Car Insurance Rates Hurt
According to 2001 figures, the latest available, auto insurance rates in New York state are the second highest in the region and the country. At an average of $1,015 per year the price of insuring a car in New York is second only to New Jersey, which comes in at $1,028 per year. A lobbyist for the New York chapter of the American Automobile Association noted that insuring a vehicle can cost as much as financing one.
The figures are outdated—and far lower than actual insurance costs as well. Dozens of rate hikes, many in double digits, were approved for individual insurance companies by the state Insurance department in 2002, for example—increases that the 2001 numbers do not show. Nor do the 2001 figures take into account the fact that the state surcharge of $1 was increased to $3 per policy in the current state budget.
New York drivers also pay the highest amount in the nation for liability insurance, a fact which the insurance industry attributes to an explosion of fraudulent claims. Rate increases are blamed on rising medical costs and fraud within the state’s no-fault personal injury structure. A spokesperson for the state Insurance Department claimed that both Governor George Pataki and state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer have implemented changes in their office to combat auto insurance fraud, but insurance industry sources claim these efforts have had little effect on the situation.
Soaring auto insurance rates are bad news for drivers and pedestrians alike. Uninsured drivers are less likely to have had any kind of driver training, less likely to be aware of laws governing vehicle operation and more likely to have accidents, from minor fender-benders to major fatalities. Pedestrians are likely to be at greater risk, as cars driven more carelessly are likely to have more close and painful encounters with pedestrians in crosswalks from speeding drivers who run lights and on sidewalks from vehicles which have gone out of control.
Queens is likely to be especially hard hit by rising insurance rates which will in turn, lead to more motorists illegally driving without insurance. The largest of all five boroughs geographically, Queens is also woefully underserved by mass transportation. Vast areas of the borough are served only by a few bus routes operated by private companies. The transport of necessity in much of the borough is the "black car" livery cab. Many livery drivers own their vehicles and in light of the cost of fuel, oil, transmission ad wndhield washer fluid and keeping their cars clean and in moderately good repair are just breaking even. Many of them will of necessity be driving without insurance—a recipe for disaster for drivers and their passengers both. Drivers of the so-called "dollar vans" are in the same leaky boat. A frequent charge leveled against this cottage industry by the companies who run express buses along the same routes is that these vans are poorly maintained and if insured at all, do not carry sufficient coverage to adequately compensate drivers and passengers in case of an accident.
For the past three years the governor and state lawmakers have been unable to agree on a package of legislation intended to reform insurance costs. Plainly the time for such reform is now at hand, and the need is more urgent than ever. More and more cars are driven on New York state roadways every year, yet fewer and fewer drivers can afford insurance. Cars are not, as was once maintained in some quarters, the toy of the wealthy. In much of Queens and New York City, as well as the rest of the state and the country, they are essential tools for economic survival.
The cost of insuring a vehicle, be it a sports car, a family sedan, a limousine, a van or a truck, must not exceed the vehicle’s finance payments. To ensure the safety of drivers, passengers and pedestrians, car insurance in New York state must be made affordable to all as soon as possible. Failing to do so will only drive up the cost of owning and operating a car to the point where many drivers will be faced with the unenviable choice of driving without insurance or not driving at all. It is a choice no driver should ever have to make.