Should insurance premiums be pegged on driving skill and record?

What you need to know:

  • Every driving infraction you commit gets registered to your name and your driving license. A bad driving record not just reflects poorly on your driving skills, it directly impacts your auto insurance rates. The more the number of driving violations to your name, the higher your auto insurance premiums will rise.

It is easy to define good driving; fuss-free, impact-free, smooth, courteous and law-abiding. However, evidential material in support of or contrary to the fact is hard to come by. As we have seen, it is fairly easy for respondents to lie through their teeth. To add to this, the human mind is cryptically self-indulgent so it may not be a reliable data source to ask respondents to diagnose themselves. They will lie, they just will not know they are lying.

But is it really that hard to prove good driving or the lack thereof? Before we answer this, let us backtrack a little.

Social media engagements on this subject reveal a general consensus that insurance premiums should in fact be pegged on driving skill and record, but there is the widespread belief that “good driving” entails a track record devoid of citations and crashes. This is not comprehensive (pun intended) because it is possible to evade bookings and crashes but still drive like someone with a single-digit IQ. I have seen people get by on a combination of tolerance from fellow drivers and blind luck, and they will insist they are good drivers because they have had no legal entanglements with traffic police or physical entanglements with other cars, but their driving styles can best be summed up in the question; What the heck do you think you are doing?

Risk

Insurance companies base their operations around the word “risk”, but after my recent perusal of some intellectual property by one enterprising company, it is easy to see that they have been slightly on the wrong. Most of the risk assessments are either based on assumptions that could be erroneous or on data that is inconclusive.

If you have several traffic offences to your name or have sent a large number of motor vehicles out of circulation, definitely you are a high-risk client, which makes sense, but what about those inept drivers who are surviving by clinging to the hems of Lady Luck and their number is not up (yet)? These too are high-risk clientele, and these are the ones you need to watch out for, but you cannot just tell on the face of it.

Or can you?

Enter autocorrect, and its potential to be shrouded in a cloud of controversy. The name may sound a bit unimaginative and plagiarised from a completely unrelated context, but if you think about it, it is actually quite clever. Auto- for automobile and -correct for rectification. Car-related rehabilitation, and who better to wield the stick than the folks who got your back when it all goes wrong?

Autocorrect is a product based on the real-time analysis of your driving style, such that the better you drive, the lower your premiums, but try any track-esque manoeuvres in a housing estate and it will cost you when you next renew your cover. You are rewarded for driving like you were actually taught and penalised for putting yourself and others at risk.

How it works

This is how it works; a telemetric device is installed in your car. This device records all the instances of abnormal acceleration, harsh braking and aggressive cornering, or in other words, the subset of circumstances that typically precede an accident (and thus expensive claims). It is normal to have a certain number of such “incidents”, but if your quota is higher than others then that means you are a risk. That means they can tell you are a bad driver even though you have spent your entire driving life dodging the consequences.

These incidents are logged over the duration of your cover and come crunch time, you will be presented with proof of your indiscretions and your invoices adjusted accordingly forthwith and or until you show improvement behind the wheel.

Now to settle a few questions I am sure you already have. Heritage Insurance Company, the innovators behind Autocorrect, insist the installed device is not part of tracking equipment. It will record what the vehicle is doing and when it did it, but not where. Worth noting is that the device is voluntary.

They say if you accept this service and drive like you should, you could see, among other things not important to this conversation, a drop in your premiums to 15 per cent.

Crunching the numbers

The telemetric device logs the driving style (acceleration, braking and cornering), the distance driven (driving farther statistically increases chances of a crash for obvious reasons) and the time of driving (night driving carries more risk, where “night” is defined as “the time between 10pm and 4am). Your driving score is based on a combination of these three parameters. However, in what looks like a glaring oversight, speed is not a factor.

Why not? Speeding is a major contributor to traffic incidents, mostly because most drivers lack the skills and characteristics necessary to handle a vehicle at high velocity. Many people crash specifically because they were going too fast for the circumstances and failed to stop or turn properly. I find this odd.

And now the numbers

In a survey done with a sample size fairly evenly split between male and female (53 per cent vs. 47 per cent), it turns out women scored higher, with an average score of 85, while men trailed them at 83 per cent.

As far as brands went, Mercedes-Benz led with a score of 89, closely followed by Land Rover at 88. The (in) famous Subaru brand came in ahead of Honda (81 compared to Honda’s 88) but was narrowly pipped by Toyota, which stood at 82. Mazda led them both at 83. I try not to judge people based on the car they drive, but this may be a bit telling.

However, even more telling is the technological advancement of the car in terms of driver assistance. You may think that driver assistance would raise the score, but I dare say they would reduce it since factors such as adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, automatic emergency braking and whatnot would cause harder acceleration, braking and yaw since they are mostly reactive and override the driver input where necessary. That is a whole other discussion.

People drove the farthest on Saturdays, and the least on Sundays. Oddly enough, while Sunday garnered the best score of any day of the week (drive like a Christian, James May said), Friday easily took the worst. Drink-driving perhaps? Or fatigue after a long week of work?

Takeaway

Men lie, women lie, numbers do not. It is, therefore, becoming more and more necessary to insure one’s car, but also in the interest of national economics, it is becoming more and more necessary not to crash one’s car.

One way of ensuring you do not crash is by building advanced cars, which is what makes them horribly expensive to fix when they crash. Another way is by driving better, taking more consideration on the road, and with a reward scheme in favour of the latter approach, this may just come to happen.

It will at least put a kibosh on the vicious cycle that is the overcharging overpaying dance between the insurance company, the garages contracted by these companies and the customer who shuttles between both.

Road safety

The whole Autocorrect concept may tickle my fancy given my educational background, shamelessly biased towards mathematics and science, but what really got me interested was the implications it may have on my pet subject; road safety.

Road safety is still a thorn in our flesh.

To combat this menace, a sane and sober approach is needed, not quite the prayer and knee-jerk bawling that usually follows these events. We need a calculated approach, in all meanings of the word. We need an agenda that is evidence-based and data-driven, because these are what will guide the thought leaders and policymakers on what direction to channel their energies.

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