Monday, February 4, 2008

Coverage levels

Vehicle insurance can cover some or all of the following items:

-The insured party
-The insured vehicle
-Third parties
Different policies specify the circumstances under which each item is covered. For example, a vehicle can be insured against theft, fire damage, or accident damage independently.

An excess payment, also known as a deductible, is the fixed contribution you must pay each time your car is repaired through your car insurance policy. Normally the payment is made directly to the accident repair garage when you collect the car. If one's car is declared to be a write off, the insurance company will deduct the excess agreed on the policy from the settlement payment it makes to you.

If the accident was the other driver's fault, and this is accepted by the third party's insurer, you'll be able to reclaim your excess payment from the other person's insurance company. If the other driver is uninsured, a policy's minimum limits include coverage for the uninsured/underinsured motorist(s) at fault.

Compulsory Excess
A compulsory excess is the minimum excess payment your insurer will accept on your insurance policy. Minimum excesses vary according to your personal details, driving record and insurance company.

Voluntary Excess
In order to reduce your insurance premium, you may offer to pay a higher excess than the compulsory excess demanded by your insurance company. Your voluntary excess is the extra amount over and above the compulsory excess that you agree to pay in the event of a claim on the policy. As a bigger excess reduces the financial risk carried by your insurer, your insurer is able to offer you a significantly lower premium.

Public policy

In many countries it is compulsory to purchase auto insurance before driving on public roads. In the United States, penalties for not purchasing auto insurance vary by state, but often involve a substantial fine, license and/or registration suspension or revocation, as well as possible jail time in some states. Usually, the minimum required by law is third party insurance to protect third parties against the financial consequences of loss, damage or injury caused by a vehicle. Typically, coverage against loss of or damage to the driver's own vehicle is optional - one notable exception to this is in Saskatchewan, where SGI provides collision coverage (less than a $700 deductible, such as a collision damage waiver) as part of its basic insurance policy. In South Australia Third Party Personal insurance from the State Government Insurance Corporation (SGIC) is included in the license registration fee. South Africa allocates a percentage of the money from petrol into the Road Accidents Fund, which goes towards compensating third parties in accidents.[1] Most countries relate insurance to both the car and the driver, however the degree of each varies greatly.

In the United States, auto insurance is compulsory in most states, though enforcement of the requirement varies from state to state. The state of New Hampshire, for example, does not require motorists to carry liability insurance, while in Virginia residents must pay the state a $500 annual fee per vehicle if they choose not to buy liability insurance.[2]

A 1994 study by Jeremy Jackson and Roger Blackman[3] showed, consistent with the risk homeostasis theory, that increased accident costs caused large and significant reductions in accident frequencies.

Basis of premium charges

Main article: auto insurance risk selection
Depending on the jurisdiction, the insurance premium can be either mandated by the government or determined by the insurance company in accordance to a framework of regulations set by the government. Often, the insurer will have more freedom to set the price on physical damage coverages than on mandatory liability coverages.

When the premium is not mandated by the government, it is usually derived from the calculations of an actuary based on statistical data. The premium can vary depending on many factors that are believed to have an impact on the expected cost of future claims.[4] Those factors can include the car characteristics, the coverage selected (deductible, limit, covered perils), the profile of the driver (age, gender, driving history) and the usage of the car (commute to work or not, predicted annual distance driven).[5][6]

Men average more miles driven per year than women do, and have a proportionally higher accident involvement at all ages. Insurance companies cite women's lower accident involvement in keeping the youth surcharge lower for young women drivers than for their male counterparts, but adult rates are generally unisex. Reference to the lower rate for young women as "the women's discount" has caused confusion that was evident in news reports on a recently defeated EC proposal to make it illegal to consider gender in assessing insurance premiums.[7] Ending the discount would have made no difference to most women's premiums.

