Note: at the bottom of the article is a link to our review of the Snapshot.
I have seen a large number of commercials recently for a new product from Progressive Insurance called Snapshot. Snapshot is a small device that you plug into the OBDII port of your car. Once plugged in, the Snapshot monitors your driving habits. Based on how carefully you drive you can qualify for up to a 30% discount on your auto insurance. Is this when we begin to slide down the slippery slope of allowing our driving habits to be remotely monitored 24/7? How much personal freedom are you willing to give up in order to save money on your insurance? Please read on and use the comments to debate whether this is the beginning of the end.
There are, or course, two sides to this story. The first is that you should be driving carefully, and that if you are you have nothing to worry about. Who cares about a large corporation knowing exactly how far and when you drive and how abruptly you accelerate and stop. This is the same argument that people use about giving up personal freedom to prevent things like terrorism. The “I’m not a terrorist, why should I worry about being stopped and searched” argument. The other side to the coin is that no one deserves to be looking over your shoulder and that in the US we live in a free country. I’m not planning to debate this argument here, but I would like to spend a little bit of time looking at whether this is a beginning of the loss of civil liberties behind the wheel. No longer is it a question of whether “Big Brother” can be watching. He or she most certainly is.
In a world where you most likely have multiple GPS capable devices in your car and you also use RFID (Radio-Frequency Identification) tags in things like toll-road pay devices, it would be completely possible for federal and state governments to monitor your behaviors behind the wheel. Despite this ability, to date the only time this data is accessed and used is when there has been appropriate justification. Despite rumors, people are not receiving speeding tickets for having too high of an average speed on toll roads.
If you’re a truck driver or driving a company owned vehicle, you are dealing with a different set of rules. I with some folks at Penske Logistics about this topic. Penske has the ability to monitor their drivers through RFID and even know which places they enjoy stopping to eat. By accepting a job with the company, you forfeit your anonymity behind the wheel, as the company claims the right to monitor their equipment and employees.
Of course, the Snapshot in a voluntary program with Progressive. In addition, Progressive promises not to raise your rates (unless you live in Rhode Island) as a result of your driving habits. With that said, if enough people sign up could this be a first step towards this being a requirement for all of their policy holders? Quickly, lets review how the system works.
After being plugged into your car for 30 days you potentially start to receive a discount on your auto insurance of up to 30%. After the six months of driving with the device monitoring your car you send it back to Progressive. After this six month period Progressive no longer monitors your driving and your potential discount remains for the length of the policy. So far, I have not been able to find specifically what data the Snapshot captures, but similar tools are capable of capturing and reporting on a significant number of parameters. Some of these include:
- Trip start date and time
- Max speed
- Time in different speed bands
- Number of hard braking events
- Number of extreme braking events (sometimes classified as accidents)
- Number of hard acceleration events
- Time spent at idle
- Snapshots of speed at defined intervals
Progressive calls this policy a Pay As You Drive program a form of a usage-based insurance. They state that to get the greatest discount a driver needs to brake gently, drive less than the average driver, and minimize driving during rush hours and the time between midnight and 4:00 A.M.
Of note, Progressive isn’t the only company offering usage-based insurance. GMAC partners with GM’s OnStar subsidiary to offer potential discounts if you agree to allow OnStar to monitor your driving habits and report them back to the insurance company. State Farm offers an iPhone app that grades your driving, but at this stage, does not claim to report the results to the company, nor does it offer any kind of insurance discount for those who opt in.
So I would like to know. What are your thoughts on this type of technology and monitoring? Are you on the side of giving up some anonymity in order to save or would you like to keep government and large companies out of your personal behavior? Have your say below in the comments.
Editor’s note: For the one-year anniversary of this article, we requested a Snapshot from Progressive to see for ourselves how it worked. Read our product review here.