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Do young drivers get a bad insurance rap?

By Jay MacDonald ·
Monday, May 17, 2010
Posted: 5 pm ET

It's easy to label younger drivers as wild in the streets, given their propensity for dangerous distractions such as texting, cell calls, fourth meals and blasting 50 Cent rap hits at molar-loosening volume. Logic would dictate that their sky-high auto insurance rates are a direct reflection of the risky way they roll.

But when it comes to causing deadly accidents, the senior peeking over the dashboard of a Lincoln Town Car may be more deadly on the roads than a gaggle of gangsta wannabes.

Researchers at Kansas State University recently released a stereotype-busting study that crunched state crash data from 1997 to 2006 based on involvement and severity. They broke down the data by three age groups: ages 15-25, 25-65 and age 65 and older.

Although seniors drove less than younger drivers, their auto accidents were more severe, often resulting in injury or death. Compared to the rest of the population, older drivers had the highest incidence of fatal, incapacitating and nonincapacitating crashes, the highest percentage of crashes in daylight, and the highest incidence of accidents at intersections.

"If you look at the number of total crashes in Kansas involving older drivers, it's not that much. That's because they don't drive as much as the rest of the population," said Sunanda Dissanayake, KSU associate professor of civil engineering. "But if you look at crash involvement per mile driven, that's very high for older drivers."

Digging deeper, the study found that most senior accidents occurred in traffic and often involved hitting another vehicle while driving straight ahead or making a left-hand turn. Younger-aged drivers are more likely than seniors to drive off the road and hit something.

The study, which was funded by the Kansas Department of Transportation to explore ways to make roads safer for senior drivers, raises some interesting questions about auto insurance.

Teenage drivers are often subject to high car insurance rates that may be based as much on a we-were-young-once-too mentality of the insurers as actual accident data. Sure, Geico and Progressive may throw teens a few discounts for good grades or taking driver's ed. But many parents still feel that their kids with good reflexes and safe driving skills receive a bad rap when it comes to car insurance.

Seniors, however, enjoy relatively low rates, which they can often shave even further with assorted discounts. Some can even cut their rates in half just because they drive less. You can compare auto insurance rates at any age at, a Bankrate company.

I'm not suggesting that a half-century of driving experience shouldn’t be rewarded with attractive auto insurance rates. What I'm wondering is: As America's population ages, will auto insurance rates reflect the true risk we face on the road -- and from whom?

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