Just behind Florida, Mississippi has the second-highest rate of uninsured motorists in America. In both states, about one in four are illegally driving without insurance. The problem has proved tough to solve, but individual drivers can best protect themselves with good information.

One surprising contributor to high rates of uninsured

Most insurance experts say rates of uninsured motorists don’t change much when police dole out more tickets or other punishments for driving without insurance.

Instead, a special analysis by Consumer Reports asserted that uninsured rates are higher where insurance premiums are higher. And poor credit scores, not driving records, are the biggest driver of premiums.

The report showed that a hypothetical Mississippi driver with a clean driving record and excellent credit paid an average premium of $1,347. That same driver with excellent credit but a DWI paid an extra $600. But that same driver with a clean driving record and poor credit paid an extra $1,000.

Also, insurance companies piece together their own version of people’s credit scores from all the available information and are under no obligation to explain or even reveal that score to current or potential customers.

Buying enough insurance

Insurance law and economics are devilishly complex. A simple place to start is the need to buy enough insurance to satisfy Mississippi law. To think through the right level, it helps to remember two surprising elements of the state’s auto insurance laws.

Insurance companies can take offsets in Mississippi

Mississippi allows auto insurance companies to limit how much they pay by “taking an offset” for payments made by the other driver’s insurance.

Say a responsible driver has bought $50,000 in coverage for accidents with under-insured motorists (UM). The responsible driver crashes with a UM having only $25,000 in coverage in an accident causing $60,000 in damage.

This should work out fine, one would think, because $50,000 plus $25,000 is more than enough to cover the $60,000 damage.

But the responsible driver’s insurance company can limit its payout by subtracting any payout from the UM’s company. The $25,000 from the UM’s company plus $25,000 from the responsible driver’s company makes $50,000, so the responsible driver’s company can say their customer has gotten the $50,000 owed. The extra $10,000 is on the responsible driver.

Customers can often use stacking to make ends meet

Stacking is better news for Mississippi drivers. The state allows insured motorists to combine under-insured motorist coverage for multiple vehicles to cover a single claim.

There are many exceptions and details to watch for, and courts in some cases have allowed companies to write policies excluding the practice. Mississippians should take a close look at the laws and the policies before they decide they’re adequately insured.