Pay-as-you-drive auto insurance coming

July 28, 2008 1:16:35 PM PDT
Sure, you may think you're a good driver, but are you willing to bet your insurance premium on it? In several states across the country, drivers are getting the chance to do just that.

Auto insurer Progressive Corp. has begun offering its drivers the chance to cut their auto insurance costs based on how they actually drive, not only on their age, credit score, number of tickets they've received or the accidents on their driving record.

The catch?

Motorists must allow a high-tech monitoring device - sort of like a black box for cars - to be installed that tells Progressive how many miles they've driven, how fast they accelerate and how often they hit the brakes.

Good drivers will get discounts; others could face surcharges.

Under Progressive's program, customers can earn a first-term discount of up to 10 percent just for signing up. Then, when they renew their policy, their rate could decrease by up to 60 percent or increase by up to 9 percent based on their driving habits.

Richard Hutchinson, a Progressive general manager, said the program is designed for drivers who are consistent and safe.

"We want people to know that the program is not right for everyone," Hutchinson said.

"It's for people who drive at low risk times of day and who keep alert for others on the road," he said. "They don't make fast lane changes or follow too closely behind other drivers so they don't have to overreact or slam on the brakes."

Progressive began the program in Alabama in late June. It's also been made available in Minnesota, Oregon and Michigan. A national rollout of the program will continue throughout 2008 and 2009.

It starts in New Jersey on Aug. 8. The company will be the first to offer such a program in the Garden State, whose motorists have the highest auto insurance rates in the nation at an average of $1,184 per vehicle.

Other companies also recently began offering similar options.

GMAC Insurance and OnStar vehicle services last year started a new program that allows motorists to earn an extra discount based on the miles they drive.

The concept has been utilized elsewhere, too.

After conducting a pilot scheme with 5,000 drivers beginning in 2004, Norwich Union launched a pay-as-you-drive insurance program in 2006 in Great Britain.

Insurers say that cars driven less often, in less risky ways and at less risky times can receive a lower premium.

As a result, Michael Barry, a vice president at the Insurance Information Institute, said many auto insurers are exploring the option.

"The consumer is really being given an opportunity to potentially reduce their auto insurance premium in exchange for giving their auto insurer access to information that currently isn't available to them," he said.

Environmentalists generally back the concept. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, the programs help reduce traffic congestion and pollution.

Progressive spokeswoman Tara Chiarell said the customer owns the data so Progressive would only use it for claims purposes with the owner's permission or if it were subpoenaed and it was required to do so by law.

She said Progressive has never been subpoenaed to submit pay-as-you-drive claims data.

Chiarell also said Progressive doesn't sell or share the data with any other companies or agencies.

She said the data is collected on a daily basis. Customers can access their data on a secure, password-protected Web site, which allows them to get an up-to-date view of their driving habits and how those habits are affecting their rate, she said.

But Charles Samuelson, the ACLU of Minnesota executive director, told The Star Ledger of Newark for Monday's editions that they have worries about privacy.

"We see this as kind of a creeping abduction of people's data," he said. "Basically, once they collect that data, it belongs to the insurance company. That's a big problem."

AAA-Mid-Atlantic spokesman David Weinstein said if a link between electronic monitoring and accident probability becomes clear, they would like to see all drivers' insurance premiums based on that information.

"Not just select drivers who grant their permission," he said.


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