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Opinion: Driving car insurance relief for Michigan families

Garlin Gilchrist II
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, seated, displays the auto insurance legislation she signed on Thursday, May 30, 2019, at the Detroit Regional Chamber's Mackinac Policy Conference at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, Mich. Whitmer signed the overhaul of Michigan's car insurance system that will let drivers forego unlimited medical benefits to cover crash injuries in which she declared it an "historic day" because the cost of auto insurance will go down.

For decades, our elected officials have promised to do something about Michigan’s highest-in-the-nation auto insurance rates. But a solution eluded drivers until last week, when Gov. Gretchen Whitmer led lawmakers from both parties to finally get something done. 

From Detroit to Delta County, Michigan residents have demanded lower auto insurance rates for years, and this historic solution delivers the relief that drivers deserve.  

The deal, negotiated by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer with Republican and Democratic leaders of the state House and state Senate, will save drivers money by guaranteeing lower auto insurance rates for eight years through enabling people to pick their own insurance and coverage options, while creating a balanced fee schedule for hospitals and providers to prevent overcharging for auto injuries and prohibiting insurance companies from using discriminatory non-driving factors when setting rates. 

It’s clear this is a tremendous opportunity for all 7 million drivers in our state, but it’s drivers in Southeast Michigan who really seek to benefit from this deal. Under the previous law, insurance companies could use non-driving factors, such as ZIP code, gender, marital status, occupation, education, home ownership, and credit score to determine insurance rates. This led to rampant redlining that targeted neighborhoods across Southeast Michigan, took money out of the pockets of hardworking families and kept drivers in poverty. 

As Detroit struggled to bounce back after the recession, we had to ask ourselves the serious question: Why would anyone want to move to, or stay in, a city where our car insurance costs more than our car note?

My wife and I asked ourselves this question when we were deciding where we wanted to raise our kids. We both knew that there was no place better than Michigan to raise a family, but we also knew that there were many issues that we would need to address — and the high cost of car insurance was one of them.

Every time a car insurance payment was due, I was reminded of just how unfair our insurance system was for drivers in Detroit. The average driver in the city pays $5,464 each year for the opportunity to drive – nearly four times higher than the national average of $1,470. As someone who has spent time in different areas of the country, I’m uniquely familiar with this problem. 

When I lived in Washington, D.C., my car was parked on the street and broken into multiple times, yet my insurance premiums never went up. However, when I moved back to Detroit, my car was parked in a secure garage, and the cost to insure it nearly quadrupled. 

The unacceptable cost of car insurance has forced countless people to make the decision between risking financial instability by purchasing insurance or a similarly dangerous situation of forgoing insurance altogether. For decades, Detroit drivers have been forced to pay the most expensive car insurance rates in the nation, but that will begin to change when this new arrangement goes into effect. 

We’ve taken the crucial first step to fix a broken system, and this historic deal puts us in a much better position to make future improvements down the road. 

Whitmer proved that she could secure this bipartisan reform by working alongside Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey and Speaker of the House Lee Chatfield. As a result, we were able to do something that hadn’t been accomplished in decades, striking a bipartisan deal to lower auto insurance rates for everyone. 

If Gov. Whitmer can bring reform to our auto insurance crisis in a bipartisan manner, I have no doubt that she can also bring both parties together to solve our worst-in-the-country roads crisis, too. Let’s seize on this momentum and provide even more relief for drivers who are forced to spend their hard-earned money to fix broken rims, busted tires, and shot suspensions. 

We will keep standing tall for Michigan by delivering wins that enable the opportunity and possibility to help everyone get ahead. 

Garlin Gilchrist II is the lieutenant governor of the State of Michigan.