As an early Christmas bonus, drivers carried by the New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance Company are being paid a dividend back on their 2010 premiums.

They have been doing this for the past 18 years. N-J-M spokesman Patrick Breslin says the company, the largest auto insurer in the state, is a mutual insurer, which means policyholders share in benefits of the operations.

He says, "at the end of the year, when we know exactly how the year has gone, then we can determine what is an appropriate extra amount to return to policyholders."

The 425-thousand checks averaging 75 dollars each, started going out last week and the mailings will continue through mid-December. The amount represents approximately 5 percent of the premiums paid in 2010. However, premiums for PIP, or Personal Injury Protection, (known as First Party Benefits in Pennsylvania) are excluded, as they have been for the past 10 years because of the relentless rise in medical costs related to personal injuries caused by auto accidents.

"We are returning dividends again despite challenges from difficult economic conditions and severe weather events," said President and CEO Bernie Flynn. "Our core mission has always been to operate exclusively for policyholders, not stockholders, as evidenced again by this year's declaration of Special Dividends."