New safety technologies can reduce accident rates, but your insurance costs may be going up, not down, because of them.
Although it would seem intuitive that the $1,695 EyeSight active safety package on a new Subaru Forester would save a customer money on their auto insurance, it may not.
The Subaru system includes Forward Collision Prevention and Emergency Auto-Braking. These systems were proven in a study by IIHS to reduce the chances one will be in an accident, and logic follows, that will save money on repairs and medical bills overall.
Yet in some states, a new Subaru owner who buys this expensive technology may not enjoy any savings on their auto insurance. In fact, pricey safety systems may be causing insurance rates to climb due to the high cost to repair and service the high-tech systems.
BestRide reached out to three of the top insurers in Massachusetts to see if adding the proven safety technology would save an owner on their insurance premium.
First, we reached out to Safety Insurance via their agent network. Despite the name, Safety Insurance does not offer a discount for Forward Collision Prevention with Auto Emergency Braking.
Next, we tried Mapfre Insurance (Formerly Commerce Insurance), the largest insurer in the state and well-known for their helpful roadside assistance vans.
Mapfre’s media contact offered this statement; “We don’t have anything to add to the story at this time. Please reach out for future requests, as we’re always happy to try and participate.” We will take that as a “no” for safety-equipment discounts.
Liberty Mutual is the second largest insurer in Massachusetts and does business across the U.S. Realizing that the state may be part of the reason discounts were not available, we asked Liberty Mutual to comment on the topic in general, not specifically about discounts in Massachusetts.
Spokesperson Glenn Greenberg offered this: “Innovative advances in vehicle safety give our customers more opportunity to save on their insurance premiums. Liberty Mutual Insurance offers discounts for various electronic safety features; such as Adaptive Cruise Control, Adaptive Headlights, Collision Preparation Systems (including automatic braking), Blind Spot Warning, Lane Departure Warning and Rear-View Cameras. These advanced features are designed to reduce the risk of collision, which would translate to a lesser likelihood of an insurance claim.” So there is some hope for drivers in some states that discounts may be available.
Realizing that we needed a peek behind the curtain and that insurance companies will not be nailed down on discounts unless one has a specific vehicle to insure in a specific state (town actually), we reached out to DMV.ORG’s Head of Marketing, Jeff Lerner. DMV.ORG is a resource for people looking for information on all aspects of vehicle ownership. The site has examples of factors that do affect one’s insurance rates.
These factors include marital status, occupation (doctors pay more if you can believe that), and your credit score. Mr. Lerner offered insight into why some insurers in some states may not offer discounts for safety systems. Lerner told us, “Most cars these days have a fair number of standard safety features that are incorporated into insurance companies’ rating engines, because they have been proven to both help reduce the number of auto accidents, as well as protect the bottom line.”
Lerner then added, “As for the relatively newer safety options, we are probably looking at situations where either the insurance companies aren’t quite yet comfortable enough to incorporate the new technologies into their rating systems, or they have determined that the new safety options do not significantly increase safety (i.e. reduce accidents) and therefore do not warrant premium reductions. We assume, with the industry insight that we have, the former is likely the case.”
Mr. Lerner also confirmed a suspicion we had that the pricey systems incorporated into our wheels, bumpers, mirrors, and windshields may be causing insurance costs to rise due to the high cost to service or replace them in an accident. Lerner said, “Generally speaking, the more features a car has, the more expensive it is to fix.”
We followed this line of reasoning up and discovered that The Boston Globe reported exactly that in a recent story about rising insurance costs, in which it said: “Rates are also being pushed up by rising healthcare costs for car crash victims and the fact that cars are now packed with expensive-to-repair technology.”
BestRide reached out to two trusted automotive service contacts we maintain to verify if this could be the case. First, we spoke with Doug Blake, owner and operator of Medfield Tire and Battery. We asked Mr. Blake if it might be true that safety equipment might cause higher costs for insurance. Blake pointed out that in the case of the Subaru Forester we used as an example, it is definitely a factor, as he must purchase a special tool that allows him to program the tire pressure monitoring system to read the sensor in each wheel of a Subaru. He told us his cost for these manufacturer-specific devices cost him thousands of dollars.
Next, we spoke to Junior Damato, owner of Junior’s Automotive, and the man behind the “Ask the Doctor” car care Q&A series published in numerous journals. Damato confirmed Blake’s comments about special tools, but added as a general repair facility, his shop’s safety-related special tools go way beyond those related to tires. He maintains a collection of special tools used for computers, cameras and other safety devices that he estimates have cost him six figures over the years.
Damato also pointed out that some new camera-based systems are too new and too costly for his shop to handle solo, requiring that for some repairs must be addressed by a dealer. Damato pointed to the side mirror of a car we were standing near as we spoke. He said that unlike an older mirror, which maybe had a small device that would move it, the new vehicle had a blind-spot safety monitor built in. “Take that mirror off in a minor crash and you could be talking thousands of dollars in repair costs.”
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