Auto insurance rates fuel Prop 17 debate

If you have been with the same car insurance company for a long time, by law, that company can give you a discount; it is cheaper to keep a current customer than set up a policy for a new one. Prop 17 would allow companies to also give discounts to new customers who have had continuous coverage. That may sound like a simple change, but it is not.

For motorists this is a fight over the very essence of Proposition 103, the auto insurance initiative that regulates rates.

"What this does is actually benefits the consumer by making it portable and by making and forcing companies to be a lot more competitive," said John Morton who backs Prop 17.

Consumer activist Harvey Rosenfield wrote Prop 103 and says many consumers would pay more.

"I'll tell you who the winners are. The winners are the insurance companies," said Rosenfield. "The losers are the consumers of California."

Those who have had coverage could get discounts even when changing companies; those who have had lapses could be surcharged, even if they are good drivers.

So how much money are we talking about? What would it save or cost your family? The California State Insurance Commission says, "Automobile rating is extremely complicated, and there is no way of predicting the precise impact [of] a specific factor."

So we turn to Consumers Union which has looked at the issue and is opposing the change.

"It is not fair. Insurance is supposed to be based on your risk of getting into an accident. Whether you are previously insured has nothing to do with your risk of getting into an accident and the companies don't say otherwise."

Those in favor of Prop 17 say it rewards those who keep their coverage active. Those opposed say this would increase the number of uninsured motorists so all rates could go up.

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