BLACK BOX technology, the sort of thing they fit into aeroplanes to find out what makes them crash, has reached the down-to-earth world of the car.
Some insurance companies are launching schemes, based on sat-nav technology, to track driver performance and they claim it can lead to big cuts in premiums for overloaded young drivers.
Some small companies have been trialling black box, or telematics, systems for a while but now the AA insurance giants are leaping on the bandwagon.
It involves the installation of a small black box into the car to record the owner’s driving. It monitors such factors as speed, braking severity, cornering and the types of roads used. The information is transmitted remotely to the insurers.
An AA spokesman says: “These sorts of devices firmly put in the hands of the driver a responsibility for driving safely. It makes you think.”
The data could also be used to prove who was at fault in accidents and could detect sudden hard braking so assistance could be sent. Extreme speeds would result in a stern email to the driver.
The AA say the scheme is aimed mainly at young drivers and could save them up to £850 on their annual premiums. “All the anecdotal evidence suggests that people who have installed the system have about a 30% better claims experience – in other words, fewer crashes – than those who don’t,” the spokesman adds. A number of other big companies are expected to follow suit soon.
An Association of British Insurers spokesman says: “You may say you don’t want a ‘spy in the car’, but if this is one way of making premiums reflect safe driving, it will be of interest.”
Premiums for drivers aged 17-22 have increased by an average of 39% since April 2010, putting the average bill for a male aged 17-22 at an astonishing £3,163, or £1,799 for a female.
The ABI spokesman says: “Telematics can moderate driver behaviour and help ensure that young people are more likely to drive safely rather than roar around in their cars on a Saturday night.”
Supporters of the idea claim good young drivers feel unfairly penalised as premiums may be loaded arbitrarily because of their postcode, age, gender or vehicle type. The black box would base the cost on the quality of their driving.
But Brian MacDowall, of the Association for British Drivers, warns that some drivers could face higher costs. “You might suddenly need to go out at night and rush someone to a hospital, braking hard at times – anything could happen that could see you break your contract and result in a higher insurance cost. And people who drive badly will avoid black boxes like the plague.”
Obviously the insurers are flagging it all up as a money-saver, but the more cynical among us may wonder who’s going to foot the bill for all this – and one way or another, you can bet most of us are more likely to see insurance costs go up rather than down.