Washington area motorists with good driving records may be able to save $400 or more on their annual automobile insurance premiums by insuring their cars with one of the lower-priced companies, according to a new study by a local consumer organization.
The study singles out Fireman's Fund, Insurance Company of North America (INA) and Travelers Insurance Co. as examples of companies with lower rates for "preferred" drivers -- generally those who haven't been charged in an accident or haven't had more than one traffic citation in the past three years.
Other findings in the study by Washington Consumers' Checkbook, a nonprofit magazine that rates Washington area service firms, include:
* Specific types of drivers may qualify for low rates at some companies. One example given is SAFECO, which the study said offers some of the best available rates for a married couple, when both spouses are over age 30 and have no driving-age children and no traffic accidents or violations in the past three years.
* Several companies have low rates in specific areas. Rates for Home Insurance Co. are particularly low in Maryland, while rates for State Farm are particularly low in the District of Columbia.
* Two companies rated as "particularly outstanding" were Erie Insurance Exchange and United Services Automobile Association (USAA). However, USAA insures only active and retired military officers. Erie is very selective in taking new customers and doesn't sell insurance in the District.
The study, which appears in the magazine's latest issue, named several other companies that have "low or moderate premiums for many types of policyholders." Those include Royal, State Farm, Amica Mutual and SAFECO.
Listed in the report are detailed ratings for 31 companies, six types of drivers, four locations and two coverage plans. The tables show an enormous difference in the premiums paid, depending on all those variables. For example, a married man, aged 45 and living in Montgomery County, who drives a 1979 Impala two-door sedan, drives to and from work eight miles each way, and has a son living at home may pay as little as $438 a year for auto insurance low-option policy or as much as $1,760.