Teenage drivers who have no driving record will have higher car insurance premiums. However young drivers are often offered discounts if they undertake further driver training on recognised courses, such as the Pass Plus scheme in the UK. In the U.S. many insurers offer a good grade discount to students with a good academic record and resident student discounts to those who live away from home. Generally insurance premiums tend to become lower at the age of 25. Senior drivers are often eligible for retirement discounts reflecting lower average miles driven by this age group.

Some car insurance plans do not differentiate in regard to how much the car is used. However, methods of differentiation would include:

Reasonable estimation
Several car insurance plans rely on a reasonable estimation of the average annual distance expected to be driven which is provided by the insured. This discount benefits drivers who drive their cars infrequently but has no actuarial value since it is unverified.

Odometer-based systems
Cents Per Mile Now[8](1986) advocates classified odometer-mile rates. After the company's risk factors have been applied and the customer has accepted the per-mile rate offered, customers buy prepaid miles of insurance protection as needed, like buying gallons of gasoline. Insurance automatically ends when the odometer limit (recorded on the car’s insurance ID card) is reached unless more miles are bought. Customers keep track of miles on their own odometer to know when to buy more. The company does no after-the-fact billing of the customer, and the customer doesn't have to estimate a "future annual mileage" figure for the company to obtain a discount. In the event of a traffic stop, an officer could easily verify that the insurance is current by comparing the figure on the insurance card to that on the odometer.

Critics point out the possibility of cheating the system by odometer tampering. Although the newer electronic odometers are difficult to roll back, they can still be defeated by disconnecting the odometer wires and reconnecting them later. However, as the Cents Per Mile Now website points out: "As a practical matter, resetting odometers requires equipment plus expertise that makes stealing insurance risky and uneconomical. For example, in order to steal 20,000 miles of continuous protection while paying for only the 2,000 miles from 35,000 miles to 37,000 miles on the odometer, the resetting would have to be done at least nine times to keep the odometer reading within the narrow 2,000-mile covered range. There are also powerful legal deterrents to this way of stealing insurance protection. Odometers have always served as the measuring device for resale value, rental and leasing charges, warranty limits, mechanical breakdown insurance, and cents-per-mile tax deductions or reimbursements for business or government travel. Odometer tampering—detected during claim processing—voids the insurance and, under decades-old state and federal law, is punishable by heavy fines and jail."

Under the cents-per-mile system, rewards for driving less are delivered automatically without need for administratively cumbersome and costly GPS technology. Uniform per-mile exposure measurement for the first time provides the basis for statistically valid rate classes. Insurer premium income automatically keeps pace with increases or decreases in driving activity, cutting back on resulting insurer demand for rate increases and preventing today's windfalls to insurers when decreased driving activity lowers costs but not premiums.

GPS-based system
In 1998, Progressive Insurance started a pilot program in Texas in which volunteers installed a GPS-based technology called Autograph in exchange for a discount. The device tracked their driving behavior and reported the results via cellular phone to the company.[9] Policyholders were reportedly more upset about having to pay for the expensive device than they were over privacy concerns.[10]

In 1996, Progressive filed for and obtained a US patent (US patent 5,797134) on their process. Progressive has also filed corresponding patent applications in Europe and Japan. UK auto insurer, Norwich Union, has obtained an exclusive license to Progressive's European patent application. They have recently completed a successful pilot test of the technology and it is now available commercially under the tradename "Pay As You Drive™"[11]

Recent theoretical economic research on the social welfare effects of Progressive's telematics technology business process patents have questioned whether the business process patents are Pareto efficient for society. Premliminary results suggest that they are not, but more work is needed. [12] [13]

OBDII-based system
In 2004, Progressive launched another pilot program to allow policyholders to earn a discount on their premiums by consenting to use its TripSense device. TripSense connects to a car's OnBoard Diagnostic(OBD-II) port, which exists in all cars built after 1996. The discount is forfeited if the device is disconnected for a significant amount of time.[14]

Auto Insurance in the United States

Coverage Available
The consumer may be protected with different coverage types depending on what coverage the insured purchases.

