Editors' pick: Originally published Sept. 14

In many states, the simple act of driving your car can inflate your auto insurance rates.

An InsuranceQuotes survey conducted earlier this year found that a U.S. driver who drives 5,000 miles a year pays 8.61% less on average than a fellow driver who logs 15,000 miles a year -- or just slightly more than the 13,476 the average American drives annually, according to the Department of Transportation. In the following ten states, the percentage increase in insurance premiums between road warriors and leisure drivers can be dramatic:

1. California: 26.15%

2. Alaska: 10.45%

3. Washington, D.C: 10.2%

4. Alabama: 9.82%

5. Massachusetts: 9.79%

6. Hawaii 9.67%

7. Virginia: 9.46%

8. Maryland: 8.91%

9. South Carolina: 8.70%

10. Louisiana: 8.42%

"Most consumers aren't aware of the relationship between mileage and auto premiums," says Laura Adams, senior insurance analyst for insuranceQuotes. "If your daily commute decreases, be sure to notify your insurer quickly so you don't overpay for coverage."

Mike Barry, vice president of media relations for the nonprofit Insurance Information Institute, says that price hike boils down to exactly one variable: risk. Any driver who's putting more miles on their car than the average motorist is a huge risk to an insurer.

In California, that risk is especially important to how an insurance company determines its premiums. When voters passed Proposition 103 in 1988, which significantly limited the factors insurance companies could use when determining auto rates. You can't use level of education, credit scores or occupation as a factor, so rates boil down to three factors in the following order of importance: miles driven per year, safety record and number of years as a driver.

In North Carolina, which sets a cap on how much insurers can raise rates based on the number of miles driven, that average change in premium ends up being 0%. Though it's tough to beat that, at least four other states (Utah at 1.02%, Rhode Island at 1.28%, Texas at 2.81% and Connecticut at 2.84%) give the number of miles driven minimal weight when determining insurance rates.

So how do you reap the benefits of low-mileage driving? Well, you could lie, but that isn't exactly a foolproof strategy. While insurers aren't going to come out and check your odometer, if your car receives routine maintenance or you're involved in a breakdown or accident that requires an odometer reading, you're creating a paper trail that an insurance provider can use to track your actual usage. If you're lying, that's insurance fraud and your insurer has legal recourse to come after you for restitution.

If you want to keep everything above board, however, there's always pay-as-you-drive insurance. This performance-based insurance tracks driving behavior through small sensor installed in a car or by an existing on-board communications system (think OnStar). That sensor then feeds certain information back to the insurance company. For providers including State Farm and MetroMile, that means strictly counting the miles you're driving. For Progressive's Snapshot program, however, a small wireless device under the dashboard of a car to record how many miles are driven each day, how often a vehicle is driven between midnight and 4 a.m. and how often a drivers slams on the brakes. Other insurers including Allstate, The Hartford, Liberty Mutual, GMAC and Travelers have similar programs.

All of the above make mileage a key metric in determining your rate, but that can only work in your favor..

"It's a really big part of what goes into your rate, because the insurance company figures that the more miles you drive, the more likely you are to get into an accident," Adams says. "More road time just means more potential risk, so if you're driving less, they'll reward you for that."

It also opens the door for discounts based on average speed, how hard you hit the brakes and what time of day you drive. Progressive's Snapshot program, for example, has collected enough data to figure out that not only were school driving manuals wrong about keeping four seconds between you and the driver in front of you, but that it takes even the most aggressive stoppers 12 seconds to come to a complete halt when traveling 60 miles per hour. The average driver takes 24 seconds -- or roughly 420 yards -- to come to a stop at that speed.

"After analyzing Snapshot driving data, we've found hard braking to be one of the most highly predictive variables for predicting future crashes," says Dave Pratt, general manager of usage-based insurance for Progressive. "We know that one of the main contributors to hard braking is tailgating, so we're using our data to help drivers be as alert and aware as possible on the road. We've gathered billions of miles of driving data and are only just beginning to scratch the surface in terms of the types of predictive behavior our Snapshot analytics can reveal."

Naturally, more privacy-minded U.S. drivers are a bit freaked out by the monitoring aspect. In fact, a majority of U.S. drivers (51%) told InsuranceQuotes that they would never joining a pay-as-you-drive insurance program, according to a new report from InsuranceQuotes.com. That's actually up from the 37% who were dead-set against pay-as-you-drive insurance in 2014.

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) predicts that 20% of all U.S. auto insurance companies will incorporate some form of pay-as-you-drive program by 2020. That isn't as scary as most drivers would believe. More than half of those surveyed by InsuranceQuotes said they think insurers can monitor whether or not they've been drinking and driving (they can't), while 35% say they think insurers can jack up rates for driving in "neighborhoods with a lot of crime" (they don't).

However, 26% of respondents dismissed pay-as-you-drive insurance solely, because "I don't understand how it works." That's been less of a problem with younger drivers, as 47% of drivers between the ages of 18 and 29 are aware of pay-as-you-drive programs compared to 22% of drivers 65 or older. As a result, only 15% of Millennials share their elders' privacy concerns and 43% of drivers between the ages of 18 and 29 said they would consider enrolling. That far outpaces the 36% between the ages of 50 and 64 who'd do the same and the 28% of respondents over 65 who'd give it a shot.

"If you think you're a good driver and you're not opposed to sharing some of this data about how you drive with an insurance company, I say give it a shot," Adams says. "If it doesn't save you money, you can always switch back to the regular insurance and there's no downside."

This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.

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