IRC Report Shows Falling Auto Accident Rates, Higher Injury Claim Rates

November 12, 2002

The frequency of auto accidents since 1980 has dropped by 16 percent. During the same time period, however, the frequency of auto injury claims rose 26 percent. These findings are revealed in a study recently released by the Insurance Research Council (IRC).

In 1980, property damage liability (PD) claim frequency rates, which approximate auto accident rates in the U.S., were 4.94 per 100 insured cars. They declined to 4.13 per 100 insured cars in 2000. In contrast, the frequency of auto injury claims under the bodily injury liability (BI) coverage were 0.88 per 100 insured cars in 1980 and reached a high of 1.22 per 100 insured cars in 1995 before gradually decreasing to 1.11 per 100 insured cars in 2000.

“The overall increase in auto injury claims coupled with declining accident rates suggests that people are more willing to file injury claims than they have been in the past,” commented Elizabeth A. Sprinkel, senior vice president of the IRC. “One possible reason for the trend is that BI claims can include pain and suffering awards that are often several times greater than the amount of accident-related losses sustained by claimants. These large awards provide a significant incentive to file BI claims,” Sprinkel said.

Injury claim rates have moderated in recent years, falling nine percent since 1995. A number of factors may have contributed to the modest decrease in BI claim frequency. Compared to earlier studies, current IRC research shows that injuries resulting from auto crashes are less likely to require hospitalization or to result in extended periods of disability for accident victims. “These findings are likely the result of auto safety campaigns of the 1990s,” Sprinkel said. Also, IRC research points to a slight decline in attorney involvement in auto injury claims over this period.

Accident rates among states in 2000 ranged from a high of 6.88 PD claims per 100 insured cars in Massachusetts to a low of 2.83 in Wyoming. BI claim frequency rates in the same year ranged from 2.22 per 100 insured cars in Massachusetts to 0.17 in North Dakota.

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