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A sure thing

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Auto insurers have a dirty little secret: It really doesn't matter to them how cautiously you drive. Get involved in an accident and your premiums skyrocket no matter who is at fault. Is it any wonder that some drivers throw caution to the wind?

I'm not condoning road rage, but I understand it. In less than two years, each of my cars has been in a collision through no fault of my own. One woman hit my parked car. The other made an abrupt left turn across my path, causing nearly $2,000 worth of damage to a mini-van I'd owned for less than two weeks.

In each case, the other driver's insurance paid, though not without prompting. It took one company six months to cut me a check. The other paid without hesitation--after I'd sent them a police report.

Of course, insurers always have the last laugh. My old insurance company recently sold its North Carolina auto policies to another outfit. Because of my previous "claims activity," the new guys are offering a six-month premium increase of $50 or about 10 percent. I should be thankful, the customer service representative told me. Had I been at fault in any of my accidents, I'd be paying even more. Besides, she added, "You did have those two comprehensive claims."

Hey, I live in a land of dump trucks with uncovered loads. Is it my fault that stray rocks twice cracked my windshield? Isn't that what insurance is for? I figured premiums would remain sanely priced so long as I didn't pass a stopped school bus, drive while intoxicated or cause a fender bender.

The truth is, it doesn't matter. The state Department of Insurance says underwriters scrutinize all claims regardless of fault. Overnight, a sensible driver who has the misfortune of being in a wreck can go from being a "preferred" customer paying a cheap rate, to a "high risk" customer who pays much more.

If insurance companies get their way, soon, you won't even have to be in an accident for auto bills to suddenly soar. Come October, every motorist in the state could see their insurance rates jump by 10.6 percent if regulators grant a petition from companies that insist they need more money to cover the rising cost of repairs.

Who knows what will happen? But two things are certain: Cars have to be insured and the price always goes up. Always.

That's enough to put anyone in a rage.

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