Auto Insurance Costs: Where Does Your State Rank?

Last Updated Mar 14, 2011 5:54 PM EDT

You know that accidents, traffic tickets, and even your credit score can determine your auto insurance rates. But so can the state where you live. According to a just-released ranking of state-by-state costs from the web site Insure.com, average rates in the most expensive state -- Michigan -- are two and half times as high as in the cheapest state, Vermont.

"The rankings demonstrate how factors like state laws and the judicial system can be the driving force behind high rates," says Amy Danise, senior managing editor of Insure.com. After Michigan, where the average rate is $2,541 a year, the second-highest rates are in Louisiana, where drivers pay an average of $2,453. Three other states had average rates above $2,000 a year: Oklahoma, Montana, and Washington, D.C.

Only Vermont ($995) averaged below $1,000. But South Carolina at $1,095 was not far above that mark. Both states encourage competition among auto insurers.

The high rates are roughly correlated with the proportion of uninsured drivers in a state, often in violation of state law. Uninsured drivers still have accidents, and their liability and personal injury costs are passed on to the rest of the state's drivers through higher insurance rates. In Oklahoma, nearly one-quarter of drivers on the road are uninsured. Economically hard-hit Michigan had 17% of drivers with no insurance and Louisiana 12%. "It's an economic problem. They just can't afford the rates," says Marc Eagan, president-elect of the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of Louisiana.

Both the most and least expensive states also have locally-specific stories:

• Michigan is the only state that guarantees unlimited personal injury protection payments to people injured in auto accidents. Insurance companies pay up to $480,000 in each case, plus up to three years of lost wages. A state fund chips in on higher settlements. But assessments for that fund also add to rates.
• Louisiana's judicial system tends to return large jury verdicts in cases involving auto accident injuries, according to insurance agents in that state. That means bigger payouts from insurance companies and thus higher rates.
• Oklahoma has weird weather. It is one of the worst areas for tornadoes. And a storm last year dropped softball-sized hail on Oklahoma City. Widespread damage claims for battered cars helped push rates up. • Vermont (above) has lots of rural territory and very little traffic congesion. And with a fairly low level of lawsuits, competing insurers offer policies there.

To see how your state ranks, here is the full list of states and average insurance costs for each:
1. Michigan, $2,541
2. Louisiana, $2,453
3. Oklahoma, $2,197
4. Montana, $2,190
5. Washington, D.C., $2,146
6. California, $1,991
7. Mississippi, $1,896
8. New Mexico, $1,896
9. Arkansas, $1,836
10. Maryland, $1,807
11. North Dakota, $1,794
12. Connecticut, $1,786
13. Rhode Island, $1,747
14. Wyoming, $1,714
15. Hawaii, $1,707
16. South Dakota, $1,707
17. Georgia, $1,670
18. New Jersey, $1,663
19. West Virginia, $1,633
20. Kentucky, $1,629
21. New York, $1,627
22. Minnesota, $1,614
23. Washington, $1,584
24. Missouri, $1,563
25. Indiana, $1,518
26. Colorado, $1,508
27. Texas, $1,492
28. Delaware, $1,489
29. Florida, $1,476
30. Nebraska, $1,470
31. Pennsylvania, $1,468
32. Kansas, $1,461
33. Alaska, $1,454
34. New Hampshire, $1,334
35. Massachusetts, $1,328
36. Idaho, $1,325
37. Alabama, $1,306
38. Oregon, $1,306
39. Nevada, $1,300
40. Illinois, $1,290
41. Arizona, $1,280
42. Utah, $1,272
43. Virginia, $1,237
44. Iowa, $1,179
45. North Carolina, $1,154
46. Ohio, $1,152
47. Tennessee, $1,146
48. Wisconsin, $1,128
49. Maine, $1,126
50. South Carolina, $1,095
51. Vermont, $995
Vermont bridge photo from Flickr user dougtone Michigan car photo from Flickr user turtlemom4bacon
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