USAA to Offer Rideshare ‘Gap Protection’ Coverage in Massachusetts

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and the Division of Insurance announced that the United Services Automobile Association (USAA) has been approved to offer additional “gap protection” coverage to its policyholders who drive their cars for rideshare or transportation network companies (TNC), and invited other insurance companies to submit additional proposals for consideration. USAA is the first insurer to apply to offer such coverage in Massachusetts.

The Massachusetts legislature is currently hammering out a bill that would regulate TNCs.

“As we work to develop a regulatory framework to support innovative ridesharing companies, it’s crucial that appropriate coverage is available to protect drivers, passengers and the traveling public,” said Baker.

“With the first endorsement of its type taking effect for TNC drivers, we welcome others to participate in supporting consumer safety and choice in Massachusetts’ diverse transportation network. I also encourage the legislature to continue moving forward on our proposal to develop a regulatory structure that includes strong standards for both industry and consumer safety,” Baker added.

USAA said that beginning Nov. 21, USAA members in Massachusetts will be able to purchase rideshare gap protection for policies effective on or after Jan. 7, 2016. “We are excited to provide this option to current and prospective members driving for TNCs to help them safeguard their financial security,” said Mark Medeiros, product manager for USAA.

In April, Baker filed “An Act Establishing Department of Public Utilities (DPU) Oversight of Transportation Network Companies” with the legislature, which would create a statewide regulatory framework for TNCs that includes criminal background checks for all drivers and requires $1 million in minimum insurance coverage for drivers operating as TNCs, while clarifying existing insurance gaps.

Rideshare gap protection coverage offers necessary protection to TNC drivers from the time they turn on a TNC app and are awaiting a ride offer to the time an offer is accepted. Currently, all drivers in Massachusetts, including TNC drivers, are required to carry personal auto insurance, and are specifically excluded from coverage on their personal policies when operating a personal vehicle to transport goods or passengers for a fee.

USAA also explained that its gap protection coverage protects its members during the “unmatched phase” — the time they are logged in to the ridesharing app but are not yet matched with a fare. Once a fare is accepted, the driver is covered by the ridesharing service’s commercial insurance policy, USAA said.

TNCs such as Uber and Lyft provide $1 million surplus line policy coverage to their drivers from the time a ride is accepted to the pickup and drop-off of a passenger — policies which are accepted by the state and would be required under Gov. Baker’s proposed legislation.

“The Division of Insurance is pleased to announce the availability of an insurance product which provides necessary protection to consumers utilizing TNCs and which furthers the public’s interest in the availability of TNCs as a transportation alternative,” Massachusetts Insurance Commissioner Dan Judson commented.

“The Division’s action is a positive step forward that will help ensure that drivers and the public are protected,” added Frank O’Brien, vice president of state government relations for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America. “When policymakers create a framework that is clear, concise and encourages innovation, insurers are able to develop new options such as this that can meet the demands of the sharing economy.”

But the announcement also highlights the ongoing insurance problem for many TNC drivers, according to Dave Sutton, spokesperson for “Who’s Driving You?,” a public safety initiative of the Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association, which represents taxi and limo companies.

“The fact that USAA is providing gap insurance indicates the Uber-driver coverage gap is real. An additional problem is that USAA’s coverage is available only to military service members and their families, not to the general public,” said Sutton.

“Until gap coverage is available to all Uber drivers in Massachusetts, passengers and third parties — such as other drivers and pedestrians — will continue to be at risk for ambiguous and delayed insurance compensation,” he added. “What’s shocking is that we now know that Massachusetts state officials are keenly aware of this risk, yet Uber continues to roam the streets.”