Does your driving deserve a discount? - The Buffalo News

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Does your driving deserve a discount?

We all think we’re good drivers. Now we can get data to back up our beliefs – and save money with our safe driving habits.

Some of the country’s largest insurance companies are making available computer-based programs that record reams of data about our behavior on the road and provide discounts to low-risk drivers.

Allstate, Progressive and State Farm all are offering usage-based, or pay-as-you-drive insurance, which relies on a high-tech device installed in your car to measure mileage, when you slam on the brakes, how often you go faster than 80 mph and other data.

The companies use these findings to calculate a grade for your driving and award discounts of up to 30 percent. They promise the data can only be used to lower a driver’s rates.

Also, drivers can go online to view the data for themselves, revealing areas for improvement the next time they get behind the wheel.

It may be worth it to sign up for one of these programs, which have been heavily advertised, as long as you’re willing to give up a little bit of your privacy to your auto insurance company.

“You have nothing to lose, and you can only win,” said Ciro Esposito, an Allstate agent in Snyder who has offered the Drivewise plan since early 2012.

Allstate, Progressive and State Farm said they were interested in better linking their insurance rates to the driving behavior of their members.

These rates are based on a number of factors, including your accident claims history, whether you get a lot of speeding tickets or you’ve been convicted of driving while intoxicated – along with age, marital status and where you live.

Advances in technology now allow companies to better measure driving patterns and offer discounts based on what they learn about their customers.

“It really redefines the way companies can measure, evaluate and predict risk,” said David Weber, the vice president of insurance for the AAA of Western and Central New York “This used to be a novelty – now it’s becoming much more mainstream.”

How it works

State Farm has three versions of its Drive Safe & Save program: one relying on GM’s OnStar system, one with Ford SYNC and one for other makes of vehicles through a monitoring device from In-Drive. The program started in 2009 in Ohio and now is in 47 states.

State Farm declined to say how many of its members have signed up, but Dick Luedke, a State Farm spokesman, said the company is pleased with the enrollment.

The OnStar and Ford SYNC versions of Drive Safe & Save track for discounting purposes only a driver’s mileage.

In addition to mileage, the In-Drive version also tracks hard, sudden braking (presumably you were driving too close to the vehicle in front of you); the number of left and right turns (left turns are potentially riskier because you are crossing the other lane or lanes of oncoming traffic); how often you drive faster than 80 mph; and the time of day when the vehicle is driven (State Farms says early morning and midafternoon, Monday through Friday, are the safest times to drive).

In New York, the only piece of data that State Farm can use from In-Drive devices for discounting purposes is miles driven, Luedke said.

People can enroll through their agent or online. They must sign up for an In-Drive device – at a cost of $6.99 per month, though the first 12 months are free – and keep the device in their vehicle to continue getting the discount.

The device is connected into a vehicle’s diagnostic port, usually located under the steering column. Drivers can check online for a regularly updated report on their driving behavior, and the mileage data is converted into a letter grade.

Driving discounts

Members get a 5 percent discount just for signing up, said George Ihle III, a State Farm agent in Niagara Falls.

State Farm now offers a discount for people who drive fewer than 7,500 miles per year. Drive Safe & Save refines and broadens the mileage discount to a range of 1 percent – for people who drive 16,000 miles or more per year – to 30 percent for people who drive fewer than 500.

The only way your auto insurance would rise is if you currently receive a low-mileage discount but the tracking devices shows your annual mileage to be well over 7,500.

One of Ihle’s clients, Neil Stenzel, installed the In-Drive system in his pickup truck and his wife’s compact SUV this spring. “It was really easy to plug in,” Stenzel said. “They told me it would measure the miles that I drive.”

Since installing the devices in the vehicles, he said, he’s saved $164 on their insurance.

Allstate began offering its Drivewise program on a pilot basis in 2010, and it now is offered in 30 states.

The Drivewise device also attaches to the vehicle’s diagnostic port, and Allstate bases its discounting on the full range of mileage, time of day, hard-braking incidents and speeding faster than 80 mph.

“It really puts them in the driver’s seat for how much savings they can receive, based on the safe driving behavior that they demonstrate,” said Sarah Inciong, director of Allstate’s Drivewise program.

Drivers get a 10 percent discount for the initial six-month policy period, and then will receive an ongoing discount ranging from nothing to 30 percent based on their driving rating.

The score is a letter grade, but Allstate doesn’t hand out anything lower than a C-.

“The worst I’ve seen is a ‘C,’ ” said Esposito, the local agent.

Esposito said between 25 percent and 30 percent of his clients have signed up for Drivewise, which is free, and they can review their driving data online.

Progressive first tested a usage-based program in 1996.

“We were trying to figure out, what would be a fairer way to charge people for car insurance,” said Dave Pratt, Progressive’s general manager of usage-based insurance. “We went through a few iterations.”

Progressive launched its Snapshot program in 2011, Pratt said. Snapshot uses three factors – mileage, time of day and hard braking – to generate a score that offers a discount of up to 30 percent on auto insurance.

New York drivers have saved an average of 12 percent on their insurance, or $220 per year.

The Snapshot program, which also relies on a telematic device attached to the diagnostic port, is free and drivers must keep the widget in their vehicle for six months. The discount remains in effect indefinitely after the device is returned.

“We take a snapshot of your driving,” Pratt said.

About one-third of new customers sign up for Snapshot, Pratt said, and about 1.6 million members have used it.

“We’ve told people who are signing up today that it can’t hurt you at all,” he said.

Why insurers do it

So what is the benefit of the usage-based insurance programs to the companies?

For one, they say the massive amount of data they’re collecting from drivers will prove highly valuable for future risk analysis, and they hope drivers who are presented with proof of risky driving behavior will try to improve their performance on the road.

“It’s going to improve their loss ratio. So it’s money-saving, long term,” said the AAA’s Weber.

Further, the companies say they believe usage-based insurance is a draw for current and prospective members. “Really, the benefit to us is attracting more customers and keeping them longer,” Pratt said.

Privacy is a concern for consumers, and the companies emphasize these programs are voluntary. “Not everybody’s for it,” said Ihle, the State Farm agent. “I’ll have people say, ‘Yeah, Big Brother’s watching you.’ ”

The three companies said their devices don’t employ GPS, so can’t track exactly where you are going, and the information isn’t shared with third parties.

Stenzel, the State Farm customer from Niagara Falls, said he would have liked to keep tabs online on how his daughter used the family vehicles if this service had existed when she was a teenager.

“It could slow people down and make people a safer driver,” Stenzel said. “I love it – we’ve only scratched the surface.”


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