Higher insurance premiums for drivers over age 80 gets OK from rights body

TORONTO – Auto insurance companies have the right to charge higher premiums for geriatric drivers given evidence they pose a higher crash risk, Ontario’s Human Rights Tribunal has decided.

The elderly driver who brought the discrimination case says the industry now has licence to charge those over age 80 hundreds of dollars a year extra.

“I’m sorry for them, because they’re going to pay more,” Denis Olorenshaw said Thursday.

“There doesn’t seem to be any fairness involved here.”

Olorenshaw, 92, of Toronto, filed his complaint against Western Assurance Company in 2009 over an insurance quote that was $250 higher than one given his 62-year-old daughter. Both had an identical vehicle and lived at the same address.

He argued an alternative to charging higher premiums could be to assess risk based on distance driven given that many seniors only drive short distances during the day outside of peak hours. Such a system, he pointed out, is already available in Quebec and several U.S. states.

In his 14-page decision earlier this month, adjudicator David Muir said he saw no practical substitute to age for assessing risk. Sensory, motor co-ordination and cognitive decline is highly variable and unpredictable for older drivers, his decision states.

“The ability to predict future risk based on prior experience begins to decline after the age of 60 and becomes considerably less for those over 75 compared to any other group of non-novice drivers,” Muir said.

“The evidence before me establishes that for the category of drivers over 80, the risk per kilometre driven is higher than any other category of driver over the age of 25.”

The Supreme Court of Canada has long recognized the right to charge more for male drivers under 25 based on statistics showing they are simply more crash-prone. The ruling now seems to entrench a similar category for those over 80.

At the hearing in November, Western produced three experts, including Dr. Michael Gordon, a physician specializing in geriatric care.

“As we age, particularly after 75 years of age, there is an increasing incidence in the prevalence of impairments … which can have a significant negative impact on the ability to drive safely,” Muir cited Gordon as testifying.

An actuary for Western also testified the losses associated with over-80 drivers are “significantly higher” than any other category other than those under age 25.

In rejecting Olorenshaw’s “common sense” suggestion that older drivers are more experienced, drive less and are more cautious, the adjudicator said no one had contradicted any of the expert evidence.

Olorenshaw, who argued the case himself and did not present any witnesses to buttress his arguments, said he can’t afford to pursue the fight.