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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


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.

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Risk Scenario

The Betrayal of Elizabeth

In this Risk Scenario, Risk & Insurance explores what might happen in the event a telemedicine or similar home health visit violates a patient's privacy. What consequences await when a young girl's tele visit goes viral?
By: | October 12, 2020
Risk Scenarios are created by Risk & Insurance editors along with leading industry partners. The hypothetical, yet realistic stories, showcase emerging risks that can result in significant losses if not properly addressed.

Disclaimer: The events depicted in this scenario are fictitious. Any similarity to any corporation or person, living or dead, is merely coincidental.

PART ONE: CRACKS IN THE FOUNDATION

Elizabeth Cunningham seemingly had it all. The daughter of two well-established professionals — her father was a personal injury attorney, her mother, also an attorney, had her own estate planning practice — she grew up in a house in Maryland horse country with lots of love and the financial security that can iron out at least some of life’s problems.

Tall, good-looking and talented, Elizabeth was moving through her junior year at the University of Pennsylvania in seemingly good order; check that, very good order, by all appearances.

Her pre-med grades were outstanding. Despite the heavy load of her course work, she’d even managed to place in the Penn Relays in the mile, in the spring of her sophomore season, in May of 2019.

But the winter of 2019/2020 brought challenges, challenges that festered below the surface, known only to her and a couple of close friends.

First came betrayal at the hands of her boyfriend, Tom, right around Thanksgiving. She saw a message pop up on his phone from Rebecca, a young woman she thought was their friend. As it turned out, Rebecca and Tom had been intimate together, and both seemed game to do it again.

Reeling, her holiday mood shattered and her relationship with Tom fractured, Elizabeth was beset by deep feelings of anxiety. As the winter gray became more dense and forbidding, the anxiety grew.

Fed up, she broke up with Tom just after Christmas. What looked like a promising start to 2020 now didn’t feel as joyous.

Right around the end of the year, she plucked a copy of her father’s New York Times from the table in his study. A budding physician, her eyes were drawn to a piece about an outbreak of a highly contagious virus in Wuhan, China.

“Sounds dreadful,” she said to herself.

Within three months, anxiety gnawed at Elizabeth daily as she sat cloistered in her family’s house in Bel Air, Maryland.

It didn’t help matters that her brother, Billy, a high school senior and a constant thorn in her side, was cloistered with her.

She felt like she was suffocating.

One night in early May, feeling shutdown and unable to bring herself to tell her parents about her true condition, Elizabeth reached out to her family physician for help.

Dr. Johnson had been Elizabeth’s doctor for a number of years and, being from a small town, Elizabeth had grown up and gone to school with Dr. Johnson’s son Evan. In fact, back in high school, Evan had asked Elizabeth out once. Not interested, Elizabeth had declined Evan’s advances and did not give this a second thought.

Dr. Johnson’s practice had recently been acquired by a Virginia-based hospital system, Medwell, so when Elizabeth called the office, she was first patched through to Medwell’s receptionist/scheduling service. Within 30 minutes, an online Telehealth consult had been arranged for her to speak directly with Dr. Johnson.

Due to the pandemic, Dr. Johnson called from the office in her home. The doctor was kind. She was practiced.

“So can you tell me what’s going on?” she said.

Elizabeth took a deep breath. She tried to fight what was happening. But she could not. Tears started streaming down her face.

“It’s just… It’s just…” she managed to stammer.

The doctor waited patiently. “It’s okay,” she said. “Just take your time.”

Elizabeth took a deep breath. “It’s like I can’t manage my own mind anymore. It’s nonstop. It won’t turn off…”

More tears streamed down her face.

Patiently, with compassion, the doctor walked Elizabeth through what she might be experiencing. The doctor recommended a follow-up with Medwell’s psychology department.

“Okay,” Elizabeth said, some semblance of relief passing through her.

Unbeknownst to Dr. Johnson, her office door had not been completely closed. During the telehealth call, Evan stopped by his mother’s office to ask her a question. Before knocking he overheard Elizabeth talking and decided to listen in.

PART TWO: BETRAYAL

As Elizabeth was finding the courage to open up to Dr. Johnson about her psychological condition, Evan was recording her with his smartphone through a crack in the doorway.

Spurred by who knows what — his attraction to her, his irritation at being rejected, the idleness of the COVID quarantine — it really didn’t matter. Evan posted his recording of Elizabeth to his Instagram feed.

#CantManageMyMind, #CrazyGirl, #HelpMeDoctorImBeautiful is just some of what followed.

Elizabeth and Evan were both well-liked and very well connected on social media. The posts, shares and reactions that followed Evan’s digital betrayal numbered in the hundreds. Each one of them a knife into the already troubled soul of Elizabeth Cunningham.

By noon of the following day, her well-connected father unleashed the dogs of war.

Rand Davis, the risk manager for the Medwell Health System, a 15-hospital health care company based in Alexandria, Virginia was just finishing lunch when he got a call from the company’s general counsel, Emily Vittorio.

“Yes?” Rand said. He and Emily were accustomed to being quick and blunt with each other. They didn’t have time for much else.

“I just picked up a notice of intent to sue from a personal injury attorney in Bel Air, Maryland. It seems his daughter was in a teleconference with one of our docs. She was experiencing anxiety, the daughter that is. The doctor’s son recorded the call and posted it to social media.”

