Melanie Bien: Sorry, girls, cheaper car cover isn't your right

The cabbie who dropped me home the other night was furious at having to slow down to a crawl behind a Nissan Micra, whose driver clearly didn't know the area.

Hounded by some blasts on the horn from my taxi, the lost driver finally got the message and pulled over to the side of the road, without indicating. "Bloody women drivers," shouted my cabbie as he pulled out to pass the car.

Before I opened my mouth to remonstrate, I thought I'd better check inside the car first. And sure enough, behind the wheel of the Micra was a woman.

But while the cabbie and thousands like him think women are bad drivers, statistically this isn't the case. Government figures reveal that men commit 88 per cent of all motoring offences and are involved in 97 per cent of dangerous driving cases.

Yet the European Commission intends to ban the use of gender in calculating premiums - not just for motor insurance but life cover and annuities. The proposed European Union directive on gender equality - or "equalisation", as it's now to be called - will be discussed in Brussels a week tomorrow.

Much has been said on the subject, with female-only motor insurers such as Diamond and First Alternative Woman arguing that premiums will rise for women if these proposals become law. They argue that they deserve to get cheaper insurance premiums than men because they are lower risk.

Clearly they wouldn't be offering lower premiums to women if this wasn't the case, because it would be bad for business. However, it's still a sweeping generalisation. There are plenty of bad women drivers out there, just as there are quite a few not-so-good male drivers.

I am all for equality but there is a danger of being too simplistic. My father is an excellent driver, who has never so much as got a speeding ticket in nearly 40 years of motoring. And to charge him higher motor premiums than a woman of the same age, with the same driving record, simply because he is male seems outrageous.

Insurance premiums should be calculated according to risk: the greater the likelihood of you crashing your car, speeding or driving badly, the more you should pay.

Other factors come into play which are surely more important than gender, such as your age and experience, the number of years' no-claims bonus you have and the size of your car's engine. Where you park at night, your job and how many miles you travel in a year are also far more relevant.

Gender, for me, comes at the end of a long list of considerations. I would be more worried if the EC decided it was going to remove age discrimination; saying that someone with 30 years' driving experience should pay the same premium as someone who passed their test yesterday is clearly ludicrous.

But where do you draw the line? Someone in their seventies may have spent more years behind the wheel but could present a higher risk than a newly qualified driver if their eyesight were failing or their reactions had slowed down.

Insurance premiums must be calculated on a case-by-case basis. The same is true when it comes to annuities: women traditionally get poorer rates than men because they tend to live longer. Under the EC proposals, this distinction would be removed, which may mean better annuity rates for women (or not, if insurers simply lower male rates to achieve parity).

Women shouldn't automatically get poorer annuity rates than men. How long you are going to live is a personal thing: there is no guarantee that someone who smokes 50 cigarettes a day, is obese and takes no exercise will live longer than a fit and healthy person of the same age, simply because the former is a woman and the latter a man. Indeed, everything points to the probability that an unhealthy woman wouldn't live longer than a man who looked after himself.

Insurers must look at the bigger picture, evaluating everyone with pinpoint accuracy using the same criteria. A whole host of factors need to be considered, rather than relying on sweeping generalisations on the basis of whether we happen to be male or female.

m.bien@independent.co.uk

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