Is the Driving Black Box to Become Mandatory?

We’re used to hearing about black box technology in planes, but were you aware you can also get one fitted in your car

For many young people considering taking driving lessons, their biggest concern, beyond cramming in enough knowledge to pass the driving theory test or persuading their parents not to buy them an embarrassing car, is the cost of getting insured. Because an 18-year old driver is around 3x as likely to have a crash as a 48-year old, insurers place a lot of emphasis on age of the driver when calculating their premiums.

One way to reduce the cost, potentially by a considerable amount, is the installation of a little black box behind the dashboard. Using telematics technology and satellite tracking, it measures things like braking, speed and acceleration on every journey a car takes, also taking into account information such as the time of day and type of road. It’s a system that’s being pushed by many insurance companies now, and is generally seen as a positive by young drivers. Usage of the device, which is typically around the size of a smartphone, has increased fivefold between 2010 and 2012.

The theory goes that as drivers see how their performance directly affects the cost of their premiums, they will be encouraged to drive more safely. It’s been estimated in fact that the black boxes can save anywhere from 25-30% from a typical insurance policy. Some insurers will be able to adjust premiums on a monthly basis, so improvement is rapidly rewarded.

Not everyone is happy – there are naturally worries about data privacy with this kind of pattern surveillance – some teens have suggested it would be like having a critical driving instructor sat next to them on every journey making them paranoid, and it’s also worth bearing in mind that insurance companies will usually add the cost of the device and installation onto the policy. However good drivers in sensible cars are likely to find that any additional cost is swallowed up by the savings they’ll make on their premiums.

That’s not to say, of course, that installing a black box in your car is guaranteed to reduce your expenses, other factors can influence premiums, such as private number plates. The device will also flag up drivers who enjoy handbrake turns or take corners too fast, so they could find that their premium is dramatically increased. And young people who drive a lot of miles every year will also probably not gain the full benefit.

This system is best geared to:

  • Young, new drivers
  • Drivers recently returned to the road after a conviction

And is likely to be most helpful if:

  • You drive on safe roads
  • You drive mainly during the day and not at peak times
  • You don’t cover too much annual mileage

There’s another aspect that should be considered – the more sophisticated black boxes can also be of use in apportioning blame if you’ve been involved in an accident – for instance as evidence of your speed or braking distance – and can be of assistance to the police if your car is stolen.

As with any type of insurance policy it’s well worth shopping around before committing, as many insurers will take individual approaches to this technology; some may offer cheaper installation than others, for example. You may also find that using telematics is not for you.  If you’re confident of your abilities and considerate driving, then why make your premiums any higher than they need to be?

Nevertheless this is clearly a very important, and useful, tool in the box, for insurers, law enforcement, and young drivers. Whether it becomes mandatory at some point in the future or not, expect their usage to increase over the next few years. It’s expected that around half a million will be in use by the middle of this year.

Mozbot Team

Mozbot is a UK based technology blog featuring news, reviews and opinions on anything tech related so whether you’re a self-confessed Apple fanboy or you prefer a phone with buttons, you can be sure to find something here.

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