The price of auto insurance is once again increasing for Massachusetts drivers, and insurers are laying the blame squarely on technology.
Drivers distracted by their smartphones are crashing their cars more often, and those cars are now more expensive to repair because they’re loaded with sensors and devices.
The inevitable result: higher premiums for consumers, even for those who have not had accidents lately.
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“If you have sticker shock, don’t be surprised,” said James Lynch, vice president of research at Insurance Information Institute, a New York-based industry group. “It’s a phenomenon. A number of companies have increased rates.”
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“I talk to my local body shop and I know how busy they are,” James said. It’s inevitable that insurers would pass that cost to consumers, she said.
Mapfre USA Corp., which formerly was the Commerce Group and which has more than 1 million policy holders in Massachusetts, plans to raise premiums by nearly 4 percent starting in May. “We are continuously evaluating our rate level to ensure that we are able to keep up with the increasing cost of accidents and balancing that with providing a very competitive product,” said Patrick McDonald, executive vice president of business and clients at Mapfre, the largest auto insurer in Massachusetts.
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But in addition to the increase in claims, insurers had also been waging a fierce battle for customers by offering lower rates, which has resulted in them collecting less in premiums. And the long period of low interest rates has not helped, as it limits returns on investments that insurers use to cushion business ups and downs.
Insurance specialists said it is difficult to peg just how much distracted driving — specifically mobile phone use — contributes to rising accident claims. They say drivers who have had accidents are reluctant to admit they were texting or using their phones at the time.
Still, it’s clear that drivers are spending plenty of time on their mobile devices while behind the wheel.
TrueMotion is a Boston company that makes an app to track how much drivers use their phones. In its most recent data covering 18,000 users, TrueMotion found that drivers spent 20 percent of every trip on a call, holding their phone, or texting and scrolling through social media.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said fatalities attributed to distracted driving, which includes texting, fiddling with GPS, even eating, increased by 8.8 percent in 2015, the latest year available
Across the nation, between 2014 to 2016, the frequency of collision claims rose by 2.6 percent, after years of decreases, and their severity, or cost, increased by 8 percent, according to the Insurance Information Institute.
A decade ago, companies spent 98 cents on claims and medical costs for every $1 in premiums; in 2015 the industry spent $1.05 for every $1 they took in, according to the insurance research group.
“Insurers will need to adjust their pricing to reflect this new reality,” said Mapfre’s McDonald.