North Carolina’s insurance commissioner said Friday that he has agreed to an average 1.6 percent rate increase on auto insurance premiums, starting Oct. 1.

The N.C. Rate Bureau had asked for an average 7.6 percent increase in a Feb. 1 filing.

“We were able to hold auto insurance rate increases to less than 2 percent, which consumers will hardly notice in their premiums,” N.C. Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey said in a statement.

As part of the settlement, the rate bureau has agreed to not ask for another increase in rates until 2021.

The bureau, created by the N.C. General Assembly, represents the insurance companies operating in the state. It’s not part of the N.C. Department of Insurance.

Insurance officials estimated that consumers will save $942 million with the 1.6 percent rate compared with the bureau’s request.

Physical-damage costs (comprehensive and collision insurance) will decrease by 9.1 percent.

Liability insurance, however, will go up 11.3 percent.

North Carolina is one of the least expensive states for car insurance. In 2018, Business Insider, Forbes magazine and Insure.com said only nine states in the country had less expensive auto insurance than North Carolina.

Causey used his statement to promote his support for House Bill 144, titled the Hands-Free NC Act, currently under consideration in the General Assembly. The bill was introduced Feb. 21.

Causey said distracted driving “has gained momentum” as a leading cause of accidents, “putting an upward pressure on insurance rates.”

The bill would bar driver from holding cellphones or wireless devices in their hand or, for example, using a shoulder to hold a device to their ear.

Drivers couldn’t watch a video or movie on a wireless device or communicate by video.

It also would prohibit the handling and use of a cellphone while at a stop light.

The legislation incorporates the prohibition on texting while driving that became law in 2009.

HB144 cleared the House Transportation Committee on March 12, the first of four committee steps necessary if it is going to the House floor.

The bill, if approved and signed into law, would take effect Jan. 1, 2020.

rcraver@wsjournal.com 336-727-7376 @rcraverWSJ

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