breastbone is at least 10 inches from the air bag cover.

1.     If this is not possible, air bag switches can be installed so that the vehicle owner has the option of turning the bag off or on, depending on the situation. In January 1998, NHTSA allowed auto dealers and repair shops to begin installing air bag cut-off switches. Before the switch can be installed, vehicle owners must complete a four-step process:
Obtain an information brochure and request form from NHTSA, dealerships or repair shops
Return the form to NHTSA

2.     Receive authorization from NHTSA after it reviews the case

3.     Take the vehicle to the service shop along with the authorization from NHTSA which certifies that the owner has read the brochure and met one of the four eligibility classifications:

  • rear-facing infant seat can be in the front (necessary if the vehicle has no back-seat)
  • driver's seat cannot be adjusted to keep more than 10 inches between the driver and the steering wheel
  • putting a child 12 or under in the front seat can not be avoided
  • having a medical condition that puts them at risk of injury when an air bag deploys.
     
At the Scene of an Accident

Knowing what to do if you are involved in an accident can save lives and also make the claims process easier.

1.     Stop your car and find out if anyone is injured.

2.     Call the police or highway patrol. Tell them how many people were hurt and the types of injuries. The police will notify the nearest medical unit.

3.     Cover injured people with a blanket to keep them warm.

4.     Try to protect the accident scene. Take reasonable steps to protect your car from further damage, such as setting up flares, getting the car off the road and calling a tow truck.

5.     Ask the investigating officer where you can obtain a copy of the police report. You will probably need it when you submit your claim to your insurance company.

6.     If necessary, have the car towed to a repair shop. But remember, your insurance company probably will want to have an adjuster inspect it and appraise the damage before you order repair work done.

7.     Make notes. Keep a pad and pencil in your glove compartment. Write down:

§  the names and addresses of all drivers and passengers involved in the accident

§  license plate numbers

§  the make and model of each car

§  driver's license numbers

§  insurance identifications

§  the names and addresses of witnesses

§  the names and badge numbers of police officers or other emergency personnel.

8.     If you run into an unattended vehicle or object, try to find the owner. If you can't, leave a note containing your name, address and phone number. Record the details of the accident.

Avoiding Deer / Car Collisions

The explosion in the deer population has lead to a continuing increase in deer-car collisions. This trend will only increase as the deer population grows and urban habitats continue to encroach upon rural environments.

According to the National Safety Council, there were 530,000 animal-related accidents in 2003 and these collisions resulted in 100 deaths and 10,000 injuries.

The average cost per insurance claim for collision damage is $2,800, with costs varying depending on the type of vehicle and severity of damage. When you factor in auto claims involving bodily injury, the average rises to $10,000.

Defensive driving tips to avoid hitting a deer.

  • Be especially attentive from sunset to midnight and during the hours shortly before and after sunrise. These are the highest risk times for deer-vehicle collisions.
  • Drive with caution when moving through deer-crossing zones, in areas known to have a large deer population and in areas where roads divide agricultural fields from forestland. Deer seldom run alone. If you see one deer, others may be nearby.
  • When driving at night, use high beam headlights when there is no oncoming traffic. The high beams will better illuminate the eyes of deer on or near the roadway.
  • Slow down and blow your horn with one long blast to frighten the deer away.
  • Brake firmly when you notice a deer in or near your path, but stay in your lane. Many serious crashes occur when drivers swerve to avoid a deer and hit another vehicle or lose control of their cars.
  • Always wear your seat belt. Most people injured in car/deer crashes were not wearing their seat belt.
  • Do not rely on devices such as deer whistles, deer fences and reflectors to deter deer. These devices have not been proven to reduce deer-vehicle collisions.

If your vehicle strikes a deer, do not touch the animal. A frightened and wounded deer can hurt you or further injure itself. The best procedure is to get your car off the road, if possible, and call the police.

Contact your insurance agent or company representative to report any damage to your car. Collision with an animal is covered under the comprehensive portion of your auto insurance policy.

Child Safety Seats

If you have children it's important to make sure they are secured properly when you drive with them. They are almost always safer when riding in the back, in a car seat that is appropriate to their age and weight.

Using a car seat correctly can prevent injuries, but wrong usage is very common. Even a small mistake in how the seat is used can cause serious injury in a crash.

 

Tips to Ensure You Are Using a Child Car Seat Correctly 

1.     Never put an infant in the front seat of a vehicle with a passenger air bag.

2.     Route harness straps in lower slots at or below shoulder level.

3.     Keep harness straps snug and fasten the clip at armpit level.

4.     Make sure the straps lie flat and are not twisted.

5.     Dress your baby in clothes that allow the straps to go between the legs. Adjust the straps to allow for the thickness of your child’s clothes. Do not use bulky clothes that could increase slack in a crash.

