World and Nation

Auto Insurance Rates in MA Drop 7.7 Percent After Switching to New System

Massachusetts auto insurance premiums will drop an average of just under 8 percent in the first year of the state’s new competitive insurance system, less than what some analysts had forecast would happen if regulators continued to set the rates.

State officials said the rates filed Monday for policies renewing April 1 would yield a reduction in the statewide average premium of approximately 7.7 percent. Massachusetts regulators under the current system had cut the statewide average premium for 2007 by 11.7 percent, lowering it to $899.

The Division of Insurance will officially release the filings Tuesday, but company officials estimated that 70 to 80 percent of the state’s drivers will probably see rate reductions, while about 20 to 30 percent will see their rates hold steady or increase by as much as 10 percent.

The state is switching to a competitive auto insurance system after 30 years in a bid to attract big national carriers, expand coverage options, and drive down premiums, which are among the highest in the country.

The state’s 19 existing companies introduced many new coverage options Monday, but no new carriers jumped into the market. Rates also fell, particularly for some drivers, but not as much as some had expected.

On a conference call with reporters Monday, Insurance Commissioner Nonnie S. Burnes initially declined to provide the statewide average premium number for next year, saying it was “not a reasonable comparison” under her new regulatory system of managed competition. The number has been used in past years to compare one year’s rates to those of previous years.

She later called the Globe back and provided the number, but cautioned that it failed to take into account the many policy enhancements companies are beginning to offer.

“This is the number, but it’s not the story,” she said.

Burnes estimated that premiums for 46 percent of the cars insured by the state’s five biggest carriers, or about 1.2 million vehicles, would drop by 10 percent or more.

Massachusetts currently is the only state in the nation where regulators set all auto insurance rates. The Patrick administration is moving to a system where companies can implement their own rate plans, subject to regulatory approval. Rate increases, at least initially, are capped at 10 percent.

Monday’s filings were accompanied by a flurry of news releases as companies pointed to steep discounts and policy enhancements they plan to offer drivers they consider the best risks.

Companies introduced discounts for students with good grades, for customers who continue to insure their vehicles with the same firm, or for those who also purchase an insurance policy for a home, a condo, or an apartment.

Companies also introduced policies that wouldn’t penalize drivers for a rare accident or that cut in half from six to three years the time an accident would remain on a customer’s driving record.