“Great. Thanks, kid,” Rand said.

“His attorneys want to initiate a discovery dialogue on Monday,” Emily said.

It was Thursday. Rand’s dreams of slipping onto his fishing boat over the weekend evaporated, just like that. He closed his eyes and tilted his face up to the heavens.

Wasn’t it enough that he and the other members of the C-suite fought tooth and nail to keep thousands of people safe and treat them during the COVID-crisis?

He’d watched the explosion in the use of telemedicine with a mixture of awe and alarm. On the one hand, they were saving lives. On the other hand, they were opening themselves to exposures under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. He just knew it.

He and his colleagues tried to do the right thing. But what they were doing, overwhelmed as they were, was simply not enough.

PART THREE: FALLING DOMINOES

Within the space of two weeks, the torture suffered by Elizabeth Cunningham grew into a class action against Medwell.

In addition to the violation of her privacy, the investigation by Mr. Cunningham’s attorneys revealed the following:

Medwell’s telemedicine component, as needed and well-intended as it was, lacked a viable informed consent protocol.

The consultation with Elizabeth, and as it turned out, hundreds of additional patients in Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, violated telemedicine regulations in all three states.

Numerous practitioners in the system took part in teleconferences with patients in states in which they were not credentialed to provide that service.

Even if Evan hadn’t cracked open Dr. Johnson’s door and surreptitiously recorded her conversation with Elizabeth, the Medwell telehealth system was found to be insecure — yet another violation of HIPAA.

The amount sought in the class action was $100 million. In an era of social inflation, with jury awards that were once unthinkable becoming commonplace, Medwell was standing squarely in the crosshairs of a liability jury decision that was going to devour entire towers of its insurance program.

Adding another layer of certain pain to the equation was that the case would be heard in Baltimore, a jurisdiction where plaintiffs’ attorneys tended to dance out of courtrooms with millions in their pockets.

That fall, Rand sat with his broker on a call with a specialty insurer, talking about renewals of the group’s general liability, cyber and professional liability programs.

“Yeah, we were kind of hoping to keep the increases on all three at less than 25%,” the broker said breezily.

There was a long silence from the underwriters at the other end of the phone.

“To be honest, we’re borderline about being able to offer you any cover at all,” one of the lead underwriters said.

Rand just sat silently and waited for another shoe to drop.

“Well, what can you do?” the broker said, with hope draining from his voice.

The conversation that followed would propel Rand and his broker on the difficult, next to impossible path of trying to find coverage, with general liability underwriters in full retreat, professional liability underwriters looking for double digit increases and cyber underwriters asking very pointed questions about the health system’s risk management.

Elizabeth, a strong young woman with a good support network, would eventually recover from the damage done to her.

Medwell’s relationships with the insurance markets looked like it almost never would. &

Bar-Lessons-Learned---Partner's-Content-V1b

Risk & Insurance® partnered with Allied World to produce this scenario. Below are Allied World’s recommendations on how to prevent the losses presented in the scenario. This perspective is not an editorial opinion of Risk & Insurance.®.

The use of telehealth has exponentially accelerated with the advent of COVID-19. Few health care providers were prepared for this shift. Health care organizations should confirm that Telehealth coverage is included in their Medical Professional, General Liability and Cyber policies, and to what extent. Concerns around Telehealth focus on HIPAA compliance and the internal policies in place to meet the federal and state standards and best practices for privacy and quality care. As states open businesses and the crisis abates, will pre-COVID-19 telehealth policies and regulations once again be enforced?

Risk Management Considerations:

The same ethical and standard of care issues around caring for patients face-to-face in an office apply in telehealth settings:

  • maintain a strong patient-physician relationship;
  • protect patient privacy; and
  • seek the best possible outcome.

Telehealth can create challenges around “informed consent.” It is critical to inform patients of the potential benefits and risks of telehealth (including privacy and security), ensure the use of HIPAA compliant platforms and make sure there is a good level of understanding of the scope of telehealth. Providers must be aware of the regulatory and licensure requirements in the state where the patient is located, as well as those of the state in which they are licensed.

A professional and private environment should be maintained for patient privacy and confidentiality. Best practices must be in place and followed. Medical professionals who engage in telehealth should be fully trained in operating the technology. Patients must also be instructed in its use and provided instructions on what to do if there are technical difficulties.

This case study is for illustrative purposes only and is not intended to be a summary of, and does not in any way vary, the actual coverage available to a policyholder under any insurance policy. Actual coverage for specific claims will be determined by the actual policy language and will be based on the specific facts and circumstances of the claim. Consult your insurance advisors or legal counsel for guidance on your organization’s policies and coverage matters and other issues specific to your organization.

This information is provided as a general overview for agents and brokers. Coverage will be underwritten by an insurance subsidiary of Allied World Assurance Company Holdings, Ltd, a Fairfax company (“Allied World”). Such subsidiaries currently carry an A.M. Best rating of “A” (Excellent), a Moody’s rating of “A3” (Good) and a Standard & Poor’s rating of “A-” (Strong), as applicable. Coverage is offered only through licensed agents and brokers. Actual coverage may vary and is subject to policy language as issued. Coverage may not be available in all jurisdictions. Risk management services are provided or arranged through AWAC Services Company, a member company of Allied World. © 2020 Allied World Assurance Company Holdings, Ltd. All rights reserved.




Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He can be reached at [email protected]