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Motion and emotion defy car insurance

By Jay MacDonald ·
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Posted: 9 am ET
Motion and emotion don't mix when it comes to safe driving.

Multitasking can lead to serious trouble behind the wheel. (Courtesy National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.)

Call me geek but I'm fascinated by car insurance. Insert here your pitying eye-roll, followed in close succession by "Why?" and "Don't get out much, huh?" But two X factors separate car insurance from life insurance, health insurance and homeowners insurance: motion and emotion.

Consider the car insurance underwriters at Progressive, Geico and State Farm. In addition to recording your VIN number, they must somehow factor in two big unknowns that even Nostradamus could not have predicted: your vehicle in motion as it relates to the grand Pachinko game of 21st century traffic, and the emotional state of the 27 "buh-zillion" other drivers whose paths cross yours on a daily basis.

Life insurance actuaries have a pretty solid grasp of how long you'll live and the factors that affect longevity. Health insurance underwriters likewise know the odds that you'll get seriously sick. Home insurance underwriters have statistics on burglary, fire, flood, earthquake and weather to help mitigate their risk -- plus they're pretty certain your house is not going anywhere.

Of course, car insurance underwriters have tools, too. They base your insurance rates in part on a statistical snapshot of accident risk in your ZIP code. They know that certain types of vehicles, especially fast, expensive ones, tend to attract theft and cost them more when they crash. They even have some idea of how careful a driver you are based on your driving record, and lately, your credit score.

What they can't know is when, if, or how frequently motion, emotion or a combination of both will crash, crunch, dent or ding your ride. You may never have a claim or you may have a dozen, for which you may or may not be at fault.

That's why, whenever new hazardous driving behaviors such as road rage, cell phone use and texting and staged accidents manifest themselves, auto insurance companies hasten to launch studies to quantify the problem. They don't need more randomness, thank you; motion and emotion are quite enough.

If you're searching for cheaper car insurance, InsureMe, a Bankrate company, can help you compare auto insurance rates.

But if, like me, you're on a two-lane Jack Kerouac vision quest to discover how the auto insurance industry somehow wrests order out of chaos, hop in and turn up the radio.

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