You should get a Miranda warning whenever you talk to your auto insurer. Each time I call, the monotone voice that answers the phone pokes and prods while tape recording our conversation. I am always wary of Miss Monotone. She is out to glean useful tidbits of information and try to trip me up so she can raise my rates.
Over the years I've gotten pretty good at giving her one-word answers, not filling out so-called voluntary questionnaires, and, one time, even emailing my state's attorney general when my insurer had crossed the privacy line.
So it was with great reluctance that I called to ask, "Why did you raise my rates this year?" Miss Monotone hemmed and hawed and then finally said, "Do you see the little letter below the nine in the fifth box?" This indicates that you're over 65. Statistically, you're in a category where your driving is deteriorating."
I have to admit that I was stunned. I hadn't had a major accident in all the years I've been with this insurer. And now Miss Monotone was telling me that because of my birth date I was a serious road risk. My insurer had in effect erased all the years in between and made me young again.
I harkened back to my teenage years, when insurers claimed that, because of my age I was, as Bruce Springsteen put it, Born to Run. Originally I was insured in the high-priced 16- to 20-year-old category in which fatal crashes are now pegged at 39 per 100,000-licensed drivers, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Then there is the next highest, and almost as bad, 21- to 24-year-old age group. But as drivers get older, become more experienced and less fearless, insurers lower their rates.
Drivers on meds
But now the insurance industry was telling me that because of my age I was becoming a reckless driver again. "As you age, your skills become impaired: peripheral vision, reaction time and hearing," a spokesperson for the Insurance Information Institute told me. Mature people take a lot of medication, which can make you "dizzy." And if we do get into an accident we are "frailer," which means we are "more likely to die."
Their point: Car insurance is like the cables on a suspension bridge. Rates start off high, dip down, and then go up again.
Thank you, auto insurers. But the statistics don't necessarily back you up. While accident and fatality rates do go up, it's usually after age 75. And road fatalities don't spike until you reach your 80s.
There's also a bonus for companies that insure older drivers: They drive less and they drive slower, so they're involved in fewer major accidents. Car crashes are the leading cause of death for the 16- to 20-year-old age group, surpassing shooting deaths, but less than 1 percent of those aged 65 and older will die in a car crackup, partly because those four-door Cadillacs and Buicks stay in the driveway most of the time.
However, people in their 80s still want to drive; many have to drive to get where they need to go, such as to the doctor to get all those medicines that supposedly make them dizzy.
And this is where I have to give credit to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. By 2025, people over age 65 will account for a quarter of the population, so keeping them off the roads won't be an option. To ensure that seniors remain mobile, the AAA is suggesting a "local driver's license" which would allow them to travel neighborhood streets at reasonable speed limits with "time of day" restrictions. Iowa senior drivers with this kind of license have better driving records than the general population.
As for me, I'm going to take a short drive to a local independent insurance agent and purchase a new auto policy. After all, there are plenty of insurers which still offer reasonable rates for seniors.