Bankrate report prompts call for probe

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The Consumer Federation of America is calling for federal and state officials to investigate auto insurance companies’ use of ZIP codes in setting rates, following a Bankrate report published Thursday.

We gathered online quotes for six-month premiums from three leading insurers in 10 major U.S. cities, using a pair of neighboring addresses in each city to get quotes for three hypothetical profiles: a 30-year-old man, a 30-year-old woman, and a 45-year-old couple with two driving teens living at home.

The research revealed that all other things being equal, including a clean driving record, deductibles and liability limits, a driver’s ZIP code may determine what he or she pays for auto insurance.

The survey findings and analysis can be found here.

Group: What else explains the differences?

“(W)hatever differences there might when comparing dense neighborhoods with sparsely populated communities cannot account for dramatic price differences being charged to drivers on different sides of a street,” the federation says in a statement released Friday.

In the most extreme examples, a 30-year-old man could pay 64 percent more for the same coverage with one insurance company in Chicago, for addresses less than a half-mile apart. Quotes varied by 58 percent with one insurer in New York for the same hypothetical profile at homes 1.6 miles from each other.

When asked about the importance of ZIP codes in setting rates, the insurance industry told Bankrate that ZIP codes don’t drive rates, but “the frequency and the cost of accidents” in certain areas do.

However, insurance regulators said your ZIP code matters, but it’s just one of many factors that determine rates.

“State laws require that every driver has to buy auto insurance, no matter where they live,” Stephen Brobeck, the federation’s executive director, says in the statement. “So how can it be fair that insurers charge the same person radically different rates for moving just a few blocks away?”

A call for change

The consumer federation is pushing for consumer protection laws to be implemented that ensure a driver’s annual mileage and safety record are weighed more heavily than a ZIP code when determining auto insurance rates.

Here are five of the biggest car insurance myths you should ignore.

Follow me on Twitter @CrissiPonder.