Fewer cars on the road in 2009: will auto insurance costs decrease?

Auto insurance costs may decline as the number of cars on the road falls

A surprising trend took hold in 2009: the number of cars on American roads actually declined.

Fourteen million cars were scrapped during the year, but only 10 million new cars were purchased, meaning that the total number of vehicles on the road fell by 4 million. It was the first time since World War II that the number of cars retired exceeded the number purchased, the Earth Policy Institute revealed this week.

Even with the 4-million-vehicle decline, the number of cars in America outstrips the number of licensed drivers. There are an estimated 246 million cars in the country, but just 209 million drivers.

A salient question for drivers is if the fleet reduction will lead to safer roads and lower insurance costs. It's probably too soon to tell. But driving is inordinately unsafe, meaning that any reduction in passenger-miles driven is likely to have a positive effect on crash statistics.

"Getting behind the wheel of a car is probably the riskiest thing any of us do on any given day," Insurance Institute for Highway Safety spokesman Russ Rader said recently to Scripps Howard News.

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Posted: January 8, 2010

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