Douglas Heller
Insurance Expert
Consumer Federation of America
January 2019

In 2018, Americans spent about $240 billion – almost a quarter trillion dollars – on auto

1 As a product that government requires drivers to purchase, auto insurance deserves
special attention and oversight to ensure that premiums are fair and affordable. This is especially
the case because access to a vehicle proves critical to economic stability and mobility.

2 Although auto insurance is a major monthly expense and difficult burden for tens of
millions of Americans – and a product that consumer and civil rights groups have long sought to
reform – it does not receive sufficient attention as an economic justice concern. In fact,
mandatory auto insurance is unaffordable to millions of low- and moderate-income drivers and
particularly so for people of color.3 The significant challenges created by high cost and, often,
unfairly priced auto insurance makes addressing the issue a matter of economic and social

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Around the country, state laws strictly enforce the purchase of auto insurance through
severe fines, impounded cars, and even jail time for driving uninsured, but lawmakers and
regulators devote much less energy to curbing unfair and excessive pricing by the insurance
companies selling this coverage. Nor are policymakers working hard enough to develop new
1 2 See, for example, Pendall, R., Hayes, C., George, A. T., McDade, Z., Dawkins, C., Jeon, J. S., … & Smart, M.
(2014). Driving to opportunity: Understanding the links among transportation access, residential outcomes, and
economic opportunity for housing voucher recipients; Baum, C. L. (2009). The effects of vehicle ownership on
employment. Journal of Urban Economics, 66(3), 151-163; Lucas, M. T., & Nicholson, C. F. (2003). Subsidized
vehicle acquisition and earned income in the transition from welfare to work. Transportation, 30(4), 483-501; and
Taylor, B. D., & Ong, P. M. (1995). Spatial mismatch or automobile mismatch? An examination of race, residence
and commuting in US metropolitan areas. Urban studies, 32(9), 1453-1473. 3 According to the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Federal Insurance Office Study on the Affordability of Personal
Automobile Insurance (2017), more than 18 million Americans live in ZIP codes where auto insurance is

Auto Insurance: A National Issue of Economic Justice | CFA 2
ways to provide affordable coverage to the safe drivers who desperately need it, irrespective of
the industry’s responsibility for the high cost.
4 Whether lower-income folks drive uninsured with
the constant fear of losing their license (and worse) or simply do not to drive and face the
financial consequences of not having reliable transportation, financially strapped Americans
know that the cost of auto insurance can be a major barrier to their aspirations and their families’
Over the past several years, Consumer Federation of America (CFA) has undertaken an
effort to research the cost of auto insurance with a particular focus on issues of access and
affordability for low- and moderate-income Americans and people of color.
The research points to a few key findings:

While auto insurance is generally a matter of state regulation, the federal government and
national leaders can play a critical role by:

Auto Insurance: A National Issue of Economic Justice | CFA 5
Higher rates were not the only punishment imposed on lower-income drivers. In one
instance, an insurance company did not provide a quote for the shopper with basic limits even
though it offered a quote to the shopper who had more robust coverage. In another instance, it
shifted the lower limits customer to its non-standard market affiliate.’
Auto Insurance Regulation – What Works 2019
Consumer Federation of America (2019)
Updating decades of research, the Consumer Federation of America reveals what data
shows about the many different approaches to auto insurance market oversight and consumer
protection in the United States and how some states have saved drivers billions, while others
have allowed significantly increased costs for drivers.
Auto Insurers Often Charge Identical Neighbors Considerably Higher Premiums
Because of ZIP Code Differences
Consumer Federation of America (2018)
Many good drivers in ten American cities tested by Consumer Federation of America
(CFA) are paying far too much for auto insurance simply because of their home ZIP code, the
organization reported today. CFA’s research points to significant premium differences in each
region among neighbors living within 100 yards of each other in adjacent ZIP codes, sometimes
as close as across the street or even next door. In each city tested, the higher-priced ZIP code had
a lower median income and a higher percentage of non-white residents than the neighboring,
lower-premium ZIP code.
Some Major Auto Insurers Provide No Discount to Low-Mileage Drivers
Consumer Federation of America (2018)
In 11 cities tested outside of California, the nation’s largest auto insurers generally
offered little or no premium reduction to low-mileage drivers compared with high-mileage
drivers, even though insurance research indicates that how much you drive is among the most
important factors in predicting accidents. According to the research, Progressive and Farmers
usually charge the same rates to someone who drives only 2,500 miles a year as they charge
someone else who drives 22,500 miles a year – nine times as far – all else being equal. CFA
noted that, in setting customers’ premiums, insurance companies often give more weight to
personal characteristics such as marital status and credit score than to key risk indicators such as
mileage driven annually.

