Mich. drivers face steep insurance hikes for violations

Keith Laing
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Correction: The chart accompanying this story has been updated to correct the rate of premium increases for Michigan drivers. 

Washington  — Michigan ranks in the top five among states for auto insurance rate increases for drivers who are convicted of traffic offenses like speeding, reckless driving and drunken driving, according to a new study conducted by insuranceQuotes.com.

The finding, included in insuranceQuotes’ third annual Moving Violations report, shows Michigan drivers who are found guilty of speeding by more than 31 mph above posted limits are charged an average of 49.73 percent more for their car insurance after the violation is attached to their driving records.

Drivers who are convicted of reckless driving, meanwhile, pay an average of 116.43 percent more for their auto insurance, and drivers who are charged with operating while intoxicated are hit with increases of 119.58 percent, according to the study.

Michigan ranked second, third and fifth among states for the highest increases in the country.

Kevin Bessant, of Detroit, is a criminal defense attorney. He said traffic violations like the ones that were included in the study are a “high volume area” of his practice.

“I get a lot of reckless driving cases, although usually I can plead those down,” he said. “I can see why insurance companies [don’t want to] take the hit for the customer. Those are the violations that get the highest points on your license.”

Bessant operates the Kevin Bessant & Associates PLLC law firm in Detroit. He said he handles an average of 30 to 40 drunken driving cases and 100 speeding cases per year. He also argues about 30 to 50 reckless driving cases per year, which he said is “pretty average” for a defense attorney in Metro Detroit.

Bessant, who is African-American, said that the demographics of cities like Detroit could also be playing a role in Michigan’s high ranking in auto insurance increases for moving violations.

“The Metro area has had a history of being red-lined by insurance companies,” he said. “Detroit has always had a higher rate than other cities. You have good drivers who are paying off the backs of bad drivers, depending on their ZIP codes.”

Rebecca Atkinson, 43, of Detroit, is an Allstate Insurance agent. She attributed Michigan’s high placement on the rate increase rankings for moving violations to the fact that it is a “no-fault” auto insurance state. That means drivers are required to carry liability coverage for accidents in which the other driver is blamed for the collision. Those plans usually cover damage to a driver’s vehicle no matter who is at fault in a crash.

Atkinson said most other states have at-fault auto insurance laws where drivers have the option of selecting cheaper policies that only cover crashes to the other vehicle when they are blamed for an accident. Under those policies, drivers usually have to pay out of pocket for damage that occurs to their own cars in accidents.

“Michigan is the only state that requires unlimited medical,” she said. “All the other states have a cap. Michigan does not.”

Michigan is one of 12 states that have some form of no-fault car insurance laws, according to Allstate’s website. The state is joined by Florida, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Dakota and Utah. Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico also give drivers the option of choosing to buy no-fault auto insurance plans.

Atkinson estimated that 75 percent of Michigan drivers’ auto insurance premiums goes to cover medical expenses that are required under the state’s no-fault liability laws.

She said no-fault auto insurance rules are designed to reduce the number of lawsuits that are filed over car accidents and decrease the risk to consumers of being hit by uninsured motorists.

“Michigan became a no-fault state in the late 1970s or early 1980s,” Atkinson said. “It was supposed to be to lower the amount premiums that customers had to pay because you don’t have to go get a lawyer to cover things like damages or lost wages.”

Laura Adams, senior analyst at insuranceQuotes, said drivers can take steps to lower their insurance rates after traffic violations like speeding or reckless or drunken driving, even in states like Michigan where the average hike for those offense is high.

“Even though rates typically go up for several years after you receive a moving violation, there are ways drivers can save money. Taking a defensive driving course to remove points from your record is a smart strategy,” Adams said in a statement about the findings of the report.

“Many of these courses are offered online and can be completed in just a few hours. You can also enroll in a pay-as-you-drive insurance program, which gives discounts when you demonstrate safe driving behavior.”


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Twitter: @Keith_Laing