Justin Schatz is The Paper's daily news reporter. He has reported on New Mexico for KRQE News, Searchlight NM and the Santa Fe Reporter.

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After nearly a year of drivers returning to the roads, auto premiums have begun to rise for the first time since the pandemic started. According to Zebra, the nation’s leading insurance comparison site, auto premiums have risen an average of three percent nationwide. In New Mexico, we’ve seen a much more dramatic increase, with auto premiums rising by eight percent.

“The fastest-growing city in New Mexico also saw an equally fast-growing average auto insurance rate, up 8 [percent] over last year. As more drivers in the Albuquerque and Santa Fe area hit the roads, the chance for accidents to occur also increases. While some insurance pricing factors are out of our control, like claims filed due to inclement weather, practicing safe driving habits is a way that drivers can take control to help lower rates,” Nicole Beck said. Beck is head of communications and a spokesperson at Zebra.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 20,160 people died in motor vehicle crashes in the first half of 2021, which is an 18.4 percent increase over 2020.

Zebra’s 2022 State of Auto Insurance revealed that the average mileage for drivers decreased by 14 percent since the pandemic, contributing to cheaper auto premiums. Zebra’s recent report found that auto premiums dropped by four percent during the first year of the pandemic. Since Americans have returned to the roads, auto premiums have returned to their pre-pandemic baseline.

Still, the average New Mexico auto premium sits at $1,375, almost $200 lower than the U.S. average, which lies at $1,529.

“In 2021, drivers began taking their cars out of ‘park’ and returned to the roads,” Beck said. “More drivers can lead to more potential accidents to occur. As soon as the number of claims filed increases, so will insurance rates. However, drivers aren’t powerless – to lower rates, practice safe driving behaviors and take every precaution to protect your vehicles from damages caused by extreme weather.”