An accident of gender

Women can still get cheaper car insurance ... up to a point. Neil Baker reports

Women are almost as likely as men to commit acts of "road rage" when they get behind the wheel of their car, according to the AA, but young women are still regarded as a lower risk by insurers and can generally get cheaper cover.

Research conducted by the AA last year found that 54 per cent of women admitted to "aggressive driving behaviour" compared to 64 per cent of men, but women are still seen as safer drivers.

"Women have about the same number of accidents as men - but generally the severity is very different," says Rebecca Hadley, from the AA.

"When a man crashes a car he does a pretty good job of it. The vehicle has to be extensively repaired or even written off. Women tend to have the bumping into somebody type of accident or reversing into the garage wall - mistakes which follow an error of judgement, rather than driving too fast or driving without proper control of the car."

Women also tend to have a different pattern of driving. They drive a lower annual mileage than men in total and tend to take shorter, local trips. "They are out and about delivering children to school, going shopping, that sort of thing," said a spokesman for General Accident.

It might all sound very sexist, but the insurance industry is based on such generalisations.

And it is true that men are convicted of 92 per cent of all driving offences, including 98 per cent of all convictions for dangerous driving, 93 per cent of all those for drink driving, and 92 per cent of all those for speeding.

The differences in premiums between the sexes is most pronounced in the late teens and early twenties. "Young girls tend to use their cars as a mode of transport, boys tend to use them as something to pose around in. Our research does back that up," says the AA.

Women will always tend to get a better deal up to the age of about 30. In common with many insurers, General Accident gives its female customers the equivalent of a 15 per cent discount up to the age of 30. The company actually adds a notional two years on to the age of female applicants to reflect its view that "women in the younger age group tend to be more mature and more sensible."

Over 30, things tend to even out. According to the AA, the safest motor insurance bet is a 55-year-old woman who drives a small or mid-range car of about 10 years old, although by that age, the insurance cost for a man in the same circumstances would be about the same. From aged 75 onwards, men finally have the pleasure of being regarded as a safer risk.

But while the reduced risk associated with female drivers has prompted some insurance companies to launch special lady driver schemes, these do not always offer the best value for money. The best rate the AA could come up with for a 19-year-old male bank employee who drives a 1993 Ford Fiesta worth pounds 4,000 and lives in Swindon was pounds 576.30 a year. His twin sister would have to pay just pounds 392.58. Interestingly, the best lady driver policy the AA could find from its panel of insurers was pounds 422.30 from Provident, which came in at second place.

The lady driver policies performed worse as age increased. For a 30-year- old in the same circumstances, the best quote was pounds 156.83, against pounds 165.03 for a 30-year-old male. The best lady driver policy was Link Ladies, eleventh best at pounds 197.36.

And for a 50-year-old the best lady driver policy was Provident again, in fourteenth place at pounds 158.88.

The size of the premium is obviously not the only point to be taken into account when choosing a policy, but the examples make it clear that not all insurers take sex into account and some of those which don't can still offer a cheaper deal.

"Try to put the lady driver element on the back burner because they are often only competitive in certain niches," said Rebecca Hadley, of the AA. "The fact that you drive a Volvo could be far more important."

If you are looking to buy motor insurance it is worthwhile contacting at least one broker (the AA service is not just for members), some insurance companies and a couple of direct insurers, such as Direct Line, to get a range of quotes.

And if you are not lucky enough to be a 55-year-old woman, you can try to keep premiums down by accepting a higher excess on your policy, going for third party, fire and theft rather than fully comprehensive insurance, agreeing a maximum mileage, taking an advanced driving test, or improving your car security.

Male drivers could also consider trading down to a car with a smaller engine or, if that is inconceivable, try getting married. Tying the knot would save a Peugeot 205-driving 17-year-old around pounds 100, according to the AA.

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