Texting While Driving

BATON ROUGE -- Louisiana and other states had experienced a reprieve in double-digit hikes in auto insurance premiums in recent years, but the high number of distracted drivers tide has led to another spike.

The state had seen single-digit increases over a 10-year period from 2000-2010, but double-digit hikes have once again become the norm over the last five years, Commissioner of Insurance Jim Donelon told the Press Club of Louisiana at its weekly meeting Sept. 17.

The higher premiums are not limited to Louisiana, he said. It's all part of a combination of issues that have led to the spike in premiums.

"More than anything else, distracted drivers are driving up rates and killing American motorists in record numbers," Donelon said.

Some states, such as California and New Mexico, have implement strict enforcement not only against texting while driving, but holding a handheld device at the steering wheel.

State Sen. Dale Erdey, R-Livingston, spearheaded legislation  in 2013 that banned use of Twitter and Facebook while driving. He pushed the legislation to add teeth to the ban and texting while driving, which went on the books in 2008.

Louisiana lawmakers in 2017 increased first-offense fines associated with texting to $500 on the first violation and $1,000 for each subsequent offense.

The legislation has put the state in the right direction, but lawmakers need to push for stronger enforcement, Donelon said.

"The problem is that the law is enforced only as a secondary violation," he said. "That doesn't really do a whole lot to stop it, and the number of accidents will continue to rise until our state cracks down harder on distracted drivers."

Louisiana has the fourth highest automobile insurance rate in the nation, contributed largely by cellphone usage in vehicles.

The Highway Safety Research Group at Louisiana State University reported that in the first half of 2016 alone, 972 vehicle crashes were linked to drivers who were using their cellphones at the time of the crash, and 331 of those crashes resulted in injuries to drivers or passengers.

A recovering economy and the higher cost of repairs have also contributed to the rate hike.

The hikes spurred by the improved economy stem from the lower cost per gallon for gasoline, which has led to increase in drivers on the road.

"With cheaper gas, you see more miles driven, more accidents and more claims," Donelon said.

The technological advances in today's vehicles have triggered the hike on auto repairs. 

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