Auto Insurance: A National Issue of Economic Justice | CFA 6
After reviewing 275 quotes for basic liability coverage from five large insurers, CFA

Auto Insurance: A National Issue of Economic Justice | CFA 7
Allstate charged 15 percent ($235) more on average to good drivers previously covered
by non-standard auto insurers such as Safe Auto Insurance and Equity Insurance Co. than if they
had been previously insured by State Farm. Farmers charged nine percent ($260) more on
average to customers coming from non-standard companies, including Titan Insurance and
Access Insurance Company, than those hailing from State Farm policies. American Family
Insurance, the nation’s ninth largest auto insurer, charged nine percent ($166) more on average to
customers previously with non-standard carriers, such as Direct General and Safeway Insurance.
Major Insurance Companies Raise Premiums After Not-At-Fault Accidents
Consumer Federation of America (2017)
Safe drivers who are in accidents caused by others often see auto insurance rate hikes.
The research analyzed premium quotes in 10 cities from five of the nation’s largest auto insurers.
Among the cities tested, drivers in New York City and Baltimore pay out the most for an
accident where the driver did nothing wrong, and customers in Chicago and Kansas City also
face average increases of 10 percent or more when another driver crashes into them.
CFA’s research over recent years has consistently found that good drivers with certain
socio-economic characteristics that suggest lower incomes generally pay more for auto insurance
than higher-income drivers with the same driving record. This pattern holds when it comes to
penalizing drivers for accidents in which they were not at fault. Higher-income drivers paid $78
more on average after a not-at-fault accident, while moderate-income drivers paid $208 more on
average after a not-at-fault accident.
Major Insurers Charge Moderate-Income Customers With Perfect Driving Records
More Than High-Income Customers With Recent Accidents
Consumer Federation of America (2016)
Auto insurance prices are often more closely aligned with personal economic
characteristics than with drivers’ accident and ticket history. Testing premiums offered by the
nation’s five largest insurers in ten U.S. cities for drivers with different socio-economic
characteristics and different driving records, CFA found surprising results, including: upper-
income drivers with DUIs often pay less than good drivers of modest means with no accidents or
tickets on their driving record; moderate-income drivers with perfect records pay more than
upper-income drivers who caused an accident in which someone was injured; progressive and
GEICO consistently charge upper-income bad drivers less than moderate-income good drivers;
moderate-income good drivers often pay more than upper-income drivers with multiple points on
their record.

Auto Insurance: A National Issue of Economic Justice | CFA 8
Major Auto Insurers Raise Rates Based on Economic Factors
Consumer Federation of America (2016)
In most states auto insurance premiums are driven in large measure by economic factors
that are unrelated to driving safety, a practice that most Americans consider unfair. Among the
most common of the individual economic and socio-economic characteristics used by auto
insurers are motorists’ level of education, occupation, homeownership status, prior purchase of
insurance, and marital status. Because each of these factors are associated with an individual’s
economic status and because insurers consistently use each factor to push premiums up for
drivers of lesser economic means, the combined effect of insurers’ use of these factors can result
in considerably higher prices for low- and moderate-income Americans, leaving many
overburdened by unfairly high premiums and others unable to afford insurance at all.
Good Drivers Pay More for Basic Auto Insurance If They Rent Rather Than Own Their
Consumer Federation of America (2016)
Several major auto insurance carriers hike rates on good drivers who rent their home
rather than own it. CFA tested the premiums charged by seven large insurers to a good driver
in ten cities. For each test we only changed the driver’s homeownership status and found that
renters were charged seven percent more on average – $112 per year – for a minimum limits
policy than insurers charged drivers who own their homes, everything else being equal.
Price of Mandatory Auto Insurance in Predominantly African-American Communities
Consumer Federation of America (2015)
CFA released research comparing auto insurance prices in predominantly African-
American Communities with prices paid in predominantly white communities. Nationwide, in
communities where more than three quarters of the residents are African American, premiums
average 71 percent higher than in those with populations that are less than one quarter African
American after adjusting for density and income. In Baltimore, New York, DC, Detroit,
Boston and other cities, the disparity of premiums is more than 50 percent between
predominantly African American and predominantly white ZIP codes.
New Research Shows That Most Major Auto Insurers Vary Prices Considerably
Depending on Marital Status
Consumer Federation of America (2015)
CFA released research on how insurers utilize marital status in their pricing of auto
insurance policies. CFA questions the fairness and relation to risk of this pricing by most

