Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Vehicle insurance (or Auto insurance, car insurance, motor insurance) is insurance consumers can purchase for cars, trucks, and other vehicles. Its primary use is to provide protection against losses incurred as a result of traffic accidents. An insurance company may declare a vehicle totally destroyed ('totaled' or 'a write-off') if it appears replacement would be cheaper than repair.


Coverage levels
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.


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 a $700 deductible) 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.Most countries relate insurance to both the car and the driver, however the degree of each varies greatly.


Basis of premium charges
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.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).


Gender
Several insurance companies offer a lower premium to female drivers as statistically they are involved in fewer accidents. UK statistics show that men consistently committed more than 85% of serious motoring offences, including 97% of dangerous driving offences. This is one of many factors affecting premiums. However, an EC proposal would make it illegal to consider gender in assessing insurance premiums.


Age
Teen 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 U.K. 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.


Distance
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(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 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.Policyholders were reportedly more upset about having to pay for the expensive device than they were over privacy concerns.
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™"

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.

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’s vehicle, provided they 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 generally 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 does extend when you rent a car. However, in most cases only liability applies. Any additional coverage, such as comprehensive policies, i.e. “full coverage” may not apply. Full coverage premiums are based on, among other factors, the value of the insured’s vehicle. This coverage may not 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.


Liability
Liability coverage provides a fixed dollar amount of coverage for damages that an insured becomes legally liable to pay due to an accident or other negligence. For example, if an insured drives into a telephone pole and damages the pole, liability coverage pays for the damage to the pole. In this example, the insured also may 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 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.
Note that bodily injury liability coverage is also usually split as well into a maximum payment per person and a maximum payment per accident.


Collision
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 Damage Waiver (CDW) is optional.


Comprehensive
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
Uninsured/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 the state you reside in.


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,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 totalled at this point, the owner will still owe money 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.

Car Towing Insurance
Car towing insurance is a misnomer. It provides road-side assistance (usually in the form of a tow) for drivers who run out of gas, have a mechanical breakdown, or flats. Note that most insurance companies cover towing costs for a non-driveable covered vehicle involved in an accident under collision coverage.


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 offence to drive your car, or allow others to drive it, without at least Third Party insurance.
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 offence.
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.


Automobile/Motor Insurance in other countries
The Insurance Services Network provides a listing of countries and their corresponding coverage requirements. Country Insurance Information