Would You Plug-In For A Safe Driver’s Discount?

The amount of information that our modern cars contain about us is truly staggering. The extent that the OEMs have embraced technology has brought us some of the most powerful, fuel-efficient and drive-able cars of the automotive age. We can enjoy the benefits of computerizing our cars all the way from the fuel pump to the millionth mile, and everything in between.

But would you allow that information to be “used” to perhaps garner you a better rate on your mandated insurance? Many insurance companies are now offering devices that insert into the car’s factory OBD-II port under the dash and literally “report” on your driving style, using inputs from your car’s or your cell-phone’s sensors.

Many insurance companies offer “use-based” policies, which look at how you drive to determine your rate. There are devices that plug-in to your car as well as mobile apps you can download which may link via Bluetooth to your car.

Sold as “discounts for good drivers”, these devices are both judge and jury when it comes to your insurance bill. As with anything, if you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to worry about, right? It depends, and the best way to know is to check with your particular insurance company and find out what information they use (it varies by company) and how they obtain it.

For instance, Progressive’s Snapshot system is a “usage-based” insurance policy. According to Progressive’s website, Snapshot uses information “such as the time of day you drive, sudden changes in speed (hard brakes and rapid accelerations), the amount you drive, and, for customers using the mobile app in some states, how you are using your mobile phone while driving.” While location data is collected as well, Progressive states it doesn’t impact the Snapshot results you earn, but may be used for underwriting purposes.

Other programs, such as Allstate’s Drivewise and State Farm’s Drive Safe & Save will monitor vehicle speed as well, but the hammer only falls if you ever drive your vehicle above 80-mph. You wouldn’t do that, would you? Companies like State Farm use various other information acquired through either mobile devices or your car’s OnStar or SYNC system. Some other criteria used by State Farm’s Drive Save & Save program include the typical mileage, speed, acceleration/braking and time of day, but also rate your turns, measured by the sharpness at which turns are taken.

Information can be obtained through plug-in devices such as the Progressive Snapshot (Left) or by your cellphone and/or a plug in device such as the Allstate Drivewise device.

One of the issues with monitoring the acceleration and deceleration of your car through sensors is that the inputs are not put into perspective. The biggest offender is “heavy braking”, which Progressive reports as “slowing down anything over seven mph/second.” Watch your speedometer the next time a yellow light pops up or another driver buts in front of you and you need to slow down, with or without the approval of an OBD-equipped device. Would your insurance company prefer you coast through the intersection or swap insurance info with the other driver? What does the device say?

Many companies are now offering downloadable Apps that use the GPS and accelerometers in your phone to determine your driving. This solves the occasional issue where the device threw codes in the car’s OBD-II system, but false readings for acceleration and deceleration can be garnered if your phone is loose in a console or cup holder.

Liberty Mutual insurance uses this “tag” that is linked to your vehicle via the app you download on your phone.

Of course, there are always issues with delving out absolute praise (discounts) or punishment (surcharges for “aggressive driving”) without the human characteristic of reason. Think twice about loaning out your Corvette to your wild cousin who likes to play pranks on you! Also, participation in any of these programs is likely not the best idea for even an occasional track-day vehicle. One member on the Corvette Forum mentioned that his program was dinging him for “excessive acceleration”, thanks to the throttle-blipping of his GM supplied “rev-matching” in his C7 Corvette.

While the attraction of getting a discount can be quite appealing at times, the old adage of “nothing for free” has never been so true. Many of these programs are marketed as “making better drivers”, and while we’re all for tightening a few of the loose nuts behind the wheel, we think some context is definitely in order. With so much technology like lane-awareness flowing behind the dashboards of our cars, can we at least give discounts to those who use their turn-signals? Now THAT would be a benefit to ALL drivers on the road!

While location data is collected as well, Progressive states it doesn’t impact the Snapshot results you earn, but may be used for underwriting purposes. – Progressive website

There are definitely times that these programs work, but there can also be pitfalls. Being fully informed is the best way to know if any pay-by-usage system is right for you. If you’ve used one of these systems or have direct, personal experience with them, feel free to let us know in the comments below. We’d love to hear some real-life experiences!

About the author

Andy Bolig

Andy has been intrigued by mechanical things all of his life and enjoys tinkering with cars of all makes and ages. Finding value in style points, he can appreciate cars of all power and performance levels. Andy is an avid railfan and gets his “high” by flying radio-controlled model airplanes when time permits. He keeps his feet firmly grounded by working on his two street rods and his supercharged C4 Corvette. Whether planes, trains, motorcycles, or automobiles, Andy has immersed himself in a world driven by internal combustion.
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