Men are worse drivers than women. That’s the inescapable conclusion from insurance statistics that show men, particularly those aged between 17 to 25, as the cause of the worst (and most expensive) smash-ups. It’s why young women pay just half the premiums of men the same age. But as Britain’s population ages, insurers have identified a new risk category – older female drivers.
Guardian Money can reveal private data held by the insurers which shows that until their 60s, men have a worse accident record than women. But after that age, women are increasingly responsible for motor insurance claims and once they reach their 80s, are making far more claims than men of the same age. Some insurers are now demanding that women from the age of 75 pay 50% more for their car insurance than men, and, from 80, 100% more.
Behind the figures is a dramatic surge in the number of elderly women driving on Britain’s roads. Licence statistics from the Department for Transport show that in 1976, only 4% of women who had driving licences were over the age of 70. In the 1990s that figure reached 20% and today it is 36%.
Insurers are not sure why women become worse drivers than men as they grow older. But their claims data means they have no choice but to charge women more. The crossover point at which women start paying more than men has, according to AA Insurance, moved from 60 six years ago to below 50 today, although other insurers say they start charging more for women older than 60.
A price test by Money this week found that by changing the title of a 75-year-old from Mr to Mrs and keeping all other details the same raised the premium by up to 53% (see table, left).
One of the biggest hikes in premiums was made by that bastion of Britain’s middle-aged females, Marks & Spencer. Its insurance arm wanted a hefty £587.03 to insure an eight-year-old car in south London for a 75-year-old man with three years’ no claims. But it increased that to £836.16 when we changed the title of the applicant to Mrs. Other insurers levying steep increases on older women in our test included the RAC (53% more), Tesco (37%) and LV= (28%).
Nigel Bartram, motor underwriter at Aviva (formerly Norwich Union), says: “Our data shows that women are safer drivers than men until they get into their 60s, and then it swaps over.” Simon Douglas, director of AA Insurance, adds: “Unfortunately, while the number of accidents increases with age for both sexes, women in their 70s and 80s are proportionately much more likely to be involved in a collision than men of the same age.”
Why is this? Insurers think it may be because elderly women let their husbands do most of the driving – then find themselves behind the wheel when he becomes disabled or dies.
“Women often find themselves having to drive again after possibly decades of relying on their often-older husbands for the majority of car journeys,” Douglas says. “Men are more likely to become unable to drive or pass away before their partners, forcing women behind the wheel who may have little confidence and with little practical experience of modern traffic conditions or motorway driving.”
At insurer eSure, spokesman Adrian Webb says: “It could be that cognitive ability deteriorates faster, or that they’re simply more nervous. But in truth we don’t really know.”
Insurers are keen to stress that men’s claims record worsens as they get older too – it’s just that women’s deteriorates faster.
Many women, of course, drive perfectly well into their 80s and 90s. Two years ago Muriel Gladwin, then 94, decided to hang up her driving gloves – after 82 flawless years on the roads.
The Daily Mail saluted her as “Britain’s safest motorist” after she completed 600,000 miles without a speeding ticket or even the smallest bump.
“I’m going to quit while I’m ahead,” she told the paper. “I’m a careful driver and I’ve never had an accident or a parking ticket. I think it’s because I always keep my eyes wide open and stick to the rules of the road like glue.”
Insurers say that although they charge older women more, the premiums are hardly in the category of males under 25. “We don’t see many million-pound claims involving older women,” Bartram says. “They tend to stick to known routes and rein in the amount of driving they do. They make lots of small claims involving parking, reversing and scraping walls.”
Night time incidents
Maybe it’s all about worsening eyesight, with a surge of accidents involving older drivers when it gets dark. Saga, the brand leader in the sector, says: “18 January has seen more accidents involving the over 50s in the last four years than any other day of the year; 19 December is the second unluckiest day for older drivers. The data shows that by far the most common reason for making a claim is due to drivers hitting stationary objects, which is more likely to occur in the dark when vision is impaired.” Saga was the only insurer in our survey that charged women the same as men – although its premiums are among the most expensive.
The premiums of women and men may eventually equalise, the AA says, as a new generation of women drivers come through. Whereas in the 1950s and 60s men massively outnumbered women on the roads, the gap has all but disappeared. Among today’s under-30s, 61% of females have a driving licence, only 4% fewer than males.
“In future, women will enter old age with much greater driving experience and confidence so claims are likely to be similar,” Douglas says.
In the meantime, shopping around for a better premium as you get older is unlikely to reap rewards, insurers say. Some have a cut-off point for new customers of 75, although a year ago Aviva raised its limit to 85. Above that age, like other insurers, it will continue to insure its existing customers but won’t take on new ones.
“When you get past 70, stick with your current insurer,” Webb says.
In the UK, driving licences expire when the holder reaches 70; licences issued after that have to be renewed every three years.
Obtaining a new licence is relatively straightforward, and although there is a minimum eyesight requirement, it is up to drivers to certify themselves.
Aviva says it has on many occasions had calls from sons and daughters convinced that their parent shouldn’t be on the roads. “We get calls saying, ‘please don’t renew his insurance – he’s going to kill someone some day,’ but there’s nothing we can do about that,” Bartram says.
AA Driving School says it has noticed a big leap in the number of older women asking for a few refresher driving lessons after their husbands have fallen ill or died. Drivers can take these refresher lessons in their own cars.
Douglas says: “They may have a full, clean driving licence and a car in the drive, but are trapped because they feel unsafe when driving. [Lessons] can be very effective and help to reduce the risk of a collision.
“Modern traffic is much busier and faster than 20 or 30 years ago when they may have been driving much more, and some junctions are confusing even for drivers with reasonable driving experience and skill. Just a couple of sessions may give them sufficient confidence to drive safely and competently.”
If the cost of refresher courses puts you off, there is help at hand. At the end of February, the AA Trust is to start offering free refresher courses for older drivers who lack confidence and may be getting behind the wheel for the first time in many years.