This time of year it's usually a good thing when we yell, "We're No. 1" -- but not always.
I've found a list where Louisiana is No. 1, and all I can do is shake my head in confusement because we're ranked first in how much it costs to insure our vehicles and we are way ahead of No. 2.
Louisiana drivers pay an average of $2,500 a year to insure the family car. The national average is $1,429 and our closest state neighbors pay about $1,500. That extra $1,000 per vehicle would mean a lot to Louisiana families.
The most expensive states for auto insurance are: Louisiana, Michigan, Oklahoma, Montana and California. On the other end of the scale are New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Ohio, Vermont and Maine.
Maine is the cheapest place in the nation to insure a car, in part because there aren't a lot of cars there and they have really nice roads. But they have ice and snow and moose. Drivers there also don't sue each other every time there's a fender bender.
We have rain, no moose and lots of plaintiff's attorneys. The temptation to make somebody pay is all around us. The television ads promise a quick and very large payday whenever there's an auto accident. "Make 'em pay" should be stamped on every license plate.
There is an oddity in Louisiana law that allows for jury trials when the potential liability for damages is greater than $50,000. Hence, there are lots of $49,000 settlement checks cut to save the money and time that comes with a jury trial. Insurance companies just pass those settlement costs along to policyholders. They're not stupid.
Louisiana's litigious nature is indeed a factor, but that's only part of the story. The other side of the ledger will show that Louisiana drivers feel entitled to ignore traffic laws with blatant disregard for the ramifications that certainly follow.
It's human nature to blame someone or something else for our problems. It tends to make us feel more normal if we don't have to accept any responsibility for bad times or bad luck, but let's not kid ourselves. Our insurance rates are so damn high because we are bad, inconsiderate drivers.
Every morning I take the same path to the office and pass through four school zones, two on a major road and two on side streets. By and large the drivers passing through the school zones on the side streets do a good job of complying with posted school zone speed limits. My theory is that most of these drivers have just dropped off a child at school, and the side streets are so bad that it's almost impossible to speed down them.
The major road is Claiborne Avenue and there are two school zones I pass through. It seems to me that 8 out of 10 cars pay absolutely no attention to the flashing school zone signs.
How could they? They are talking on the phone, texting, reading the paper, talking, singing -- doing just about anything but paying attention.
I've pointed out to more than a few of them that they are in a school zone. They usually acknowledge my gesture of concern with a gesture of their own.
These same drivers are outraged when traffic cameras take their picture as they run through a red light, speed or don't stop properly at intersections. They write letters to the editor, they complain to their family and coworkers. But, they don't follow the law.
Some would say Louisiana drivers aren't so different from drivers in other parts of the country and the high rates are a hangover from Hurricane Katrina when so many cars were destroyed. Those people would be wrong.
Louisiana drivers pay high rates because of poor decision making.
Louisiana drivers have the power to change things. When they become more considerate for traffic laws and less satisfied with insurance settlement checks, rates will drop. If they instead choose to speed, read and plead, we will continue to pay the highest premiums in the nation.
No. 1, indeed.