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According to an article written by News Albany correspondent Tom Precious, automobile insurance companies over the last year have increased the rates for New York's drivers as a result of a declining economy and allegations of increased fraud.

New York is expected to be hit with the most expensive car insurance rates in the nation. And within the state, Buffalo is right in the race for top honors.

Premiums in Buffalo are 40 percent higher than those in Rochester, a disparity officials attribute to Buffalo's greater population density. Buffalo drivers also submitted insurance claims at nearly double the rate for other areas, another cost factor.

The sole consolation Buffalonians have is that their rates are not as high as those of Brooklyn drivers. And that, indeed, is cold comfort for this already chilly area.

Whether this amounts to highway robbery by the insurance companies is anyone's guess, according to the New York Public Interest Research Group, because outsiders can't see company data and the industry is on the honor system.

Of course, an attack on fraud eventually could save the insurances companies money, which should in turn help reduce the pressure to increase premiums. NYPIRG believes an advocate could help make sure premiums are reduced. That's a good idea. So is increased availability of rate filing information, to enable consumers to shop smart for auto insurance.

Democratic lawmakers also are on that track, proposing their own idea of an independent car insurance advocate equipped to fight rate increases. The result could be millions of dollars in savings, and oversight in an industry with escalating prices. An advocate would be a good institutional check on the industry.

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