Motor insurer Direct Line's premiums fall as virus keeps drivers away

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LONDON (Reuters) - Direct Line reported a 4.7% fall in gross written premiums in the first quarter, pressured by low levels of new car sales and fewer new drivers as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, Britain's largest motor insurer said on Wednesday.

Premiums fell to 752 million pounds ($1.04 billion), of which 521 million were through direct brands, the motor and home insurer said in a statement. Analysts at KBW had expected a 3% fall in total premiums.

"We maintained our disciplined underwriting and our 5% reduction in average premium versus Q1 2020 was less

than the market reduction," chief executive Penny James said in a statement.

"This focus on maintaining the quality of our

business leaves us well placed as lockdown restrictions are eased."

The cost of a comprehensive car insurance policy in Britain slumped 14% in the first quarter to 538 pounds, its lowest level since 2015, according to a recent survey from price comparison site and insurance broker Willis Towers Watson.

But Direct Line said there were early indications that rates had stabilised in April.

In addition to the Direct Line brand, the insurer's brands include Churchill, Darwin and Privilege as well as Green Flag rescue policies. Direct Line also sells insurance through partnerships.

($1 = 0.7197 pounds)

(Reporting by Carolyn Cohn; editing by John O'Donnell)