6.     To keep your newborn from slouching, pad the sides of the seat and between the child’s legs with rolled up up diapers or receiving blankets.

7.     Put the car seat carrying handle down when in the car.

8.     Infants must ride in the back seat facing the rear of the car. This offers the best protection for your infant’s neck.

9.     Recline the rear-facing seat at a 45-degree angle. If your child’s head flops forward, the seat may not have reclined enough. Tilt the seat back until it is level by wedging firm padding such as a rolled towel, under the front of the base of the seat.

10.   All new car seats are now required to come equipped with top tether straps. A tether strap is a belt that is attached to the car seat and bolted to the window ledge or the floor of the car. They give extra protection and keep the car seat from being thrown forward in a crash. Tether kits are also available for most older car seats. Check with the manufacturer to find out how to get a top tether for your seat. Install it according to instructions. The tether strap may help make some seats that are difficult to install fit more tightly.

Do not use a car seat if any of the following apply:

1.     It is too old. Look on the label for the date it was made. If made before January 1981, the seat may not meet strict safety standards and its parts are too old to be safe. Some manufacturers recommend using seats for only 6 years.

2.     It does not have a label with the date of manufacture and model number. Without these, you cannot check on recalls.

3.     It has been in a crash. If so, it may have been weakened and should not be used, even if it looks all right.

4.     It does not come with instructions. You the instructions to know how to install and use the car seat properly. Do not rely on the former owner’s instructions. Get a copy of the manual from the manufacturer.

5.     It has cracks in the frame of the seat.

6.     It is missing parts. Used seats often come without important parts. Check with the manufacturer to make sure you can get the right parts.

To find out if your child safety seat has been recalled, you can call the Auto Safety Hotline ( 888-DASH-2-DOT ). If the seat has been recalled, be sure to follow the instructions for the recall or to get the necessary parts. You should also get a registration card for future recall notices from the Hotline.

For more information about infant or toddler car seats, go to the Web site of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Also check out the National SafeKids Campaign which offers a free Child Car Seat Locator that allows you to enter your child’s age and weight, and get back a list of recommended car seats. Another good source of information on car seats is the American Academy of Pediatrics Web site, which offers a detailed shopping guide to car seats. 

 

Is your child ready for a regular seat belt?

Keep your child in a car seat for as long as possible. When he or she is big enough, make sure that seat belts in your car fit your child correctly. The shoulder belt should lie across the shoulder, not the neck or throat. The lap belt must be low and flat across the hips, not the stomach. The child’s knees should bend easily over the edge of the vehicle seat. Seat belts are made for adults. If the seat belt does not fit your child correctly, he or she should stay in a booster seat until the belt fits.

Never tuck the shoulder belt under the child’s arm or behind his or her back and use lap belts only as a last resort. Try to get a lap-shoulder belt installed in your car if it doesn’t already have one. If you must use a lap belt, make sure it is worn tight and low on the hips, not across the stomach.

Distracted Driving

Driver distractions or inattentive driving play a part in one out of every four motor vehicle crashes. That is more than 1.5 million collisions a year and 4,300 crashes daily, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Text messaging, changing radio stations, even turning around to talk to passengers can prove deadly.

While cellphones and text messaging cause the most accidents, drivers are also distracted by using PDAs, laptops and navigational aids while driving. Other drivers create a potential hazard because they eat, drink, read, write or groom themselves when their full attention should be on the road in front of them. 

In January 2010, the National Safety Council (NSC) released a report estimating that at least 1.6 million crashes (28 percent of all crashes) are caused each year in the U.S. by drivers talking on cellphones (1.4 million crashes) and texting (200,000 crashes). The estimate is based on data of driver cellphone use from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and research that quantifies the risks using cellphones and texting while driving.

A July 2009 Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study found that texting while driving is far more dangerous than previously estimated. The collision risk became 23 times higher when motorists were texting while driving.

In addition, as of June 2010 eight states (California, Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Utah and Washington State) plus the District of Columbia, ban the use of hand-held cellphones while driving.

Employers May Be Held Liable

Employers are now concerned that they may be held liable for accidents caused by their employees while driving and conducting work-related conversations on cellphones, according to the I.I.I. Under the doctrine of vicarious responsibility, employers may be held legally accountable for the negligent acts of employees committed in the course of employment. Employers may also be found negligent if they fail to put in place a policy for the safe use of cellphones.

