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Technology and the Aging Driver: A Father’s Day Tale

Ellen looked over at her dad in the driver’s seat of the car.  He was smiling as he watched road in front of him, checked the mirrors and monitored the dashboard gauges.  He had not looked this happy since he had his license taken away after being diagnosed with early dementia.  When they arrived at his retirement home, the attendant opened the door and welcomed him.  He turned to Ellen and said, ‘Be careful getting home.  I’ll see you soon.’

Science fiction?  An insurer’s worst nightmare?  Perhaps not, according to one expert.  Have a read and let us know what you think.

 Auto Usage and the Aging Population

In a recent article, posted on Insurance-Canada.ca, Catherine Kargas, Vice President at MARCON, notes that with our aging population, one of the issues we are faced with is insurance for the older driver.  Kargas argues that creative approaches are needed to meet diverse needs of different segments.

Stats Canada Data suggest that seniors have a higher proportion of accidents.  Yet seniors with medical conditions which affect driving  continue to hold licenses and drive.  Kargas writes:  “Dr. Mark Rapoport, geriatric psychiatrist at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, led a study investigating seniors, dementia and driving.  His team found about 40,000 out of the roughly 210,000 people in Ontario suffering from dementia had active driving licenses and close to 9,000 of them had been involved in crashes.”

Simply restricting access to cars has a negative impact on seniors’ mental and physical well being.  Kargas notes:

  • Access to a car affects a person’s social habits (StatsCan found that seniors who primarily traveled via their car were the most likely to have partaken in a social activity in the past week, at 73%)
  • Seniors who depend on others to get around are more likely to be reluctant when asking to attend leisure activities (rather than essential activities, like doctor’s appointments)

Anyone who has had to assume the role of parent to an aging father or mother by ‘taking the keys away’ can relate.

 What does this mean for insurance?

Clearly, unregulated driving by anyone with impairment affecting driving skills provides increased risk for insurers.  But how can and should  the industry react?

One solution is for insurers to take a more active role in screening aging drivers.  Some jurisdictions are aggressive in this, others less so.  Political action may be warranted.  But there may be other answers

Technology Alternatives

Another approach might be to begin to use Telematic sensing devices to determine erratic behaviour.  This might be tricky with privacy concerns as they are.  However, Kargas makes an interesting point:  “If … seniors were to ‘opt in’ to a telematics program that monitors their driving and provides honest feedback to them, they can be encouraged to see their declining driving skills with objectivity and hopefully, stop driving before a serious accident occurs, one that puts their life as well as the lives of others at risk.”

Beyond this, Kargas notes, “there is a solution, which in my opinion, will greatly benefit our aging population: driverless or autonomous vehicle technology.”    While this seems farther out on the horizon, things are moving quickly (see our recent post on Telematics and Autonomous Vehicles, e.g.).

Kargas, who brings substantial expertise in automotive technology sees this its application as offering elegant solutions for the aging population and for insurers looking for new opportunities:  “Seniors represent an increasingly important (size of the population and share of overall population) market for insurance providers. Carriers that offer tailored products and services to this growing community may be able to reap significant rewards.  Technology will certainly be a key element of this targeted offering.”

What do you think?

Is the aging population creating challenges for insurers?  If so, what are the reactions?  Could technologies, such as telematics and driverless vehicles, provide and alternative.

Drive your point home with a comment below.

One Comment

Scott Knight

Interestingly this article was preceded by one discussing Big Data – the two topics are actually linked. The topic of screening drivers is not new and research surrounding cognitive function specific to driving abilities is well founded. Moreover as more research and findings indicated the lasting effects and relationship of trauma such as concussions (PCS) the discussion is not solely an older age issues and ought to look at cognitive fitness to drive across the ages. The WHO and Alzheimer Society indicated early onset dementia occurring as early as 45 years of age. Insurers need to explore screening technology that is cost effective and broadly accessible for screening individual but also aggregating cognitive data for the purposes of actuarial / modeling to achieve more specific/individualized premiums and rating.

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