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EDITORIAL: Drinking Our Way to the Bank

Oct 8, 2007

By Grand Forks Herald, N.D.

Oct. 9--Our view: North Dakotans drink more than average, yet pay much less than average for car insurance. Why?

Here's a paradox for you. Be our guest at trying to figure it out.

-- Item: For the second year in a row, North Dakota has the lowest average car insurance premiums in the country, The Associated Press reported.

The average statewide premium here was $554, less than half of the $1,184 average premium that New Jersey residents paid.

-- Item: "North Dakota consistently has one of the highest rates of binge drinking in the nation," reports the October issue of Preventing Chronic Disease, a publication of the Centers for Disease Control.

The paradox, of course, is this: How can both of these items be true?

If, in fact, North Dakotans "binge drink" so much more than the national average, how do they manage so successfully to keep their cars on the road? Why aren't our car-insurance premiums reflecting what ought to be a high rate of drunk-driving accidents?

True, the roads here are less congested than the roads on the East Coast. Then again, far fewer North Dakotans live in rural communities than in years past; most residents live in the state's urban areas. And traffic inside North Dakota's cities is stop and go, pretty much like everywhere else.

Besides, is the difference in congestion really enough to explain the fact that New Jersey residents pay twice what North Dakotans do for the same coverage? Especially considering those above-mentioned drinking rates in North Dakota . . . not to mention the facts that drivers here can get behind the wheel at age 14, and that 16-year-old drivers in North Dakota can get their unrestricted licenses pretty easily (compared to many other states).

Here's our take on the situation: The insurance industry's statistics don't lie, while the binge-drinking characterizations somewhat distort the truth. Most studies define a binge drinker as someone who had five or more drinks on one occasion any time in the past month. That's a lot of booze -- but is it a problem, as long as the person doesn't drive or drink like that every night?

While North Dakotans' binge-drinking rate is much higher than the national average, the state's alcoholism rate is only slightly higher -- 11 percent vs. 10 percent. Maybe some fair number of North Dakotans nurse beers and socialize in the German tradition, Germany being a place where vast quantities of beer are consumed but at comparatively low social cost.

Or maybe not. In any event, the contrast between our rock-bottom car insurance premiums and our reputation as world-class drinkers is a fascinating one. Readers, what are your views on the apparent discrepancy?

Tom Dennis for the Herald


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