FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Auto Insurers as Back-Seat Drivers

One more sign that our traditional notions of privacy are going out the window: auto insurers are piloting programs that would offer customers discount rates if they allow the insurer to monitor their driving.

Progressive has been running a pilot program in Minnesota for about a year. Participants receive a small gadget that plugs in under the steering column, which records driving speeds as well as the dates and times driven. After a set period, participants unplug the device, attached it to their PCs via USB, and upload the content to Progressive.

In this pilot, participants are rewarded for driving under 75 MPH (Minnesota's top speed limit is 70) and not driving during statistically dangerous times, such as late Saturday nights. The average discount for "good behavior" is about 12%. Another, more ambitious pilot in the UK uses GPS tracking, and can determine where people drive and park (in dangerous neighborhoods, for instance).

Progressive's pilot has reportedly gone well, and the company plans to roll it out nationwide. But, as with all monitoring, this is sure to generate plenty of debate. Will monitoring help modify driver behavior to make the roads safer? Will people who have to drive at night and park in rough neighborhoods be unfairly penalized? Would parents actively seek this out for their teenagers (which begs the question, how would a system distinguish between different drivers of a single vehicle)? Could insurers pass information gathered along to police (who could, for instance, keep an eye out for a blue Toyota with license number 999999, which typically speeds along Route X at 12:30 AM)? Could we see the rise of a whole new class of insurers who would offer deep discounts in exchange for mandatory, 24x7 monitoring?

The ultimate question, of course, is whether the discounts will be worth it, or if it is just one more intrusion.

Sources: USA Today, Techdirt