I backed into real estate mogul Kurt Mumm's very nice and extremely large SUV a few weeks ago. Oh, how he laughed!

OK, "laughed" might not be an accurate description, but he took it pretty well. Possibly because his vehicle didn't get so much as a scratch. It was only my little car that got a bit wrinkly.

And so the automotive carnage continues around here, where our staff has experienced more collisions in the past couple of years than a rookie driver at the Marshall County Speedway.

We've hit and been hit, everything from light taps to heavy whacks. New members of the staff receive a notebook, pens and a box of cookies for the tow-truck driver.

Eventually a person starts to wonder: Stay in journalism, or move into the lucrative body-repair business?

So it was surprising to read that "American drivers are reporting fewer crashes to their insurance companies than ever before, and nobody knows precisely why," according to Crain Communications.

The report said insurance companies are prospering from a 15 percent drop in auto claims over the past four years. In the first six months of 2006, Allstate Corp.'s net income increased 13 percent due to an underwriting margin - premium revenue minus claim payouts and other costs - that one Wall Street analyst called "the best result we have ever seen from the company."

Industrywide, auto-collision claims fell from 6.91 claims per 100 insured vehicles in 2001 to 5.91 claims per 100 in 2005, according to the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America

Sounds like a good time to be in the automobile insurance business.

Is it a good time to be an insurance buyer? That might depend on the logo at the top of your policy. Crain reports that Allstate's auto rates essentially stayed flat last year, rising 0.4 percent despite the improved margins, but State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. cut its rates by an average of 3.7 percent last year and 4.8 percent in 2004, in large part because it had fewer claims.

Meanwhile, the industry is trying to figure out why things are going so well. If a stranger handed you a $10 bill every morning, you would enjoy your mornings, but you would also start to wonder: Is this guy going to disappear tomorrow, or can I start shopping for a new set of golf clubs?

Allstate CEO Edward Liddy suggested to investors that the accident rate is dropping because of technology in some high-end cars that automatically slows the vehicle when it gets cut off or sounds an alarm when the car drifts across lanes. Uh, sorry, Ed, but that's probably not a major factor at this point. The vast majority of drivers still rely on screams from passengers to help them avoid accidents.

Liddy also advanced the theory that Baby Boomers should get the credit. We're a third of the drivers, but only had a quarter of the accidents. That's more like it. Let's grab the praise while we can, because we're going to get blamed for everything starting soon, possibly next week.

But if you do have an accident, remember that it only seems like a big deal until you get to the repair shop. A damaged bumper is just another day at the office for those guys, and you start to feel a little less foolish, a little more like part of America's hard-driving, car-crashing fraternity. And your case is never quite the worst case.

I took my problem back to the dealership, and the guy at the counter was nice enough to tell me that one of their salesmen had bent up a used car just a couple of days earlier.

Backed straight into a light pole.

What an idiot.