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6 Surprising Factors Affecting the Cost of Commercial Auto Insurance

Your commercial auto premiums can increase for unexpected reasons, regardless of your driving habits.
By: | May 2, 2017 • 6 min read


Accidents happen.

And when they do, people expect their auto insurance premiums to rise. That cause and effect relationship is easy to understand.

But even safe drivers are noticing their coverage is becoming more expensive. Owners of large commercial fleets are especially hit hard when rates rise. The truth is that accident history is just a small part of a much bigger picture, created by the confluence of several macro trends.

Here are six unexpected reasons why your commercial auto premiums may be increasing:

1. More Miles Driven

David Nelson, 2nd Vice President of Auto in Commercial Accounts

When the recession hit, companies naturally scaled back. Manufacturers produced less; there were fewer sales calls and deliveries to be made. Drivers were laid off as demand dropped.

Since the economy’s been improving, activity is picking up again.

“The need to receive component parts and deliver goods is back up,” said David Nelson, 2nd Vice President of Auto in Commercial Accounts, Travelers.

But rather than hiring more drivers and buying new vehicles right off the bat, companies are instead relying on their core workforce to pick up more work.

“Trucks are being driven more miles, but there aren’t necessarily more trucks. Owners would rather get the most out of their current vehicles before they start adding more,” Nelson said. “The increased risk of more miles per truck will be compounded as the economy continues to improve and companies eventually do need to add vehicles to keep up with demand.”

2. Inexperienced Drivers

The commercial driver shortage continues to increase risks on the road.

Driving long distances is a hard job, so recruiting has never been easy. Now, many experienced drivers are approaching retirement age.

“The lingering question is, where is the next group of truck drivers going to come from? Will they have the same skills and capacity as the generation that’s retiring?” said Chris Hayes, 2nd Vice President of Transportation Risk Control, Travelers.

New regulations may make recruiting drivers even harder. For example, electronic time logs and tracking sheets will replace paper formats by December, 2017.

“Drivers perceive this change as more oversight, and it also means they may have to be more accurate or inclusive in their reporting. The new system will require a level of electronic engagement not all drivers are comfortable with,” Hayes said.

Stricter safety standards and less independence might turn off potential new drivers. While an improving economy means transportation companies are hiring, it also means the talent pool likely has options in other types of service jobs, like factory or construction work.

Those that do get behind the wheel with less experience present a larger risk.

3. Lower Fuel Prices

Chris Hayes, 2nd Vice President of Transportation Risk Control

“There’s a direct correlation between fuel prices and national accident frequency,” Hayes said.

The number of accidents per year has dropped steadily since the early 2000s.

“According to the Department of Transportation’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System, in 2005, there were roughly 43,000 people killed in motor vehicle accidents. By 2014, it dropped to about 32,000,” Hayes said. Some attribute the decrease to safer cars and more awareness around the dangers of drunk driving. But price at the pump played an even bigger role.

When gas is expensive, people limit their time on the road, which leads to a lower accident frequency.

“We saw the least accidents when gas hit its peak at $4 per gallon, and accidents started increasing when it dropped back to $2 per gallon,” Nelson said.

The relatively stable gas prices may mean more cars on the road both for business and personal use. And more cars equal more accidents.

4. Distracted Driving

Screens are drawing a bigger share of drivers’ attention.

“Driving has always had an element of distraction, with texting being a notable recent example, but now dashboard ‘infotainment’ centers are an increasing concern,” Hayes said. “With their radio, GPS, Bluetooth and internet search functions, these systems require a lot of visual engagement.”

Texting, however, has also become a dangerous distraction for those traveling on foot.

“In some of our delivery zones, we were seeing an increased frequency of pedestrian strikes, and we spent some time investigating what drivers were doing differently,” Nelson said. “We found that the drivers weren’t necessarily doing anything wrong; it was the people around the vehicles who were less attentive.”

Semi-autonomous driving also creates opportunities for drivers’ minds to wander.

“As you move into what’s called ‘level two’ autonomous driving, you have multiple safety systems linked together, and there’s a risk that you’ll pay less attention to your driving because you assume your vehicle will take over those functions for you,” Hayes said.

“In other words, the safety benefits of these systems may be somewhat offset by the false sense of security that they provide and less driver attention.”

5. Aggressive Attorneys

In the past, larger claims for amounts of $100,000 or more would have an attorney involved roughly 70 percent of the time. “Now, we are seeing attorneys getting involved in claims as small as $25,000,” Nelson said.

One theory behind the shift is that many law school graduates entering the workforce during the recession had to forge their own paths while firms weren’t hiring, so they went after smaller claims aggressively to generate revenue from an untapped source.

“Some attorneys are specializing in leveraging all of the information available about drivers or operations of a vehicle to prove negligence on the part of the transportation company, often with a good deal of success,” Nelson said.

“The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Safety and Fitness Electronic Records System, also known as SAFER, includes number of accidents for a given company, frequency of inspections and violations as a result of those inspections,” Hayes said. “The publicly available data was originally intended for state troopers, federal motor carrier enforcement officers and other people involved in trucking safety to better engage with trucking companies.”

The data was originally meant to improve safety by informing drivers and transportation companies of what they were doing wrong, assuming that if they can measure their performance, they can improve it.

Attorneys now are latching onto that data as evidence that if a particular company or driver has more accidents than the national average, they are more likely to be the negligent party.

