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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.

4 Companies That Rocked It by Treating Injured Workers as Equals; Not Adversaries

The 2018 Teddy Award winners built their programs around people, not claims, and offer proof that a worker-centric approach is a smarter way to operate.
By: | October 30, 2018 • 3 min read

Across the workers’ compensation industry, the concept of a worker advocacy model has been around for a while, but has only seen notable adoption in recent years.

Even among those not adopting a formal advocacy approach, mindsets are shifting. Formerly claims-centric programs are becoming worker-centric and it’s a win all around: better outcomes; greater productivity; safer, healthier employees and a stronger bottom line.

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That’s what you’ll see in this month’s issue of Risk & Insurance® when you read the profiles of the four recipients of the 2018 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Award, sponsored by PMA Companies. These four programs put workers front and center in everything they do.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top,” said Steve Legg, director of risk management for Starbucks.

Starbucks put claims reporting in the hands of its partners, an exemplary act of trust. The coffee company also put itself in workers’ shoes to identify and remove points of friction.

That led to a call center run by Starbucks’ TPA and a dedicated telephonic case management team so that partners can speak to a live person without the frustration of ‘phone tag’ and unanswered questions.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top.” — Steve Legg, director of risk management, Starbucks

Starbucks also implemented direct deposit for lost-time pay, eliminating stressful wait times for injured partners, and allowing them to focus on healing.

For Starbucks, as for all of the 2018 Teddy Award winners, the approach is netting measurable results. With higher partner satisfaction, it has seen a 50 percent decrease in litigation.

Teddy winner Main Line Health (MLH) adopted worker advocacy in a way that goes far beyond claims.

Employees who identify and report safety hazards can take credit for their actions by sending out a formal “Employee Safety Message” to nearly 11,000 mailboxes across the organization.

“The recognition is pretty cool,” said Steve Besack, system director, claims management and workers’ compensation for the health system.

MLH also takes a non-adversarial approach to workers with repeat injuries, seeing them as a resource for identifying areas of improvement.

“When you look at ‘repeat offenders’ in an unconventional way, they’re a great asset to the program, not a liability,” said Mike Miller, manager, workers’ compensation and employee safety for MLH.

Teddy winner Monmouth County, N.J. utilizes high-tech motion capture technology to reduce the chance of placing new hires in jobs that are likely to hurt them.

Monmouth County also adopted numerous wellness initiatives that help workers manage their weight and improve their wellbeing overall.

“You should see the looks on their faces when their cholesterol is down, they’ve lost weight and their blood sugar is better. We’ve had people lose 30 and 40 pounds,” said William McGuane, the county’s manager of benefits and workers’ compensation.

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Do these sound like minor program elements? The math says otherwise: Claims severity has plunged from $5.5 million in 2009 to $1.3 million in 2017.

At the University of Pennsylvania, putting workers first means getting out from behind the desk and finding out what each one of them is tasked with, day in, day out — and looking for ways to make each of those tasks safer.

Regular observations across the sprawling campus have resulted in a phenomenal number of process and equipment changes that seem simple on their own, but in combination have created a substantially safer, healthier campus and improved employee morale.

UPenn’s workers’ comp costs, in the seven-digit figures in 2009, have been virtually cut in half.

Risk & Insurance® is proud to honor the work of these four organizations. We hope their stories inspire other organizations to be true partners with the employees they depend on. &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]