 

Consider the following safety tips when driving:

  • Pull Off the Road
    Don’t drive while calling or texting; pull off the road to a safe location.
  • Use Speed Dialing
    Program frequently called numbers and your local emergency number into the speed dial feature of your phone for easy, one-touch dialing. when available, use auto answer or voice-activated dialing. 
  • Never Dial While Driving
    If you must dial manually, do so only when stopped. Pull off the road, or better yet, have a passenger dial for you. 
  • Take a Message
    Let your voice mail pick up your calls in tricky driving situations. It's easy—and safer—to retrieve your messages later on.
  •  Know When to Stop Talking
    Keep conversations on the phone and in the car brief so you can concentrate on your driving. if a long discussion is required, if the topic is stressful or emotional, or if driving becomes hazardous, end your conversation and continue it once you are off the road.
  •  Keep the Phone in Its Holder
    Make sure your phone is securely in its holder when you are not using it so it does not pop out and distract you when you are driving.
  • Don't Take Notes While Driving
    If you need to write something down, use a tape recorder or pull off the road.
  • Don't Eat or Drink While Driving
    Spills, both hot and cold, can easily cause an accident. If you have to stop short, you could also be severely burned.
  •  Groom Yourself At Home
    Shaving, putting on makeup, combing your hair or other forms of preening are distractions and should be done at home, not while driving. 

While everyone should follow these safety rules, it is particularly important to review them carefully with teens when they are first learning to drive. “Teens and Distracted Driving”, a Pew Internet & American Life Project 2009 survey of 800 young people, found that 26 percent of American teens ages 16 to 17 have texted while driving and 43 percent have talked on a cellphone while driving. Forty-eight percent of teens ages 12 to 17 say they have been in a car when the driver was texting and 40 percent say they have been in a car when the driver used a cellphone in a way that put themselves or others in danger.

Driving in Bad Weather

Driving in bad weather is a major cause of accidents. When you are driving, particularly on a long trip, make sure to stay tuned to radio reports about weather conditions. If you hear that an ice storm, hurricane, tornado, flood, hail or other severe weather is expected on the route you are taking or at your intended destination, change your travel plans. Whatever reason you have for going where you are going cannot be as important as saving your life.

If you are already in an area that is being hit by bad weather, don’t try to drive your way out of it. Seek shelter for both you and your car and wait for the storm to pass.

Road Rage

Increasingly crowded highways and traffic backups cause many drivers to lose control and become extremely aggressive.

If you encounter aggressive drivers, don’t challenge them, and stay as far away as possible. You may want to take down the license plate number and report their behavior to police so they won’t hurt themselves or someone else.

Senior Drivers

People 55 years or older are less likely to drive aggressively or too fast. That’s the reason that most insurance companies offer discounts to drivers over 55.

Still, older drivers are more likely to have impaired hearing and slower reflexes, or to be using prescription drugs that might slow down their reaction time. Older drivers’ eyesight deteriorates, so they need more light to see, are more sensitive to glare and have a narrower peripheral field of vision. So if you are having problems driving at night or in difficult conditions, use common sense and try to avoid driving when it is dangerous. If you drive when you are not physically able to do so safely, your insurance company may not renew your coverage. You may also want to take a defensive driving class designed for seniors. Inform your insurer that you have taken the class and you may be eligible for a discount on your insurance premium.

Shopping for a Safe Car

If you’re like most people shopping for a new car, safety ranks high among things you're looking for. Every new car must meet certain federal safety standards, but that doesn’t mean that all cars are equally safe. There are still important safety differences, and some vehicles are safer than others. Many automakers offer safety features beyond the required federal minimums. The following safety features should be considered when purchasing a car:

1.     Crashworthiness
These features reduce the risk of death or serious injury when a crash occurs. You can get a rating of crashworthiness from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Web site.

2.     Vehicle structural design
A good structural design has a strong occupant compartment, known as the safety cage, as well as front and rear ends designed to buckle and bend in a crash to absorb the force of the crash. These crush zones should keep damage away from the safety cage because once the cage starts to collapse, the likelihood of injury increases rapidly.

3.     Vehicle size and weight
The laws of physics dictate that larger and heavier cars are safer than lighter and smaller ones. Small cars have twice as many occupant deaths each year as large cars. In crashes involving smaller and larger vehicles, heavier vehicles drive lighter ones backwards, decreasing the forces inside the heavier car and increasing them in the lighter car.

