WMBF Investigates: The accelerating costs of automobile insurance

WMBF Investigates: The accelerating costs of automobile insurance

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - Aging roads, more cellphones in the hands of more drivers and vehicles that are just more expensive to repair.

These are all factors as to why drivers could be seeing a big increase in their car insurance bill.

This story came about when WMBF News anchor Eric Weisfeld opened his automobile policy renewal and saw it had gone up several hundred dollars.

When he called his agent, he didn't even have to finish the question. The agent already knew why Eric was calling. As she told him, he certainly wasn't alone.

Gordon Mooneyhan tracks the cost of his automobile insurance. Every six months, he watches that cost for coverage rise.

"June of 2017, went up $9 to $435. January 2018, it went up $57 to $493," Mooneyhan said.

In fact, in the past three years, he's seen his insurance premiums go up nearly $200.

It's important to note that Mooneyhan has never had an accident claim in his life. He also hasn't seen a speeding ticket in roughly 15 years. His car is a 2001 Toyota Corolla and he's a low-risk driver.

All of this would seem to make him an ideal candidate to insure. However, according to the companies providing the coverage, that's not the case.

"I called several agents, independent agents, and they've looked and basically they've said I've got the best deal out there, which is kind of frightening," Mooneyhan said.

The Myrtle Beach resident said he's starting to wonder who's in the driver's seat. As he calls company after company, time and time again he's quoted prices he considers sky-high.

Making matters worse is the fact he does food deliveries to make a living. So, if he doesn't have a car, he doesn't have a job.

The Gordon Mooneyhans of the Grand Strand and the Pee Dee are becoming more and more common. Drivers are learning these days that auto policies are getting more expensive and it's often due to no fault of their own.

So what's driving up the numbers? Industry experts say there are many factors.

"More people are employed right now, which is a good thing, but more people are driving to and from work," said Russ Dubisky, executive director of the South Carolina Insurance Association. "With more jobs being located in the metro areas, we're seeing more and more commuters going to and from work during high-traffic times of the day like rush hour. That's leading to more incidents."

Kathy Duffy, with Southeastern Alliance Underwriters, has sold auto policies for 25 years. She said that with tourists and retirees flocking to the area and infrastructure that she believes isn't able to handle the crowds, it's no wonder premiums are going up.

"The additional traffic, you're going to have crashes. People are distracted. They're looking at their cellphones, they're maybe at the end of a 10-hour drive. Their kids are in the back seat acting up. There's all kinds of distractions," Duffy said. "All you have to do is take your eyes off the road for a minute and a line of traffic ahead of you stops and that's it, you're in a crash."

Industry analysts say they're seeing about an 8.2 percent increase in claims in South Carolina in just the past year.

Then there is exactly where a driver lives, which is also a factor. Insurance companies break areas down into "territories."

"Those territories might be different from company to company and there's also an element that might be more aggregated statewide," Dubisky said. "The cost of medical care and the cost of replacing or repairing vehicles are the biggest drivers that we see impacting the price of auto insurance right now."

It seems while technological advances in the auto industry are increasing safety, when crashes do occur, automobile parts are much more expensive to replace.

The question now becomes what can people do to make sure they're getting the best price.

Perhaps the most sound advice is to shop around. Duffy said find an agent who can do the work for you.

"We have multiple carriers. That's the good thing about an independent agent, we have all different carriers we do business with," Duffy said. "We know where you're going to fit, who rates you on this. If you have an accident that's almost five years old, we know who's not going to count that in your rate."

Drivers should also consider putting a chip in their car. It can track where and when a person drives and if they brake hard or accelerate hard. Safe drivers who don't drive a lot can save 5 percent with the chip. That can increase to up to 30 percent after a period of time.

Bundling can also help.

"We can get you multi-policy discounts. Those are real important," Duffy said. "There are real nice discounts, so you're smart to have all your business with one agency."

Mooneyhan said bundling isn't an option for him, as he finds it difficult to find a company that will insure the mobile home he calls home.

He says it's also tough to locate a company that will cover a driver who uses their car for their job. It's more obstacles that could lead to a dead end for Mooneyhan and his days of driving.

"And I enjoy working, you know," he said. "I don't believe in retirement but it's going to reach a point that I'm going to have to say the heck with it and apply for Social Security or something."

Industry experts say they're confident there will be a light at the end of the tunnel, that rising prices should peak once infrastructure improves and technological advances in the automobile industry have caught up with the independent car repair shops.

The question is how far down the road are they talking? That's anyone's guess.

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