Last year was the least deadly on Maine roads since 1959, according to the Maine Bureau of Highway Safety. Several reasons were cited, some of which showed a possible bright side to 2008's historically high gasoline prices. including fewer miles being driven and people slowing down to conserve fuel. Officials also point to increased seat belt use and safer cars on the road as factors in the positive result.
- Insurance companies use multiple years' experience when they set rates. This avoids wild swings due to one year's particularly bad – or good – experience. Accident fatality statistics have been generally favorable over the last few years. And insurance rates are generally lower as a result (chart below is from III.org).
- Other accident-related costs are increasing. Car insurance can pay for lots of things: medical bills for injured parties, repair costs and body shop storage charges for damaged vehicles, car rental, and repair for other damaged property (utility poles, buildings, etc.). Many of these costs have increased faster than the overall rate of inflation, which insurance companies have to factor into their rates.
- Accident rates haven't decreased, only fatalities. In a recent Bangor Daily News article, a Maine State Police spokesman said "we've had the same number of crashes.". Of course, insurance companies usually have to pay larger claims in the case of fatalities, but it's the frequency of accidents that drives claims experience (and insurance rates) more than severity.
Fewer people died last year on Maine roads, and that's great news for everyone. If the trend continues, overall auto insurance rates might continue to drop. Even if it doesn't continue, the good experience should have a calming effect on Maine auto insurance rates.