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New Jersey auto insurance rates tower over other states

New Jersey residents continue to face the highest auto insurance bills in the country, sometimes forcing consumers to buy only the minimum required. The state's auto insurance rates have topped the charts since 1990.

New Jersey's average expenditure per consumer for auto insurance was $1,033.88 in 1999, 66 percent higher than the national average of $683.27 (the latest figures available).

Experts both nationally and in New Jersey agree that there are numerous reasons for the state's position, but a few basics drive the prices:

  • It is more densely populated with vehicles than any other area except Washington, D.C.
  • New Jersey drivers make the third-longest commute in the country, and public transportation is directed at either New York City or Philadelphia, making it difficult for people to use public transportation for in-state travel.
  • New Jersey has a higher cost of living, with higher wages, and residents tend to own more expensive and newer vehicles with higher repair costs.
  • Minimum first-party benefits required by the state are $250,000, topped only by Michigan, while standard first-party benefits in New York are $50,000. First-party benefits include medical benefits, income-loss benefits, accidental death benefit, funeral benefit, and extraordinary medical benefits that would be paid to the insured.
  • New Jersey residents are allowed to designate their health insurers as the primary insurer, which would lower auto insurance premiums, but many do not, primarily because they are not aware of the option. That means benefits from auto insurance must be exhausted before health insurance kicks in. In other states, the auto insurance company would be able to recoup some of its cost from health insurance companies.

Other problems that have plagued the state include the high incidence of insurance fraud and the dwindling number of companies that sell auto insurance in the state.

Insurance companies have estimated that as much as 25 cents out of every dollar spent on premiums is lost to fraud in New Jersey. Several companies are in the process of pulling out of the state, including State Farm Indemnity Co., (New Jersey's largest auto insurer), American International Insurance Co., (the sixth-largest auto insurer in the state), and Providence Washington Insurance Co., leaving the remaining companies to carry a heavier burden, since the state doesn't allow applicants to be denied coverage unless their driving records are abysmal.

In addition, factors such as rising medical costs, repair costs, and jury awards in vehicular liability cases are driving up auto insurance rates.

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