By NASH NUNNERY
Corey Howell is all too aware that commercial vehicle insurance rates are rising at an alarming rate.
The trucking industry is flourishing, what with higher freight volumes, cheaper fuel and heavy-duty truck orders. But Howell, who works as Ridgeland sales leader for Chicago-based mega-insurance broker Hub International, says there is a downside that’s led to higher rates.
“I would say there are lots of inexperienced independent truck drivers on the road,” he said. “There is a lack of quality trained drivers and smaller companies are unable to be proactive in their training like the larger companies. It’s a different world on the road today.”
In 2017, premiums for commercial vehicles have jumped 5.4 percent, a sharp contrast for other types of insurance, which fell 2.5 percent, according to the Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers.
Increased liability and litigation involving trucking accidents also are pertinent factors, said Howell.
“You can’t drive down the highway a mile without seeing a billboard for a lawyer that specifically handles accident cases involving 18-wheel trucks,” he said. “So many insurance companies have become highly selective when it comes to who they write insurance policies for in the trucking industry.”
Kadeem Jones dreamed of becoming an independent long-haul truck driver for 10 years. Jones, 42, said it took almost a year to find a broker willing to write an affordable policy.
“Hell, they didn’t even want to return my calls,” said the Grenada native. “Needless to say, I was discouraged.”
Jones was offered one policy with an annual premium of $41,000. Other brokers quoted similar amounts, saying that Jones was considered a high risk because he’s a rookie driver and new company owner.
Last June, Jones was finally on the road to his new career backed by a $12,500 annual premium that would have cost half that amount four or five years ago.
“It’s still high but I’m managing the costs the best I can,” Jones said.
Mississippi Insurance Department commissioner Mike Chaney believes the ‘poor condition’ of 51 percent of the roads and 21 percent of bridges in the state also have contributed to increases in accidents.
“Structurally insufficient highways result in traffic delays and more time spent on the road due to ongoing construction,” Chaney said. “More time in commute increases the risk of being involved in an accident.”
The commissioner also cited distracted driving and the rising cost of vehicle repairs, especially in Mississippi. According to Chaney, auto repair costs in the state have risen 16 percent in the last three years, compared with the nationwide average of roughly 10 percent.
“Much of the difference can be attributed to the rapidly rising cost of auto body labor rates in Mississippi, which remain among the highest in the nation,” he said. “Distracted-driving laws also need to be more strictly enforced.”
With the uptick in vehicle accidents, have American drivers become worse behind the wheel?
“There are several factors at play, but I don’t think drivers have gotten worse,” Howell said. “With cell phones, texting and vehicles that are equipped with cameras and other technology, I believe it has made us lazy drivers.”
Chaney added the spate of uninsured motorists cannot be overlooked either. According to the agency’s statistics, as many as 34 percent of all Mississippi drivers are uninsured, passing the additional cost to those that are insured.
“Non-fault drivers involved in an accident often have to rely on their own insurance to pay for damages,” he said.