O’Brien: Governor should veto auto body industry legislation

O’Brien: Governor should veto auto body industry legislation

After experiencing a fender bender, Rhode Island drivers want their cars repaired at a reasonable cost.

Unfortunately, due in large part to nearly two decades of special interest auto body industry legislation passed by the General Assembly, Rhode Island drivers are paying the highest auto body repair costs in the nation, and by a lot.

Indeed, the average cost to repair a damaged vehicle in Rhode Island is $4,500, versus $3,200 in next-door Massachusetts. Further, Rhode Island has had the highest average auto body repair costs for the last five years running, increasing by 26 percent since just 2016.

How did we get to this point where Rhode Island drivers pay repair costs that are so far above the norm both regionally and nationally?

Since 2003, the General Assembly has passed 24 auto body related bills that micromanage the claims process in a way that benefits the auto body industry so they can squeeze ever more profits out of repairing your vehicle.

No other state in the nation has passed this volume of auto body industry related legislation.

Given that Rhode Island has the highest repair costs, it should also come as no surprise that Rhode Island also has some of the highest auto insurance rates.

Depending on the source doing the ranking and coverage choices, Rhode Island is always in the top 10 – anywhere from 10th to third most expensive and generally 50 percent to 70 percent higher than the national average.

Unfortunately, the cost to repair a vehicle and auto insurance premiums in Rhode Island are likely to increase once again unless Gov. McKee vetoes legislation Senate 870 / House 6324 passed in the closing days of the recent General Assembly session.

The legislation would allow the auto body industry to charge undefined, uncapped “industry standard markup” fees in the areas of estimates, materials, and sublet services.

With an average repair cost of $4,500, even a 10 percent “industry standard markup” could end up costing Rhode Island drivers an additional $450.

And as there is no definition of, or limit to, the “industry standard markup” in Senate 870 / House 6324, additional costs could be significantly higher.

No checks. No balances. Just pad the invoices of a select few auto body industry insiders and get paid at the expense of Rhode Island drivers who will pay even higher repair costs.

No other state in the country does this. And even higher repair costs will put upward pressure on auto insurance premiums.

Gov. McKee has the opportunity to say enough is enough to these special interest auto body industry bills that do nothing more than drive up costs for Rhode Island drivers.

The governor should stand up for Rhode Island consumers and say no to undefined “industry standard markup” fees by vetoing Senate 870 / House 6324.

Frank O’Brien

O’Brien is vice president of state government relations for the American Property Casualty Insurance Association.