Insurance co. tracks, rewards drivers
Slamming on the brakes? Doing 100 mph on the highway? Maybe you won't -- if your car insurance company is watching you.
Allstate has launched a voluntary program that uses a device installed in a car to reward safe and low-mileage Illinois drivers with savings of up to 30 percent.
The auto insurer plans to expand the program, called Drive Wise, to other states as early as the second quarter of 2011.
Other insurers, including Progressive and State Farm, have also begun using gizmos to help track driving, but the industry trend raises some longer-term questions and concerns. Progressive has a program called Snapshot, which is offered in 27 states, including Virginia and Maryland. State Farm offers its Ohio and California customers who have OnStar the opportunity to receive discounts based on mileage. Called Drive Safe & Save, the program was rolled out in those markets in August 2009 and this month, respectively.
Allstate Drive Wise participants get a small, wireless gadget -- about the size of a pack of cigarettes -- that plugs into the vehicle's onboard computer through the diagnostic port, usually under the dashboard.
For consumers concerned about Big Brother, Allstate said the device tracks only factors used to calculate a driving score, including mileage, hard or extreme braking, and maximum speed. Speeds of more than 80 mph hurt the score.
Allstate policyholders get an immediate 10 percent discount for enrolling. Later policy periods use a performance rating, in which driving behavior and total mileage determine the discount.
Frederick Lane, author of "American Privacy: The 400-Year History of Our Most Contested Right," said he sees few problems with Allstate's program, provided that it's collecting only the information it says it's gathering and that the program remains voluntary and offers benefits to drivers.
But the program raises several potential longer-term questions, Lane said.
"In the event of an accident, who has access to this data? Could an attorney ask for it in discovery for a personal injury lawsuit? Could the police subpoena it as part of a criminal investigation? Could any of this information be useful to a government agency?" he wonders.
Allstate said its rates won't go up based on the behavioral scores, but discounts of up to 30 percent can be earned by drivers with the safest driving and low mileage scores.
On the surface initially, Drive Wise looks harmless enough and will likely benefit lower-mileage drivers and those who exhibit safe driving habits, said Jim Fish, executive director of the National Association of Professional Allstate Agents.
But "there can be no question that Drive Wise will become much more sophisticated, making it possible to track nearly everything a driver does," Fish said. "Allstate may be claiming that the behavioral ratings will not increase rates, but we believe policyholders with poor ratings" could see their policies canceled.
Fish also envisions the day when such programs probably won't be voluntary.
What do you think? Would you participate in such a program if your insurance company offered it? Are you participating in Progressive's Snapshot program?
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