Nearly 10 percent of Americans admit to driving without car insurance at some point in their lives – a decision that breaks the law in 49 out of 50 states. Meanwhile, about 9 percent of drivers confess to texting while driving, according to a recent survey conducted by Insurance.com of 1,496 drivers.
But by and large, Americans are overwhelmingly honest when dealing with their auto insurance companies, with 87 percent saying they have never lied to their insurers.
The survey revealed some disturbing news about driver safety, with many respondents admitting to behaviors known to raise the risk of deadly car accidents.
On a brighter note, less than 3 percent of survey respondents say they read or groom themselves (such as shaving or applying makeup) while driving.
And the fact that drivers are candid enough to admit their bad behaviors offers a ray of hope, according to Bob Passmore, spokesperson for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, an industry trade group.
"If people admit to recognizing their bad behaviors, it's the first step on the road to redemption," he says.
Still, the relatively high number of people who confess to dangerous driving behaviors should trigger alarm bells for all motorists, according to experts.
Drivers absorbed in a cell phone conversation or who take their eyes off the road to reach for a soda or sandwich are at much greater risk of causing an accident, says Michael Barry, a spokesperson for the Insurance Information Institute.
"Their ability to concentrate on the act of driving is severely impaired," he says.
Passmore says drivers too often underestimate the danger of such behaviors.
"It really only takes one moment of distraction and you could end up in a very bad situation, and sometimes tragic," he says.
In addition, the finding that one in 10 drivers has driven without any auto insurance – a practice that is legal only in New Hampshire – means other drivers need to take defensive measures to protect their finances, Barry says.
"Insured drivers ought to make sure their policies include uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage," he says.
Without such coverage, a driver struck by an uninsured or underinsured motorist might not be compensated for damages such as medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
Americans score better when asked about their level of honesty in dealing with their auto insurance companies.
Less than 1 percent of survey respondents say they have lied on an auto insurance application to get a better rate. And more than 87 percent flatly state they have never lied to their insurer.
In addition, less than 2 percent of drivers say they have lied about:
Barry says such a high rate of honesty does not surprise him.
"The overwhelming majority of drivers understand that being honest on their auto insurance application will serve them well, especially if they ever need to file a claim," he says.
Among those who did admit to fibbing, a large percentage said they did so out of innocent forgetfulness. But others acknowledged they shaded the truth to save money on annual premiums.
In particular, a significant percentage of people who fibbed by underestimating their annual miles driven said they did so to save money on annual premiums.
Passmore believes people who tell such fibs or who pad their claims do so out of a mistaken sense that they are pulling one over on their car insurance companies.
"Whose money do they think this is? It's all of our money," he says. "They think they are stealing from the big insurance company, but they are stealing from customers, which could be your neighbor or your mother."
Barry says drivers who lie to save a few bucks also put themselves at risk of material representation.
"The biggest downside to lying to an insurer is that the insurer can then legally cancel your policy," he says.
Getting caught misrepresenting the facts is "one of the few ways a policyholder can quickly have their policy canceled," he says.
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