Maria Vullo of the New York State Department of Financial Services. Photo credit: Rick Kopstein.

Auto insurance companies in New York can no longer ask about education and occupation as factors for setting premiums, the state’s Department of Financial Services said Wednesday.

Following a multiyear investigation, DFS Superintendent Maria Vullo issued regulations that are aimed at deterring discriminatory auto insurance rates. Under the new regulations, insurers are prohibited from asking an individual’s occupation or educational level as a factor for setting rates, unless the insurer demonstrates that such questions don’t result in rates that are “unfairly discriminatory.”

In a statement, Vullo said New York drivers who don’t have college degrees or high-paying jobs shouldn’t be penalized with higher auto insurance rates. The investigation by the department found that some insurance companies use an individual’s education level to establish a tier placement “without a clear demonstration of the required relationship between these factors and driving ability.”

“As a result, classes of insureds have been placed in less favorably rated tiers, which may lead to higher premiums, without sufficient actuarial support that an individual’s education level and/or occupational status related to his or her driving ability or habits in such a way that the insurer would have a different risk of loss,” DFS said in a news release.

Allstate and Liberty Mutual have already reached an agreement with DFS to comply with the new auto insurance regulations, the department said. Other insurers who had been using education level and occupation as a factor for rate setting will have 180 days to comply with the regulations and amend their programs.

The New York Insurance Association, a trade group that represents property and casualty insurers, said DFS is “traveling down a dangerous path by introducing subjectivity into insurance.”

“Insurance companies demonstrate great caution and objectivity in how insurance policies are written. The very nature of insurance is to use unbiased and proven actuarial standards and data to determine risk. Insurance companies, to ensure they are being objective, cannot look to nebulous terms such as reasonableness, intuition and satisfaction. Relying on subjectivity and limiting underwriting factors can penalize drivers and drive up the cost of insurance. Companies are only allowed to use factors that are predictive of loss,” said NYIA president Ellen Melchionni.

Melchionni added that an individual’s education and occupation “have been mathematically proven to be correlated with risk.” Insurers use data, such as a person’s driving record, the type of car they drive, gender and age as underwriting factors for policies.