Auto Insurance: A National Issue of Economic Justice | CFA 9
major insurers, particularly their practice of hiking rates on women whose husbands die by
20% on average, the “widow penalty.”
Auto Insurers Fail to Reward Low Mileage Drivers
Consumer Federation of America (2015)
CFA released research showing that large auto insurers frequently fail to reward
drivers with low mileage despite a strong relationship between this mileage and insurance
claims. The study found that three of the five largest insurers often give low-mileage drivers
no break at all. In a 2012 nationwide survey conducted by ORC International for CFA, 61
percent of respondents said that it was fair for auto insurers to use mileage in pricing auto
Large Auto Insurers Charge High Prices, to a Typical Lower-Income Safe Driver with
Car Financing, for Minimal Coverage
Consumer Federation of America (2014)
CFA found that annual auto insurance premiums are especially high for the estimated
eight million low- and moderate-income drivers who finance their car purchases. These
drivers must purchase the comprehensive and collision coverage required by auto lenders in
addition to the liability coverage required by states. In the 15 cities CFA surveyed, annual
premium quotes were almost always more than $900 and were usually more than $1,500.
In a related national opinion survey undertaken by ORC International for CFA, nearly
four-fifths of respondents (79%) said that a fair annual cost for this auto insurance coverage
was less than $750. One-half (50%) said that a fair annual cost was less than
$500. Respondents were asked what they thought was a reasonable annual cost for a “30-year
old woman with a modest income and ten years driving experience with no accidents or
moving violations” for required liability, collision, and comprehensive insurance coverage.
High Price of Mandatory Auto Insurance for Lower Income Households
Consumer Federation of America (2014)
The country’s five largest auto insurance companies do not make a basic auto
insurance policy available to typical safe drivers for less than $500 per year in over 2,300
urban and suburban ZIP codes including 484, or more than a third, of the nation’s lowest-
income ZIP codes. In the report, CFA analyzed 81,000 premium quotes for State Farm,
Allstate, Farmers, Progressive, GEICO and each of their affiliates in all ZIP codes in 50 large
urban regions, which include urban, suburban and adjacent rural communities. CFA also
reviewed the premium quotes from an additional 58 insurance companies – comprising a total

Auto Insurance: A National Issue of Economic Justice | CFA 10
of 207 insurance affiliates including those of the five largest insurers – which produced
similar results.
In 24 of the 50 urban regions, there was at least one lower-income ZIP code where
annual premiums for a minimum limits policy exceeded $500 from every major insurer. In
nine of these 50 areas – Miami/Ft. Lauderdale, Detroit, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Tampa/St.
Petersburg, Baltimore, Orlando, Jacksonville, Hartford, and New Orleans – prices exceeded
$500 in all lower-income ZIP codes.
This report included the finding from a recent national survey that more than three-
quarters of Americans (76 percent) believe that a “fair annual cost” for state-mandated
insurance for a typical good driver with no accidents and no tickets should be less than $500.
Uninsured Drivers: A Societal Dilemma in Need of a Solution
Consumer Federation of America (2014)
This report found that most uninsured drivers in America have low incomes and
cannot afford to purchase the mandatory minimum liability coverage required by their state.
The report also revealed that these low-income drivers are increasingly adversely impacted by
state and local government actions, including raising liability requirements (driving up
premiums), more rigorous enforcement, and stiffer penalties. However, there is little
difference in uninsured rates between those states that penalize uninsured drivers harshly and
those that do not. The report reviewed penalties for driving without auto insurance in every
state and found some of these very harsh penalties for lower-income Americans who truly
cannot afford the required insurance:

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