- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 15, 2003

Owners of sport utility vehicles are starting to pay higher insurance rates because of the damage they inflict on other vehicles in accidents.
"It makes sense," said Bob Hunter, insurance director for the Consumer Federation of America. "If a tank hits a glass, the glass comes out worse."
Insurance companies often charge rates based on the amount of damage vehicles are likely to incur.
But given the growing popularity of SUVs and the number of claims they generate, their owners are being charged for the damage most likely to result from collisions with these vehicles.
Cars incur on average about 10 percent to 15 percent more damage than SUVs when they collide, Mr. Hunter said.
Collisions between cars and light trucks which include SUVs, pickups, minivans and vans accounted for 48 percent of two-vehicle fatal crashes in which cars were involved in 2001, according to the National Highway Safety Transportation Administration. Light trucks were involved in 35 percent of all fatal accidents.
The safety of SUVs is one reason that they make up 21 percent of new-vehicle sales.
Passengers ride higher in them than in cars and are protected behind the SUVs' greater bulk and weight.
"The evidence that Allstate and other insurance companies looked atsays the laws of physics work," Mr. Hunter said. "The people inside an SUV come out better in an accident, and people inside a passenger car come out worse."
The insurers say higher liability premiums for SUV owners make them pay their fair shares for the damage they inflict.
The issue is likely to become a greater concern for vehicle owners as sales of SUVs rise. In 2001, light trucks outsold passenger cars for the first time, making up 51 percent of the market.
"There have been more studies recently about SUVs," said P.J. Crowley, vice president of the Insurance Information Institute, a trade organization for the insurance industry. "Insurers are beginning to recognize that SUVs represent additional risks. More and more, buying an SUV will result in higher insurance costs for the consumer."
The institute recommends that SUV owners shop around for insurance policies.
"The experience can vary state to state, company to company," Mr. Crowley said. "It could well add 10 to 20 percent to the cost of your insurance bill."
SUV owners sometimes get discounts on medical premiums, but they are not enough to offset the higher liability premiums. Liability insurance makes up about 40 percent of automobile insurance, while medical insurance accounts for 10 percent.
Two years ago, Allstate Insurance began charging the higher liability premiums for SUV owners. They, however, can get as much as a 15 percent discount on medical insurance if their vehicles have adequate safety equipment.
State Farm Insurance, which is the nation's largest automobile insurer, with 40 million policyholders, is evaluating the possibility of different rates for larger vehicles, such as SUVs.
Officials at Progressive Casualty Insurance Co. say their rates are too individualized to conclude that SUV owners generally pay higher rates.
"Across the board, there is no rule," said Leslie Kolleda, spokeswoman for Progressive. "It's not an SUV thing. We charge appropriately based on our previous claims experience."
This story is based in part on wire service reports.


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