Elderly drivers can be charged higher premiums by car insurance companies because they are more prone to collisions resulting in fatalities, the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal has ruled.
The 92-year-old driver who filed the complaint says that seniors – a group that already faces greater financial burdens – will continue to pay hundreds of dollars more on insurance every year.
“Seniors, mostly, are on pensions. They have no working income,” said Denis Olorenshaw, a retired freelance journalist living in North Toronto. “I feel badly for those people because they are going to have to pay more.”
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He filed the complaint against Western Assurance in 2009 after he was given an insurance quote that was $250 higher than the one given to his 62-year-old daughter. He balked, pointing out his record is blemish-free, and he only drives locally and mostly avoids highways.
It turned out the only reason he had to pay more was because he was over 80. Western Assurance offers a discount to drivers over 45 that gradually reduces at age 70 and disappears at 80.
In the tribunal hearing, Olorenshaw argued that a more fair way to assess risk would be a “Pay as You Drive” system similar to the one in Quebec, wherein drivers are assessed for risk based on the number of kilometres they drive.
Since elderly people tend to drive less and more cautiously, they should pay lower premiums because they pose less of a risk to others on the road, Olorenshaw said.
Adjudicator David Muir said in his decision earlier this month that although Olorenshaw’s arguments had a “certain intuitive appeal,” the evidence before him did not back them up.
“On the contrary the evidence before me establishes clearly that over 80 drivers are more likely to be involved in collisions and have higher attendant costs than any other category of driver over 25,” he wrote.
The insurance company brought forward three experts in the November hearing, including Dr. Michael Gordon, a physician specializing in geriatric care; Mary Kelly, an associate professor of insurance at Wilfred Laurier University; and Drew Lloyd, a senior actuary at Western Assurance.
Gordon testified that people over 75 face increasing impairments in cognitive ability, motor co-ordination and other functions that significantly affect their ability to drive safely, according to the decision.
“Dr. Gordon also testified that as we get older our ability to withstand trauma and similarly to recover from trauma are compromised leading to increased fatality rates and treatment costs,” the decision states.
Kelly presented evidence at the hearing that drivers over 80 are overrepresented – despite the fact they often drive less – in fatalities resulting from collision.
Finally, Lloyd provided data showing that the costs associated with over-80 drivers are much higher than any group except those under 25.
Olorenshaw represented himself and did not invite any experts to speak on his behalf.
“Obviously I was in an uphill fight. I’m a layman, I’m not a paid lawyer and I decided to go into this on my own,” he said, adding he cannot afford to file an appeal.
Susan Eng of CARP, an advocacy group for retired and aging Canadians, said the tribunal decision is the most recent in a string of attacks on aging drivers.
“You hear lots about when an older driver does something wild… You never hear about the middle-aged driver who kills an elderly pedestrian.”
She said that for elderly people, especially those who lack mobility, driving is a matter of independence. They are capable of deciding for themselves when they should give up their keys, she added.
“It’s an issue of being isolated, and your own dignity and your independence. You can imagine why some people hang on to it for a long time.”
As for Olorenshaw, he actually quit driving last year – but not because of expensive insurance premiums or concerns about his own abilities.
“There are too many crazy drivers out there,” he said. “I couldn’t take it anymore.”