It’s frustrating to think a generous insurance discount for the state’s oldest drivers means higher rates for the rest of us but addressing that injustice now would kill broader efforts aimed at tougher testing standards for this accident-prone group.

It’s frustrating that a generous insurance discount for the state’s oldest drivers means higher rates for the rest of us, but addressing that injustice now would further weaken the push for tougher testing standards for this accident-prone group.


The Legislature would be wise to leave that plum untouched and stay focused on making sure drivers old enough to qualify for the discount deserve to be on the road at all.


The Automobile Insurers Bureau of Massachusetts recently released accident data that bolsters the push for tougher standards for older drivers. It shows those over 75 – while not the deadly drivers they are sometimes made out to be – get in more accidents and file significantly more property damage claims than all other drivers except inexperienced, youthful ones.


The document suggests that while some “senior discount” may be warranted, the 25 percent break enjoyed for more than 30 years is probably excessive.


“Whoever is getting the discount is going to be subsidized by others,” said Bob Passmore of the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America. Passmore said the Massachusetts senior discount is the largest in the nation and one of only a handful that are based solely on age. In most other states, the discount is contingent on the driver passing a defensive driving course.


“Many seniors expect a discount. They go into Dunkin’ Donuts and get a discount. They go into McDonald’s and get a discount,” said Frank Mancini, president of the Massachusetts Association of Insurance Agents. “But if competition is going to work and it’s going to be fair, then subsidies have to come out.”


While we tend to agree, the politics involved necessitate a different approach.


For the past five years, Sen. Brian Joyce, D-Milton, has been pushing a bill that would require drivers 85 and older to pass cognitive and reflex tests to renew their licenses. The version now being considered – which next goes before the Legislature’s Joint Transportation Committee – would apply to drivers 75 and older.


The bill gained traction earlier this year during a spate of deadly accidents involving drivers in their 70s and 80s but the uproar has died down and efforts to defeat the bill have not eased.


It is opposed by some senior citizen advocates who say it should be based on ability rather than age.


The bill, which is already seen as a threat to the independence of older drivers, would like lose essential support if it became tangled in discussions of taking a bigger chunk out of seniors’ fixed income.


It would be better to simply stick to the goal of making sure, through more aggressive testing, that those on the road in their later years belong there.


Doing so would, by default, reduce the number of older drivers whose declining road skills end up translating into higher insurance rates for the rest of us.


The Patriot Ledger