“It’s definitely something that can be used to try to influence a jury,” Nelson said.

6. Increasing Medical Costs

An increase in the frequency and cost of soft tissue surgical procedures is another factor making auto claims more expensive.

“There’s a broad cost to deliver care in America. That trend isn’t going away any time soon, and the auto insurance market is impacted by that,” Nelson said. Injuries from auto accidents can run the gamut in terms of severity, but soft tissue injuries in the form of strains and sprains are prevalent. Injuries involving surgery often take longer to heal and require follow-up treatments as well.

All of these factors can drive up the cost of claims, which in turn can lead to higher premiums for insureds. Owners of large commercial fleets have the most exposure, but any company utilizing vehicles for business purposes – even if those vehicles are employees’ personal cars – can feel the impact of rising auto insurance premiums. Keeping an eye on these larger market and economic trends can help insureds not only understand their premium costs, but also anticipate what’s to come.

To learn more, visit https://www.travelers.com/business-insurance/commercial-auto.

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This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Travelers. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.




The Travelers Companies, Inc. (NYSE: TRV) is a leading provider of property casualty insurance for auto, home and business. A component of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, Travelers has approximately 30,000 employees and generated revenues of approximately $28 billion in 2016. For more information, visit www.travelers.com.

Risk Management

The Profession

Wawa’s Director of Risk Management knows that harnessing data and analytics will be key to surviving the rapid pace of change that heralds new risk exposures.
By: | July 27, 2017 • 5 min read

R&I: What was your first job?

My first job was at the age of 15 as a cashier at a bakery. My first professional job was at Amtrak in the finance department. I worked there while I was in college.

R&I: How did you come to work in risk management?

A position opened up in risk management at Wawa and I saw it as an opportunity to broaden my skills and have the ability to work across many departments at Wawa to better learn about the business.

R&I: What is the risk management community doing right?

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The advancements in analytics are a success for the industry and offer opportunities for the future. I also find value in the industry focus on emerging and specialty risks. There is more alignment with experts in different industries related to emerging and specialty risks to provide support and services to the insurance industry. As a result, the insurance industry can now look at risk mitigation more holistically and not just related to traditional risk transfer.

R&I: What could the risk management community be doing a better job of?

Developing the talent to grow with the industry in specialization and analytics, but to also carry on the personal connections and relationship building that is a large part of this industry.

Nancy Wilson, director, quality assurance, risk management and safety, Wawa Inc.

R&I: What was the best location and year for the RIMS conference and why?

I have had successes at all of the RIMS events I have attended. It is a great opportunity to spend time with our broker, carriers and other colleagues.

R&I: What’s been the biggest change in the risk management and insurance industry since you’ve been in it?

I think the biggest challenge facing most companies today is related to brand or reputational risk. With the ever-changing landscape of technology, globalization and social media, the risk exposure to an organization’s brand or reputation continues to grow.

R&I: What emerging commercial risk most concerns you?

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The changing consumer demands and new entrants into an industry are concerning. This is not necessarily something new but the frequency and speed to which it happens today does seem to be different. I think that is only going to continue. Companies need to be prepared to evolve with the times, and for me that means new risk exposures that we need to be prepared to mitigate.

R&I: Are you optimistic about the U.S. economy or pessimistic and why?

I try to be optimistic about most things. I think the economy ebbs and flows for many reasons and it is important to always keep an eye out for signs of change.

R&I: What have you accomplished that you are proudest of?

I am fortunate to have opportunities professionally that make me proud, but I have to answer this one personally. I have two children ages 12 and 9 and I am so proud of the people that they are today. They both are hardworking, fun and kind. Nothing gives me a better feeling than seeing them be successful. I look forward to more of that.

R&I: What is your favorite book or movie?

This is really hard as there are too many favorites. I do prefer books to movies, especially if there is a movie based on a book. I find the movie is never as good. I have multiple books going at once and usually bounce back and forth between fiction and non-fiction.

R&I: What’s the best restaurant you’ve ever eaten at?

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I have eaten at a lot of different restaurants in many major cities but I would have to pick Horn O’ Plenty in Bedford, PA. It is a farm to table restaurant in the middle of the state. The food is always fresh and tastes amazing and they make me feel like I am at home when I am there. My family and I eat there often during our trips out that way.

R&I: What is your favorite drink?

I do love a good cup of coffee (working at Wawa helps that). I also enjoy a good glass of wine (red preferably) on occasion.

R&I: What is the most unusual/interesting place you have ever visited?

Vacations aside, I do get an opportunity to travel for work and visit our food suppliers. The opportunities I have had to visit back to the farm level have been a very interesting learning experience. If it wasn’t for my role, I would have never been able to experience that.

R&I: What is the riskiest activity you ever engaged in?

My husband, kids and I recently did a boot-camp-type obstacle course up in the trees 24 feet in the air. Although I had a harness and helmet on, I really put my fear of heights to the test. At the end of the two hours, I did get the hang of it but am not sure I would do it again.

R&I: If the world has a modern hero, who is it and why?

The first people that come to mind are those who are serving our country and willing to sacrifice their own lives for our freedom.

R&I: What about this work do you find the most fulfilling or rewarding?

Every day is different and I have the opportunity to be involved in a lot of different work across the company.

R&I: What do your friends and family think you do?

My husband and children have a pretty good sense of what I do, but the rest of my family has no idea. They just know I work for Wawa and sometimes travel.




Katie Siegel is an associate editor at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]