How Are Auto Insurance Premiums Calculated?
Last updated November 2023
The company you choose and the coverage types and levels you select determine your premiums—but so do various facts about you and the vehicles you drive.
Your Driving Record
The accident rate for drivers who have had accidents in the past few years is far higher than it is for people who have had no accidents. Similarly, the accident rate for individuals with two speeding tickets during a three-year period is twice as high as the rate for drivers with no tickets. That’s why your driving record has a big impact on the premiums companies offer you.
Cause an accident or receive a traffic violation in the previous five years and you’ll pay higher auto insurance rates than drivers who haven’t. Although with many companies, a single speeding ticket won’t affect their rates, with others a few tickets might cause their rates to jump by 60 percent. Accidents can be even more costly than tickets. One at-fault accident in the last three years might raise your premiums by 50 percent.
Most companies consider the driving records of everyone driving your car or cars. Therefore, if you have a perfect driving record but your spouse has had violations or accidents, you may not qualify for the companies’ best rates.
Fortunately, insurance companies don’t hold accidents or tickets against you forever. After three to five years, they cancel penalties for previous accidents and tickets if you’ve been a good little driver.
Your Experience and Training as a Driver
Driving experience is strongly related to the likelihood of having accidents and claims—and has a big effect on rates.
In Massachusetts, insurers can’t use the age of drivers to set rates, but they can charge higher rates for inexperienced drivers. Companies usually classify drivers according to three length-of-experience levels: inexperienced drivers licensed less than three years; inexperienced drivers licensed three or more but less than six years; and experienced drivers, licensed six or more years. Inexperienced drivers are further classified according to whether they are a vehicle’s principal operator or only an occasional operator.
A principal operator with four years of driving experience can usually expect to pay roughly double the rate of an experienced operator. A principal operator with only one year of driving experience will usually be charged more than three times the rate of an experienced driver. While having an inexperienced driver on your policy as an occasional driver usually doesn’t cause such a large differential, it still dramatically increases the total premium.
If you have children, have them take a driver training course. Most companies offer discounts—typically 10 percent—for inexperienced drivers who have completed an approved driver training course.
Many companies now offer discounts if you allow them to track how much you drive, how far, how fast, and whether you often do knuckleheaded things like suddenly accelerate, brake, or turn. Under these programs, you get an initial discount (10 or 15 percent) for playing along; after three to six months of tracking, your company might offer a bigger discount (on average, an additional 10 to 15 percent) if it deems you a “safe” driver—or provide no price break if it decides you’re a maniac. Of course, in our world of Big Data and big data breaches, these programs pose big-time privacy problems.
Where You Live
Some localities present more chances for accidents, experience a higher incidence of auto theft and vandalism, or have higher repair costs or medical and legal charges than others. These differences sometimes result in higher auto insurance rates in some parts of the Boston area than in others.
The Car You Drive
You probably won’t buy a car based on insurance costs, but the differences among cars are often substantial: It costs $200 or more extra per year to insure some cars than others.
Keeping an old car, or buying used, can also substantially affect your premiums. For example, premiums on a seven-year-old car are usually about 12 percent lower than on a five-year-old car. If your car isn’t worth much, you’ll save a lot by dropping collision and comprehensive coverage, since a total loss of your car won’t add up to much more than your deductible.
Your insurance premiums also slightly decrease if your car is equipped with safety devices or anti-theft features. Companies offer a 25 percent discount on PIP, Medical Payments, and Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist coverages for cars with passive restraint systems (air bags or automatic seatbelts). If your vehicle has anti-theft devices, your company must discount your comprehensive coverage by five to 36 percent, depending on the type of device.
Big Breaks for Seniors
If you are age 65 or older, make sure your premium reflects an important discount. All insurers must offer Massachusetts policyholders age 65 or older a 25 percent discount off their total premium if there are no inexperienced drivers on the policy and their cars are not customarily used for business purposes.
How Much You Drive
If you drive your car 5,000 miles a year or less, companies cut your premium by 10 percent (except on the portions of the premium for comprehensive, substitute transportation, and labor and towing coverages). Most companies also offer small discounts if you drive between 5,001 and 7,500 miles.
Length of Time Insured by the Company
If you are considering switching insurance companies, and have been “loss-free” with your current company for a while, calculate in any future longevity discounts. Many companies offer renewal discounts each year. Some offer five to 10 percent discounts for three years of coverage without an at-fault accident, and may increase the discount at six years and nine years.
Some companies love to tout the big discounts you’ll get by signing on with them to insure both your cars and home. Some knock off five percent, 10 percent, or even more from either the auto rate or the homeowners rate; some knock off a percentage from both. But keep in mind that dual-policy discounts are usually offered by companies that charge high prices for coverage. A 15 percent dual-policy discount isn’t really much of a discount if it’s offered by a company that charges twice as much as its competitors.
This dual-policy pricing is undesirable for consumers because it makes shopping more difficult; to find out the exact savings you could realize by switching companies, you have to shop for both types of coverage at once. Click here for our latest comparisons of homeowners insurance companies.
Several insurers offer five to 15 percent discounts to groups—employees of specific companies and members of employee associations, alumni associations, and others. But remember that even with a 15 percent group discount, companies that offer these discounts rarely beat the lowest-priced companies for most drivers. Checking on available group discounts might lead you to an insurance company that you would prefer for service or other reasons, but would be unacceptably expensive without a group discount.
If you regularly use mass transit, some companies offer a 10 percent discount on property damage and collision coverages if you provide evidence that you purchased at least 11 months of commuter passes.
Some companies also give discounts for inexperienced drivers who are full-time students and have good grades (typically a B average or better).