If Others Are Hit With Traffic Points, Your Insurance Rates Could Benefit

GETTING THERE

April 27, 2009|By MICHAEL DRESSER | MICHAEL DRESSER,gettingthere@baltsun.com

Who in his or her right mind could find anything good to say about points? You know, those numerical demerits that will jack up your car insurance rates if you accumulate too many of them.

No takers? I guess it'll just have to be me.

Police officers have told me that the traffic offenders they pull over are not terribly concerned about the fines they might be ordered to pay. The officers say it's points that motorists truly fear. Police complain that judges are far too lenient in granting probation before judgment - sparing offenders the one punishment that is an effective deterrent.

I've seen it over and over in court records. Young driver gets speeding tickets. Young driver gets multiple PBJs. Young driver learns nothing and eventually kills self or others.

That's a good argument for points. But there's another one that should appeal to all good drivers: self-interest. Let me explain.

Our attitudes toward points tend to be formed when we are young drivers and thus more likely to commit traffic infractions. We quickly learn the lesson that we should go to court on traffic tickets, even if we're stone-cold guilty, because a tenderhearted judge is likely to give out a PBJ as long as we show up. That spares us the points that would end up on our record if we simply mailed in the fine.

Points, we learn from a young age, are a loathsome thing.

But looking at points from the far side of 50, with my high-speed days behind me, I'm beginning to see some positive aspects. About a year ago, I watched a district judge give PBJs to three straight speeders - clocked at 89, 89 and 90 on the Beltway. My thought was: Do I want to swim in the same risk pool as those characters?

No way. It is in my interest, and that of every other driver who can string together a few consecutive years without tickets, to see that such thrill-seekers bear the full cost of their risk-taking. Instead, by letting them off without points, the judge was withholding useful information from their insurance companies. Thus, their insurance rates do not reflect their actual behavior. So the next time they turn the highways into their private NASCAR track, and cause that inevitable high-cost accident, it's their fellow policyholders whose money ends up paying off the claim.

That's us, folks. The kind of people who still read newspapers rather than send text-messages from behind the wheel. People whose idea of a thrill is a day without heartburn.

For us, laws that vigorously assess points - especially for extreme behavior such as breaking the 80-mph barrier - are not a threat but an advantage. If the repeat offenders, drunken drivers and road-racers can have their rates raised - or better yet be kicked out of our risk pools entirely - our rates should theoretically go down.

Would that happen automatically? No way. The auto insurance industry would be more than willing to pocket any increased profits that result from their receiving more complete information from the courts and the Motor Vehicle Administration. Competition would eventually force companies to offer heftier safe-driver discounts, but you could count on them to drag it out.

That's where regulation comes in. You'd have to couple any policies curbing PBJs with the appointment of a junkyard dog as insurance commissioner who would insist that 90 percent of the savings go back to consumers. Give the companies 10 percent, just to make it a win-win for them.

It's doubtful whether any such idea would fly in the Maryland General Assembly. Too many members still seem to identify more with the lawbreakers than the law-abiders on the highways. (Maybe for good reason. One of my readers recently reported seeing a car with House of Delegates plates speeding along Interstate 97 at an estimated 85 mph.)

But who knows? Maybe a few of them will wake up some morning, look in the mirror and realize they're no longer teenagers. Maybe some of our District Court judges will catch on to the fact that their profligate PBJs just encourage repeat offenses - and keep their own insurance bills high.

Think about it. If you've gone, say, three years without a traffic ticket, chances are you're the type of stick-in-the-mud who will go another three or five or 10 without being pulled over. Points are no longer a serious threat. Your interests are aligned with those of The Man. You benefit when these young - or not-so-young - daredevils get every point they so richly deserve.

Isn't middle age fun?

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