ZIP Code still a factor in auto insurance

Such drivers, they insisted, should get a break on their car insurance rates because they don't face the same road hazards as city dwellers. Hence the need for ZIP Codes as a rate-setting criterion.

Consumer activists countered that this was a sham and that insurers were just trying to use an arbitrary factor to push rates higher. The courts agreed.

Nevertheless, the implementation of Proposition 103 continued to be delayed by a succession of industry-friendly state insurance commissioners.

That changed with Garamendi, who made Proposition 103 a priority. Once the regulation was finally adopted in 2006, insurers were given a two-year grace period in which to bring their rates into compliance.

Come July, motorists will likely see a rare chance to take advantage of unusually competitive rates as insurers roll out policies that genuinely reward people with good driving records.

"I urge consumers to shop around to find the best rates for their individual needs," said Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner.

He also encouraged people to report possible overcharges to his office. The number to call is (800) 927-4357.

In Victorville, Mazria wasted no time in finding a new insurer for his 1999 Toyota 4Runner. Rather than pay $510 to 21st Century, he switched to Geico, which charged him $311 for coverage -- even less than his original policy.

Greg Kalinsky, regional vice president of Geico's San Diego office, said that by making people's driving records more important than their ZIP Codes, the company immediately started attracting new customers.

"By coming into full compliance with the regulations last fall, we found that we were able to save the average Geico customer an additional $150," he said.

That's just smart business. Probably wouldn't hurt to call your insurer and see if it's one of the 200 others that isn't as bright.

Consumer Confidential runs Wednesdays and Sundays. Send your tips or feedback to david.lazarus@latimes.com.

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