In the United States, liability insurance covers claims against the policy holder and generally, any other operator of the insured vehicles provided, do not live at the same address as the policy holder, and are not specifically excluded on the policy. In the case of those living at the same address, they must specifically be covered on the policy. Thus it is necessary for example, when a family member comes of driving age they must be added on to the policy. Liability insurance sometimes does not protect the policy holder if they operate any vehicles other than their own. When you drive a vehicle owned by another party, you are covered under that party’s policy. Non-owners policies may be offered that would cover an insured on any vehicle they drive. This coverage is available only to those who do not own their own vehicle and is sometimes required by the government for drivers who have previously been found at fault in an accident.

Generally, liability coverage extends when you rent a car. Comprehensive policies ("full coverage") usually also apply to the rental vehicle, although this should be verified beforehand. Full coverage premiums are based on, among other factors, the value of the insured’s vehicle. This coverage, however, cannot apply to rental cars because the insurance company does not want to assume responsibility for a claim greater than the value of the insured’s vehicle, assuming that a rental car may be worth more than the insured’s vehicle. Most rental car companies offer insurance to cover damage to the rental vehicle. These policies may be unnecessary for many customers as credit card companies, such as Visa and MasterCard, now provide supplemental collision damage coverage to rental cars if the transaction is processed using one of their cards. These benefits are restrictive in terms of the types of vehicles covered.[15]

Liability coverage provides a fixed dollar amount of coverage for damages that an insured driver becomes legally liable to pay due to an accident or other negligence. For example, if an insured driver drives into a telephone pole and damages the pole, liability coverage pays for the damage to the pole. In this example, the drivers insured may also become liable for other expenses related to damaging the telephone pole, such as loss of service claims (by the telephone company).

Liability coverage is available either as a combined single limit policy, or as a split limit policy:

Combined Single Limit
A combined single limit combines property damage liability coverage and bodily injury coverage under one single combined limit. For example, an insured driver with a combine single liability limit strikes another vehicle and injures the driver and the passenger. Payments for the damages to the other driver's car, as well as payments for injury claims for the driver and passenger, would be paid out under this same coverage.

Split Limits
A split limit liability coverage policy splits the coverages into property damage coverage and bodily injury coverage. In the example given above, payments for the other driver's vehicle would be paid out under property damage coverage, and payments for the injuries would be paid out under bodily injury coverage.

Bodily injury liability coverage is also usually split as well into a maximum payment per person and a maximum payment per accident.

Collision coverage provides coverage for an insured's vehicle that is involved in an accident, subject to a deductible. This coverage is designed to provide payments to repair the damaged vehicle, or payment of the cash value of the vehicle if it is not repairable. Collision coverage is optional. Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) is the term used by rental car companies for collision coverage.

Comprehensive (a.k.a. - Other Than Collision) coverage provides coverage, subject to a deductible, for an insured's vehicle that is damaged by incidents that are not considered Collisions. For example, fire, theft (or attempted theft), vandalism, weather, or impacts with animals are just some types of Comprehensive losses.

Uninsured/Underinsured Coverage
Underinsured coverage, also known as UM/UIM, provides coverage if another at-fault party either does not have insurance, or does not have enough insurance. In effect, your insurance company acts as at fault party's insurance company.

In the United States, the definition of an uninsured/underinsured motorist, and corresponding coverages, are set by state laws.

Loss of Use
Loss of Use coverage, also known as rental coverage, provides reimbursement for rental expenses associated with having an insured vehicle repaired due to a covered loss.

Loan/Lease Payoff
Loan/Lease Payoff coverage, also known as GAP coverage or GAP insurance,[16][17] was established in the early 1980's to provide protection to consumers based upon buying and market trends.

Due to the sharp decline in value immediately following purchase, there is generally a period in which the amount owed on the car loan exceeds the value of the vehicle, which is called "upside-down" or negative equity. Thus, if the vehicle is damaged beyond economical repair at this point, the owner will still owe potentially thousands of dollars on the loan. The escalating price of cars, longer-term auto loans, and the increasing popularity of leasing gave birth to GAP protection. GAP waivers provide protection for consumers when a "gap" exists between the actual value of their vehicle and the amount of money owed to the bank or leasing company. In many instances, this insurance will also pay the deductible on the primary insurance policy. These policies are often offered at the auto dealership as a comparatively low cost add on that can be put into the car loan which provides coverage for the duration of the loan.

