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Smart Boxes to Cut Learner and New Drivers Insurance

Black box technology reduces car insurance premiums

We all know about black boxes being fitted to aeroplanes, trains and the like. Sadly, they’re mostly known for being the only surviving piece of wreckage following a crash of some kind – and they give accurate data about what the vehicle in question was doing at the time of the incident.

Now they’ve taken this technology, whacked it into cars, and put it to an entirely different use – monitoring the driving styles of young drivers and then modelling insurance premiums accordingly.

The Co-operative Group are the most recent converts to this modern, ‘fair’ approach to insurance. The scheme is aimed at under-25s – those often hardest hit by high premium costs – and involves a black box device being fitted to the young person’s car. This black box then monitors the driver’s speeds in different speed limits, their average speed, the number of times they brake (and how heavily), how quickly they accelerate on average, as well as when they do most of their driving.

The insurance company then look at all this data and work out how much of a risk that driver poses, based on their driving style. The idea is that it will reward sensible drivers (those who stick to speed limits, only drive locally, don’t use the car late at night, etc.) with lower premiums.

Conversely, of course, it will punish those drivers who break the speed limit, drive excessive distances (especially on motorways) and who seem to spend the hours of darkness street racing Ford Fiestas. If you’re one of those kinds, expect your premiums to skyrocket.
You can log on to your personal ‘dashboard’ online and look at your results – showing you exactly what kind of a driver you are, and where you can improve. You also get a rating from 5 (very good) to 1 (dreadful).

Clearly, there are advantages for some people. However, the scheme is partially flawed, meaning you could end up getting a raw deal even if you’re a brilliant driver.

Firstly, if you share a car then it’s useless, as you can’t turn it on and off depending on who is driving. That means it will monitor your driving, and also anyone else who gets behind the wheel. If that’s your mum or dad, it’ll probably help matters (though it might be classed as fraudulent, so watch out for that one). If, however, your younger sibling is also using the car to learn in, that could affect it in a less positive way.

Secondly, the black box doesn’t really take into account your working hours. So if you do the night shift at a supermarket, the black box will register that you do most of your driving at 10pm and 5am, and will think you spend your evenings souping up your engine in a car park on the edge of town.

Thirdly, the box isn’t always accurate. Because it works on GPS, and we all know how reliable sat navs are, it sometimes thinks you’re on the wrong road and will register you as speeding. It also can’t cope with mini roundabouts, which don’t figure in GPS mapping and which the black box will see as you cornering too sharply.

The benefits are limited, too. The most you can hope to get off your premium is 11%, whereas bad drivers could look at an increase of up to 20% on their insurance.

If you’re worried about what problems the black box might throw up, rest assured that the data collected isn’t passed onto the police. However, if you’re registered doing something that would involve an automatic ban – such as going 60mph in a 30mph zone – then the insurance company immediately cancel the policy.

Clearly, the black box has advantages and disadvantages. You’d have to work out if your driving situation (and style!) would benefit from having one – and indeed whether you’d like the idea of being ‘watched’. Many people don’t. But if you think you’re a sensible, good driver, then it could save you a pretty penny.

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