Last year my car insurance company raised my rate -- and for no apparent reason. When I called my insurer the woman who answered the phone pointed out a small number on the bottom of my policy.
"You turned 66," she said smugly. "We charge higher rates for seniors. You people have more accidents."
I accepted her version of the truth … then. But over the last year it's become apparent that my insurance company needs to consult with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and stop gouging seniors based on junk science and phony statistics.
An IIHS study shows that between 1997 and 2012, fatal crash rates for older drivers fell 42 percent vs. just 30 percent for middle-aged ones, who are considered among the safest. Those aged 18 to 25 are deemed to be the least safe drivers.
Myths about senior drivers
If older drivers are having fewer accidents insurers would say it's because we tend to leave our old Buicks in the garage most of the time. Remember that infamous phrase the used car salesman said right before you bought that second-hand car: "Only driven to church on Sunday by an old lady."
It turns out that myth isn't true, either. The IIHS looked at miles traveled and discovered that fatal crash rates were 39 percent lower for older drivers and only 26 percent less for those middle-aged. In truth, older Americans with extra leisure time are driving a lot more. Those 75 and older increased their annual mileage by more than 50 percent.
"This should help ease fears that aging baby boomers are a safety threat," says study co-author Anne McCartt. "Even crashes among the oldest drivers have been on a downswing."
When the IIHS study was started in the late '90s, drivers age 80 and up had the highest crash rate, nearly twice that of any other driving group. But by 2012 their fatality rate had improved by nearly one-third.
Fatal crashes are very significant in evaluating how safe seniors are, since older people are thought to be more likely to be injured in a major crackup. But even that rate declined, especially for drivers age 80 and older.
How "frail" seniors are is really just another bogus issue. One could argue that sight and hearing are less acute, but cataract surgery and hearing aids can create bionic men and women at any age. Our reflexes may be a shade slower, but our driving skills are better honed, and we're definitely more cautious.
Cars for old people
Older drivers with a physical disability can log onto the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's website, which offers help on how to adapt one's car.
But that could become obsolete with the advent of rear and side-view cameras, warning lights when you get too close to another car and indications when you swerve into another lane. Newer cars are already doing some of the driving -- especially if we pay attention rather than texting or talking on cell phones.
When we baby boomers become "super seniors," age 80 and up, we'll probably own driverless cars. And it could be our autopilot who is insured, not us.
At any rate, the argument by car insurers that seniors, who have driven safely all their lives, should now be hit with higher rates just isn't right. So seniors, if your car insurer tells you that you have to pay more … tell your car insurer that you have to find another insurer.