Utahns drove much less during 2020 because of the pandemic and its stay-at-home orders. But a new study says their auto insurance rates rose anyway.

An increase in claims could be the driver.

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) Traffic on 400 South in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021.

Utahns drove much less during 2020 because of the pandemic and its stay-at-home orders. But a new study says their auto insurance rates rose anyway.

That comes as premiums nationally had dropped an average of 4% during the pandemic, according to The Zebra’s fifth annual State of Auto Insurance Report looks at premiums across all 34,500 zip codes in the nation. The Zebra is an insurance comparison site.

“Despite a drop in driving with COVID-19 related lockdowns, Salt Lake City car insurance rates defied the trend and rose more than 2%,” said Nicole Beck, head of communications at The Zebra.

“Hailstorms and an increase in risky driving could be the culprit,” Beck said. “An increase in claims … means an increase in insurance rates for all” in a given area.

Of course, besides the coronavirus, the Wasatch Front suffered hurricane-force winds that toppled hundreds of trees and a major earthquake last year that may have increased claims, and therefore rates.

Carlos Braceras, executive director of the Utah Department of Transportation, told legislators last month that traffic dropped to as low as 63% of normal in April of last year, but traffic levels have since returned to normal.

Even though traffic was down in 2020 because of COVID, Braceras also noted that highway deaths increased: from 265 in 2019 to 282 in 2020. Higher crash rates can also increase insurance premiums.

“Most of the increase in fatalities has taken place on the lower-speed roadways,” Braceras told lawmakers. “We still have a lot of work to do to try to drill in to try to figure out what’s going on.”

Earlier in the pandemic some officials noted some motorists were driving at ultra-high speeds on highways that were wide open because of the pandemic, and accidents at such high speeds are more likely to be fatal.

Beck said the average annual premium in the greater Salt Lake metro area in 2020 was $1,328. That was less than the national average premium cost of $1,483. The most expensive average premium nationally was $5,072 in Detroit. The cheapest was $907 in Winston-Salem, N.C.

The report said the highest premiums were Utah were in zip code 84180 in downtown Salt Lake City at $1,703. The lowest was $1,181 in zip code 84720 in Cedar City.