Curse of women drivers: they're safer but they'll have to pay for it

Although men commit most driving offences and cause most road accidents, a new EU directive is calling for both sexes to pay the same insurance premiums. That could mean an increase of up to 30 per cent for women. Sophie Goodchild reports
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The Independent Online

Their driving skills make them safer than men on the roads, but now female motorists face huge rises in their insurance premiums under a new gender-equality policy that is set to cause a major political row.

Their driving skills make them safer than men on the roads, but now female motorists face huge rises in their insurance premiums under a new gender-equality policy that is set to cause a major political row.

Brussels officials are demanding the introduction of unisex policies, a measure which insurers argue would mean British women would be subsidising boy-racers at an extra total cost of up to £300m a year. Experts say the rise in premiums for women would be in the 10 to 15 per cent range, with some fearing it could be as much as 30 per cent. A 20-year-old woman driving a Ford Mondeo could therefore be paying an extra £700 a year.

The reaction from prominent drivers last night was predictably furious. Kate Heath, former British Ladies' Rally Champion, said: "I'm all in favour of fairness, but women are statistically better drivers than men. Making a differentiation between female and male drivers isn't discrimination. It's sense."

Some male drivers were unimpressed by this case. Roche Bentley, the founder of the MG Owners' Club and director of Lancaster Insurance, said that people in Europe should "keep their nose out of it". "If people with red hair are more of a risk than people with brown hair, then they should pay a higher premium," he said. "What right has Brussels to interfere? Women do have more little accidents than men, but when we do it we go end over end and we'll do it in spectacular fashion."

Until now, women drivers have benefited from cheaper insurance deals because, contrary to popular stereotype, they are far less of a hazard behind the wheel than men. This is backed by government figures which show that male drivers commit 88 per cent of all driving offences and are involved in 97 per cent of dangerous driving cases.

In response to the widespread outrage provoked by the EU reforms, a parliamentary inquiry has been set up to investigate the new anti-discrimination law. It will publish its findings this Wednesday; they are expected to lead to increased demands for commissioners to rethink their outlawing of gender bias.

The influential cross-party committee of Lords, which monitors EU social and consumer issues, is expected to tell ministers that the attempt to establish equal access for men and women on issues such as car insurance will have much greater cost implications than anticipated. This comes as more women are getting involved in the macho world of motor racing and rally driving, which includes the model Jodie Kidd among its enthusiasts. She said recently of women drivers: "Some are better than others, granted, but it's a shame cars don't make more of an appearance in fashion magazines."

In an effort to circumvent the outlawing of gender bias, some insurers are already setting up women-only policies so they can still offer them low rates. Last month, Peter Wood, the founder of Direct Line, launched First Alternative Woman, aimed solely at women, and Ladybird and Diamond are also offering similar deals.

In June, 17 out of 25 countries, including the UK, said they had reservations about the sex neutrality drive. So far the European Commission has refused to back down although it needs the agreement of all member states.

The directive will be debated next month at the council of ministers and applies to all goods and services. Although women will lose out on car insurance, they do stand to gain from other aspects of the reforms. For example, they would remove the need for a woman to gain her husband's consent to obtain a bank loan (as is the case in some countries, but not Britain). Insurance companies would also be banned from refusing to cover pregnant women who travel.

The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) believes insurers should still be allowed to set different rates for men and women but with strict limits on the use of gender-based data. It is also calling for a special body to be set up to monitor how companies assess risks for women and men. "Consumers should expect a fair deal from the insurance industry," said Caroline Slocock, chief executive of the EOC. "We want to see far tighter measures put in place so that insurers can treat men and women differently only if they can prove very clear differences in risks that can only be explained by their different sex."

The Association of British Insurers said the proposals were "perverse". "It would reward those young male drivers who make more claims and cost insurance companies the most," said Alan Leaman, a spokesman. "Existing UK law makes it clear that insurers can only use information about gender that is relevant, reliable and objective. It would be very sensible to introduce this principle into any EU-wide legislation."

Classic Car Club, a private members' club for motoring enthusiasts, said it had a lot of female members but that male drivers should be given "a break". "I do feel that insurance companies which actively discriminate against male drivers for no real reason are pushing it a bit," said Piers Brown, a spokesman. "Give us guys a break. Reduced premiums for both genders would be nice."

Additional reporting: Chris Burgess, Siân Davies and Anna Winston

'Male friends have written off cars'

Matt Lilly, aged 19, is a media student at Lincoln University. He has been driving for two years and has already written off one car - he crashed into a telephone booth on the day he passed his driving test.

"Although I would be happy if my insurance went down as a result of these proposals, I do think it should depend on the driver and not their sex. More of my male friends have written off cars than my female friends, but there are certainly some people of either sex who should not allowed near a car."

'My office is up in arms about this'

Sue Robinson, aged 46, is a project manager at Kendle Drugs Research Company. She has been driving for 28 years and has never had a serious accident.

"I'd be horrified to have my insurance go up - it's expensive enough as it is. It's tempting to chain myself to some railings in protest. I'd be prepared to protest very loudly about such changes and my entire office is up in arms about these proposals."


* Male drivers commit 88 per cent of all driving offences (source: Government)

* Male drivers are involved in 97 per cent of dangerous driving cases (source: Government)

* Of all road accidents, fewer than 35 per cent were caused by women (source: Organisation for Road Safety in Vienna)

* Personal injury claims filed by male drivers are £550 higher than those made by women (source: Halifax insurance)