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Charlotte Amalie
Wednesday, June 29, 2022


St. John residents may be paying more per capita in property taxes but they're getting a break on auto insurance.
As the Feb. 13 deadline looms for compulsory auto insurance, the waiting room of the island's only insurance agency fills up daily. At the end of the wait is a reward: one year of minimum liability coverage for $166.32 — as much as a hundred dollars less than the rates for comparable coverage on St. Thomas and St. Croix.
St. John residents get the break because they're better drivers and because there is less traffic on the island, insurance authorities say.
Behind the desk of agent Edith Principaal, boxes of policies are lined up on the floor. One stack represents auto insurance applications yet to be completed. Another, new policies. Still another, renewed policies of long-standing clients.
As she went over an application Wednesday, Principaal mused that it's human nature to wait until the last minute, given a deadline. "Yesterday morning between 9:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. I saw 27 people, and it's been that way for a good week, two weeks," she said.
Although many new clients are island residents, she said, there's also walk-in business from St. Thomas commuters who work on St. John. Meanwhile, the agency telephone keeps jangling with calls from St. Thomas drivers asking if they, too can get in on the bargain rate.
They can't. Nor can St. John drivers insure the cars they keep on St. Thomas at the St. John rate.
Insurance companies doing business on St. Thomas are also writing St. John policies for less. Warner Bowers, senior vice president of Guardian Insurance, said its St. John liability policy is going for $167. "St. John drivers don't have accidents, and they don't have claims," he said. "There are fewer people driving"
St. Thomas "has a frequency problem, but they're fender benders," he added.
Compulsory coverage on St. Thomas costs $235 on average, some agencies charging more and some less. St. Croix's average policy sells for $271. Bowers said the driving patterns on the Big Island, coupled with access to two highways where motorists can drive at 55 mph, contribute to more frequent and more serious accidents.
Principaal laughed when asked why St. John drivers qualified for cheaper insurance rates. Sure, drivers are more careful, she said, but how could it be otherwise? The island is known for its twisty roads, steep hills, blind curves, wandering livestock and wrong-way tourists.
She expects her workload to remain at fever pitch right up to Feb. 13.
Retired firefighter Calvin George Jr. theorized that opposition within the 23rd Legislature could still stop the clock at the last minute. "It's too early. (Senator) Chucky Hansen's got to come through," he said.
But the sentiment was different with long-standing insurance policyholder Aase Petersen. She said she has had to insure her car from the start, since it was financed with a bank loan. And she's glad the new law is making the uninsured masses sign up.
"I feel it's wonderful. I think it's correct. I think everyone should have it," she said.

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