published Monday, May 26th, 2014

Georgia auto insurance is third-highest in the nation

Average annual car insurance premiums by state

Top five

1. Michigan $2,551

2. West Virginia $2,518

3. Georgia $2,201

4. Washington, D.C. $2,127

5. Rhode Island $2,020

Bottom five

47. Iowa $1,058

48. Idaho $1,053

49. New Hampshire $983

50. Maine $964

51. Ohio $926

Source: Insure.com. (Rates are based on full coverage for a single, 40-year-old male with a clean record and good credit who commutes 12 miles to work each day, with policy limits of $100,000 for injury liability for one person, $300,000 for all injuries and $50,000 for property damage in an accident and a $500 deductible on collision and comprehensive coverage. The rate includes uninsured motorist coverage.)

Allen and Melanie Witry thought they'd save money when they moved in 2011 from Red Bank to Ringgold, Ga.

"You can get a lot more house for less money in Georgia," Allen Witry said.

Then the auto insurance bill came.

"Twice as expensive," he said.

Witry wasn't surprised to learn that an annual national survey found that Georgia has the third-highest average auto insurance rates in the nation, while Tennessee ranked 28th.

According to insure.com, the average Georgian will pay $2,201 for car insurance in 2014, while Tennesseans will spend an annual average of $1,397 on auto insurance premiums -- a difference of $804 yearly, or $67 each month.

Georgia auto insurance rates have been on the rise for several reasons, according to insure.com. More Peach State drivers are uninsured or underinsured, a high rate of lawsuits drives up costs, and Georgia insurance companies that had underpriced their policies to get market share finally found losses catching up with them, causing them to raise rates.

Another website, carinsurance.com, shows that rates jump by about 50 percent in the Chattanooga area as you cross the border from Tennessee to Georgia. The website shows an annual average insurance rate of $1,040 in Chattanooga and East Ridge ZIP codes that border Georgia, while across the state line annual rates average $1,511 in Chattanooga Valley, $1,503 in Fort Oglethorpe and $1,497 in Ringgold.

The websites' figures were questioned by two Georgia insurance brokers, though. They said drivers need to shop around for the best rates, because too many variables are involved to make blanket statements about Georgia's, Tennessee's or any other state's insurance rates.

"That's the only thing to do: Shop around," said Randall Peters, president of Weeks & Peters Insurance in Ringgold. "There's a whole lot of different variables."

Insurance isn't rated by state, Peters said, but by territories within states. He's not convinced Georgia's rates are higher on average than Tennessee's. If they are, Peters blames traffic in Atlanta, which has the ninth-largest metro area in the nation. That's compared to Nashville at 36th and Memphis at 41st.

Mike Daugherty, of 79-year-old Daugherty Insurance, in Rossville, said he doesn't see much difference between Georgia's and Tennessee's auto insurance rates.

"I deal with it all day long, and it just varies by company as to which state's going to be the cheapest," Daugherty said. "There's usually not much difference between the two."

Georgia's Office of Insurance and Safety Fire regulates auto insurers.

"This scenario doesn't give a true picture of rates in Georgia," insurance office spokesman Glen Allen said of insure.com's annual auto insurance rankings. "It's a marketing tool."

However, Allen couldn't provide an alternative scenario or say where Georgia ranked in terms of auto insurance costs.

"I do not know where we stand," he said.

Georgia's insurance commissioner is an elected position. Voters will decide in November between the incumbent since 2010, Ralph T. Hudgens, a Republican who ran unopposed in Georgia's May 20 primary, and Democrat Elizabeth "Liz" Johnson, of Statesboro.

Neither candidate has made an issue of Georgia's auto insurance rates. They're expected to square off over the federal Affordable Care Act, since Hudgens has said he'll be an "obstructionist" of Obamacare while Johnson is a retired insurance agent who served on the Democratic National Committee.

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@timesfreepress.com or twitter.com/TimOmarzu or 423-757-6651.

about Tim Omarzu...

Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.

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