4.     Restraint systems
Belts, airbags and head restraints all work together with a vehicle’s structure to protect people in serious crashes. Lap/shoulder belts hold you in place, reducing the chance you’ll slam into something hard or get ejected from the crashing vehicle. If you aren’t belted, you’ll continue moving forward until something suddenly stops you—often a hard interior surface that will cause injuries.

§  Shoulder belts are on inertia reels that allow upper body movement during normal driving, but lock during hard braking or in a crash. Belt webbing is stored on the reel, and during a frontal crash any slack in the webbing can allow some forward movement of your upper body. Then you could strike the steering wheel, dashboard or windshield. This problem is addressed in some cars with belt crash tensioners that activate early in a collision to reel in belt slack and prevent some of the forward movement.

§  Airbags and lap/shoulder belts together are very effective. However in some circumstances, a deploying airbag can cause serious injuries and even death. The greatest risk of injury occurs when you are on top of, or very close to an airbag when it starts to inflate. Choose a car that allows you to reach the gas and brake pedals comfortably without sitting too close to the steering wheel. Some cars offer telescoping steering column adjustments that may help.

§  Side airbags are designed principally to protect your chest. They may also keep your head from hitting interior or intruding structures.

§  Head restraints are required in the front seats of all new passenger cars to keep your head from being snapped back, injuring your neck in a rear-end crash. But there are big differences among head restraints. Some are adjustable, and others are fixed. They also vary in height and how far they are set back from the head. To prevent neck injury, a head restraint has to be directly behind and close to the back of your head. Look for cars that have this type of restraint. If the restraints are adjustable, make sure they can be locked into place. Some don’t lock, so they can get pushed down in a crash.

5.     Anti-lock brakes
When you brake hard with conventional brakes, the wheels may lock and cause skidding and a lack of control. Anti-lock brakes pump brakes automatically many times a second to prevent lockup and allow you to keep control of the car. If you were trained to brake gently on slippery roads or pump your brakes to avoid a skid, you may have to unlearn these habits and use hard, continuous pressure to activate your antilock brakes. Anti-lock brakes may help you keep steering control, but they won’t necessarily help you stop more quickly.

6.     Daytime running lights
Daytime running lights are activated by the ignition switch. They are typically high-beam headlights at reduced intensity or low-beam lights at full or reduced power. By increasing the contrast between a vehicle and its backgrounds and making the vehicles more visible to oncoming drivers, these lights can prevent daytime accidents.

7.     On the road experience
Other design characteristics can influence injury risk on the road. Some small utility vehicles and pickups are prone to rolling over. "High performance" cars typically have higher-than-average death rates because drivers are tempted to use excessive speed. Combining a young driver and a high-performance car can be particularly dangerous.

Teenagers and Driving

The first years teenagers spend as drivers are very risky. In fact, teen drivers have the highest death rates of any age group. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, 3,490 teenage drivers died, and 272,000 were injured, in motor vehicle crashes in 2006. Drivers age 15 to 20 accounted for 12.9 percent of all the drivers involved in fatal crashes and 16 percent of all the drivers involved in all police-reported crashes.

Immaturity and lack of driving experience are the two main factors leading to the high crash rates among teens. Even the best teenage drivers don’t have the judgment that comes from experience. It affects their recognition of, and response to, hazardous situations and results in dangerous practices such as speeding and tailgating. They also engage in risky behavior—eating, talking on their cellphones, text messaging, talking to friends in the car—and they often don’t wear their seatbelts.  

While getting a drivers license is an exciting rite-of-passage for teens, it can be enough to make a parent frantic.  Parents should consider the following steps to ensure their teens’ safety:

