Safer sex: women on top in battle to woo motor insurers

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Heard the one about women drivers? Younger women particularly can get cheaper insurance than men, even though some research shows women are more likely to be at fault in accidents involving other vehicles.

Velo, a specialist fleet management company, looked at 25,000 insurance claims earlier this year by sex. It points to certain areas of male advantage (see table). Velo finds women drivers more to blame for "at fault" accidents which involve other vehicles, but their lower average cost per incident suggests their accidents tend to be less severe. Men have more "at fault" accidents that do not involve other vehicles and the average cost of these is higher. Women are more likely to have parking and manoeuvring incidents but men take less care over vehicle security and are more than twice as likely to have their car stolen.

Overall, however, it is impossible to conclude women are a worse insurance risk than men. In fact, for years motor insurance premiums have reflected the fact that women tend to be better risks.

"Most recent research confirms that women, especially younger ones, are safer prospects on average," says Tim Cadel, marketing manager at Link Insurance, which has a specially branded policy aimed at women drivers. "Women tend to drive smaller cars, fewer miles and take greater care of their vehicles."

The most significant discounts are offered to the youngest women, and shrink quite rapidly. A 17-year-old female driver living in York driving an Austin Mini Mayfair 1990 would, for example, be charged pounds 631.40 by Direct Line for comprehensive cover (assuming no convictions, disabilities or car modifications). Her male equivalent would be charged pounds 695.98. Direct Line would charge the same female and male drivers at the age of 25 pounds 199.88 and pounds 201.93 respectively (assuming they had acquired the full five years no claims discount).

A number of insurers such as Ecclesiastical Direct, Provident Insurance, East West and Link Insurance actually offer policies specifically aimed at women drivers. Arguably, however, these are more exercises in packaging than anything else, and not necessarily any cheaper than standard motor policies.

For example, Ecclesiastical Direct - which, like Direct Line, deals directly with the public by telephone and thus avoids having to pay commission to insurance brokers - is less competitive than Direct Line for a 17-year- old but more competitive for a 25-year-old.

Specialist products from the other three can only be purchased via an insurance broker. A broker will normally obtain the top 20 most competitive rates from a sophisticated electronic quotation system - into which the sex of the driver will be just one of numerous factors entered.

"Just because it's badged as a lady driver product doesn't mean you'll necessarily get anything special," explains Robin Belsom, head of personal lines at Colin Ryan Insurance Brokers. Nevertheless, he continues, these specialist policies can be quite competitive. Brokers may also look beyond their quotation screens towards specialist packages which, although not specifically designed for women, have additional features which might suit them. Norwich Union's Club Insurance and Zurich UK's Solutions, for example, are notable for offering free mobile phones as well as add-on breakdown and assistance cover. "You only have to read the papers to see that single women out on their own are highly vulnerable," says Mr Belsom. "There are plenty of reported cases of women being stranded and becoming the target for unsavoury incidents. With a mobile they don'thave to leave their vehicle to summon assistance and inform friends they will be late." Research by AA Insurance has shown that nearly two-thirds of women policyholders use an insurance broker or intermediary to find the best deal rather than shop around themselves, compared with just over half of male policyholders. A couple of years ago s uch an approach could have been considered misguided as many of the best deals were available from direct insurers (who cut out the middle man). Nevertheless, times have changed and it is now not unusual for brokers to be the more competitive. Colin Ryan Insurance Brokers, for example, says it can undercut Direct Line by over pounds 135 for a 17-year-old and by more than pounds 70 for a 25-year-old. One final difference between the sexes: Provident Insurance has compared what men and women think about while behind the wheel. Men's most common daydreams are work, sex and leisure-related. Women tend to concentrate more on the road ahead but theirfavo urite fantasy is winning the National Lottery.

Sex and insurance

Incident Sex Average Percentage of

type cost accidents involving

drivers of that sex

`At fault' accidents Male pounds 831 21% involving another vehicle Female pounds 734 26%

`At fault' accidents not Male pounds 2,012 2% involving another vehicle Female pounds 1,811 1%

Insured hit fixed object Male pounds 461 13%

(eg parking) Female pounds 472 17%

Theft/attempted theft Male 1% of vehicle Female 1%

Theft/ attempted theft Male 8% from vehicle Female 6%

Source: Velo

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