Your driving may not be as safe as you believe. And you could be paying a pretty penny for your “recklessness.”
Here’s the thing: Through auto insurance underwriters’ eyes, every driver is a certified speed demon. And can you really blame them? Highly rated insurance companies are happy to pay out on legitimate claims, of course, but they’re also entitled to charge what the market can bear for the peace of mind that comes with full-spectrum auto coverage.
If you’d like to become a smarter insurance consumer, you must begin by learning what insurance companies look for in “safe” drivers — in industry parlance, “low risk” drivers, since there’s no such thing as perfectly safe. Then, you need to accommodate these criteria by making reasonable adjustments to your driving habits.
It’s not as daunting as it sounds. In fact, you can teach yourself to do these 11 things without dramatically changing your lifestyle or incurring unbearable costs.
1. Slow and Steady Wins the Race
First and foremost, drive like the most cautious driver you know: accelerate slowly, brake slowly, and don’t let your needle get too far above the posted speed limit. (Ideally, you’ll keep it below the speed limit at all times.) You might add a minute or two to your commute, but you’ll avoid speeding tickets and preventable fender-benders.
2. Work With an Insurer That Believes in Second Chances
Next, find an insurer that cares more about what you do in the here and now than where you’ve been in the past. It’s not a pipe dream, as this insurance company’s YouTube page makes clear: there really are insurance companies that won’t turn drivers down due to past violations or other issues that lead some insurers to deem them “high risk.”
3. Carpool to Work
Whenever possible, ride to work in something other than a single-occupancy vehicle. Why? Because many insurers assess premiums on the basis of miles driven; if you only drive to work two days per week, rather than five, you’re coming out ahead. If you’ve never tried a carpool before, send out feeler emails to coworkers who live reasonably close to you. Chances are good they’ll be receptive to the idea of sharing fuel and parking costs, not to mention keeping time spent behind the wheel in traffic to a minimum.
4. Ride Your Bike on Shorter Trips
If you live in a reasonably densely built area, you can almost certainly replace short car trips with bike journeys. In addition to reducing miles driven and limiting exposure to congested streets where accidents are more likely, you’ll save the time, aggravation, and expense involved in finding parking in high-traffic areas.
5. Take Public Transit When It Makes Sense
By the same token, ride the bus or train whenever it makes sense to do so. Transit may add a few minutes to your commute, but it’s far more pleasant than driving, and you won’t be at fault if the driver messes up.
6. Park Your Car Off the Street, If Possible
If you have access to a covered garage, use it. You’ll reduce the likelihood of property crime and weather damage — and may qualify for an insurance discount, as well. Be sure to lock your doors and close your car’s windows wherever your car is parked, of course.
7. Keep It Under the Speed Limit
Avoid breaking the speed limit, especially in areas you know to be frequented by traffic enforcement officials. A moving violation, however minor, can raise your insurance premiums. If you have recent moving violations on your record — as far back as seven years — they may result in higher premiums when you switch carriers.
8. Remove All Distractions From Your Car’s Cabin
Even if your state doesn’t have hands-free cellphone laws on the books, heed safety advocates’ warnings and invest in a hands-free setup. Apply the same logic to any other distractions in your car’s cabin, from rearview mirror hangers to reading material to the vehicle’s infotainment screen.
9. Take a Driver Safety Class, Even If It’s Not Required
It never hurts to bone up on safe driving techniques. Many police departments and community colleges offer free or cheap driver safety classes that reinforce basic safety protocols you probably haven’t thought about since you took your driver’s license exam way back when.
10. Ask a Safe-Driving Friend for Pointers
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Take a notoriously safe-driving friend for a ride-along and ask them for pointers. Are you braking too quickly? Changing lanes without warning? Consistently topping the speed limit? Sometimes, all you need is another pair of eyes.
11. Familiarize Yourself With Local Regulations
Whether you choose to take a driver safety class or not, spend a few hours with your state’s new driver handbook. You might be surprised by its scope, and the multitude of moving violations to which you’re subject as a driver on public roads. Before you know it, you’ll be doing your best to play along.
Safety Can Be Fun, Too
Shockingly, safe driving can be really, really fun. Not only because it’s likely to save you serious money in the long run, but because life really is better when you slow down and smell the proverbial roses.
Anyway, as cars become safer and smarter, speed limits are creeping up.
Back in the 1970s, President Nixon signed the Emergency Highway Energy Conservation Act into law, setting a national speed limit of 55 miles per hour on all highways. The law was a response to the Middle Eastern oil embargoes then crippling the gas-guzzling American auto industry; slower driving, in addition to being safer, is more fuel-efficient.
The Emergency Highway Energy Conservation Act finally met its demise in the mid-1990s, after 20 years on the books. Today, it’s not uncommon to see speed limits of 80 miles per hour — higher, in some isolated cases — in rural stretches of the American West, even as highway fatalities continue to decline year over year.
In other words, driving the speed limit isn’t as hard as it used to be. Neither are most of the other safe-driving adjustments described above. So, here’s to driving smarter without compromising the freedom of the open road.