  • Pick a safe car.
    You and your teenager should choose a car that is easy to drive and would offer protection in the event of a crash. Avoid small cars and those with high performance images that might encourage speed and recklessness. Trucks and sport utility vehicles (SUVs) should also be avoided, since they are more prone to rollovers.
  • Have your teen take a driver’s education course.
    A teenager who has learned to drive through a recognized driver’s education course may be viewed more favorably by insurers. In some states, teens must take a driver’s education course if they want to get a license at age 16; otherwise, they have to wait until they are 18. The more driving practice they have, the more confident your teen will be behind the wheel, and the better able to react to challenging situations on the road.
  • Enroll your teen in a safe driver program.
    Some insurers offer “safe driver” programs. Teen participants in these programs sign contracts stating that they will not, for instance, drink and drive. Check whether your insurance company has such a program—if your teenager completes the program, you may be eligible for a discount. In addition, some insurers now offer discounts for parents and teens who install tracking devices in the car. Parents can monitor their children’s driving with a small global positioning system (GPS) device fastened to the dashboard. The GPS is connected to a Web site that lets parents set limits on their children’s driving. For example, if the car goes over a certain speed, or ventures too far from home or school, the parents will automatically receive a message.
  • Talk to your teen about the dangers of combining driving with alcohol, drugs, lack of sleep and distractions.
    Teach your children about the dangers of drinking and driving, and other distractions. Accidents occur each year because a teen driver was driving while drinking, using a cellphone, text messaging, playing with the radio or CD controls, or talking to friends in the backseat. Also, teens should be careful not to create distractions and to exhibit safe behavior when they are passengers in their friends’ cars.
  • Be a good role model.
    New drivers learn by example, so if you drive recklessly, your teenage driver may imitate you. Always wear your seatbelt and never drink and drive.
  • Institute a graduated drivers license program for your teen.  
    Many states have been successful in reducing teen accidents by enacting graduated drivers license (GDL) legislation. These laws, which include a three-phase program, allow teen drivers to develop more mature driving attitudes and gain experience behind the wheel. New drivers are restricted from certain activities, such as driving with passengers, until they have had their licenses for a set period, such as six months. A number of states have also reduced teen accidents by restricting the amount of time new drivers may be on the road without supervision.

    You can institute the same policies with your own children even if your state does not have such a program. Introduce privileges gradually. Allow independent driving only after continued practice including night driving and driving in inclement weather. Keep in mind, teens do not all reach the appropriate level of maturity to handle a drivers license at the same time. Parents should consider whether teens are easily distracted, nervous or risk takers before allowing them to get a license or even a learners permit.

 You can protect yourself financially and lower the cost of insuring your teen by doing the following:

1.     Talk to your teen about the relationship between having an accident and insurance costs.
Teens often forget that the cost of driving includes auto insurance. Explain to them how a driving infraction or accident can drive up insurance costs.

2.     Shop around.
Insurance companies differ dramatically in how they price policies for young drivers, so spend some time researching prices.

3.     Insure your teen on your own policy.
It is generally less expensive for parents to add teenagers to your insurance policy than for teens to purchase their own.  By insuring your teenager’s car with your insurance company, you can also qualify for a multi-vehicle discount.

4.     Find out how your insurer assigns drivers to cars.
Some insurers will assign the driver who is the most expensive to insure (generally the teenager) to the car that is the most expensive to insure. If possible, assign your teen to the least valuable car. Some insurers will allow policyholders to do this if the number of automobiles equals or exceeds the number of insured drivers on a policy. With this kind of arrangement there can be no exceptions; your teen must use only the car to which he or she is assigned, even in an emergency. If your teen is involved in an accident with an unassigned car, penalties could be imposed and your premiums might increase.

5.     Increase your liability insurance.
Should your teen get into an accident, state minimums for liability insurance will not be enough to fully protect you from lawsuits. Many vehicles today are worth more than $15,000 and medical bills for injuries could easily exceed $20,000 for one person. If your teen is found negligent in an accident and the damages exceed your insurance limits, you will be held financially responsible and can be sued in court for those amounts not covered by your insurance.

Consider an umbrella liability policy. An umbrella policy kicks in when you reach the limit on the underlying liability coverage in a homeowners, renters, condo or auto policy. It will also cover you for things such as libel and slander. For about $150 to $300 per year you can buy a $1 million personal umbrella liability policy. The next million will cost about $75, and $50 for every million after that. Most insurers will want you to have about $250,000 of liability insurance on your auto policy and $300,000 of liability insurance on your homeowners policy before selling you an umbrella liability policy for $1 million of additional coverage.

6.     Raise your deductible.
Going from a $250 to $500 or $1,000 deductible can save you 10 percent to 20 percent on your premium. You can use those savings to increase your liability insurance.

7.     Let your insurer know if your teenager is going away to school.
You may be eligible for lower premiums once your teen heads off to college, providing he or she leaves the car behind. Many insurers will reduce rates for students attending a school at least 100 miles away from home and who do not have a car on campus.

8.     Encourage your teen to get good grades and to take a driver training course.
Most companies will give discounts for getting at least a “B” average in school and for taking a recognized driver training course.

 

Contact your insurance agent when your teen is about to get his or her learners permit. Your agent will explain the costs involved in insuring a teen driver. The good news is, as your teenager gets older, insurance rates will drop—providing he or she has a good driving record.

 

Wiglesworth - Rindom Insurance Agency | 5300 W. Atlantic Ave; Suite 604 - Delray Beach, FL 33483 | 217 SW Akron Ave - Stuart, FL 34994 |
Phone: 561.637.2424
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