Consumers should be aware that a few states, including New York, require lenders of leased cars to include GAP insurance within the cost of the lease itself. This means that the monthly price quoted by the dealer must include GAP insurance, whether it is delineated or not. Nevertheless, unscrupulous dealers sometimes prey on unsuspecting individuals by offering them GAP insurance at an additional price, on top of the monthly payment, without mentioning the State's requirements.

In addition, some vendors and insurance companies offer what is called "Total Loss Coverage." This is similar to ordinary GAP insurance but differs in that instead of paying off the negative equity on a vehicle that is a total loss, the policy provides a certain amount, usually up to $5000, toward the purchase or lease of a new vehicle. Thus, to some extent the distinction makes no difference, i.e., in either case the owner receives a certain sum of money. However, in choosing which type of policy to purchase, the owner should consider whether, in case of a total loss, it is more advantageous for him or her to have the policy pay off the negative equity or provide a down payment on a new vehicle.

For example, assuming a total loss of a vehicle valued at $15,000, but on which the owner owes $20,000, is the "gap" of $5000. If the owner has traditional GAP coverage, the "gap" will be wiped out and he or she may purchase or lease another vehicle or choose not to. If the owner has "Total Loss Coverage," he or she will have to personally cover the "gap" of $5000, and then receive $5000 toward the purchase or lease of a new vehicle, thereby either reducing monthly payments, in the case of financing or leasing, or the total purchase price in the case of outright purchasing. So the decision on which type of policy to purchase will, in most instances, be informed by whether the owner can pay off the negative equity in case of a total loss and/or whether he or she will definitively purchase a replacement vehicle.

Car Towing Insurance
Car Towing coverage is also known as Roadside Assistance coverage. Traditionally, automobile insurance companies have agreed to only pay for the cost of a tow that is related to an accident that is covered under the automobile policy of insurance. This had left a gap in coverage for tows that are related to mechanical breakdowns, flat tires and gas outages. To fill that void, insurance companies started to offer the Car Towing coverage, which pays for non-accident related tows.

European Union and United Kingdom Laws regarding motor insurance

In 1930, the UK government introduced a law that required every person who used a vehicle on the road to have at least third party personal injury insurance. Today UK law is defined by the The Road Traffic Act which was last modified in 1991.

The Act requires all motorists to be insured against their liability for injuries to others (including passengers) and for damage to other persons' property resulting from use of a vehicle on a public road or in other public places. This is called Third Party Insurance. It is an offense to drive your car, or allow others to drive it, without at least Third Party insurance whilst on the public highway, on private land no such legislation applies.

The insurance certificate or cover note issued by the insurance company constitutes legal evidence that the vehicle specified on the document is indeed insured. The law says that an authorised person, such as the police, may require a driver to produce an insurance certificate for inspection. If the driver cannot show the document immediately on request, then the driver will usually be issued a HORT/1 with seven days, as of midnight of the date of issue, to take a valid insurance certificate (and usually other driving documents as well) to a police station of the driver's choice. Failure to produce an insurance certificate is an offense.

Insurance is more expensive in Northern Ireland than in other parts of the UK.

Motorists in the UK are required to display a Vehicle excise duty disc in their car when it is kept or driven on public roads. This helps to ensure that most people have adequate insurance on their vehicles because you are required to produce an insurance certificate when you purchase the disc. However it is a known practice for some people to purchase insurance to gain the certificate and then to cancel the insurance and gain a full refund within the statutory 14 day cooling off period.

The Motor Insurers Bureau compensates the victims of road accidents caused by uninsured and untraced motorists. It also operates the Motor Insurance Database, which contains details of every insured vehicle in the country.