GUIDE: Students, discount driving insurance, telematics, black box (and free multi-topic essay plan)

In this guide: Students discount driving insurance, telematics, black box (and free multi-topic essay plan) how to get a discounted driving insurance policy using telematics or black-box or app; while we are about it – given the extensive nature of the linking topics – why not use the experience to knock out an essay picking up all (or any) of the following themes:

  1. Telematics insurance…(with a bit of fascinating maths)
  2. …women, equality laws and driving…
  3. …eCall, Europe and how a student idea is now driving new technology in an exceptional example of inter-Europe co-operation …
  4. … geography and urban planning and the future of transport (that is world cities, development and globalisation, contemporary conflicts and challenges).


My assumptions:

  1. You are a student in higher or further education, and 
  2. …you have a car, or, are looking to get a car or could possibly have the use of a car,
  3. …you need insurance and you feel (possibly)insurance and associated issues are holding you back (or likely to be a problem),
  4.  and, for the purposes of my free essay plan, you are studying (or have an interest in all or some of) the following subjects: maths, technology, civic rights, equality, government, politics.

Technological change 1: Let’s get started on the car insurance issue.

You are a young driver – as likely as not under-25. Telematics insurance can reduce a student’s driver insurance premium.

Why? The answer probably sits in your hand – because the type of chip used in a mobile or smart phone or cell when carrying an app (or if mounted within the car) gives access to a new type of insurance policy.
The whole car insurance market is being turned on its head by these changes – all driven by the availability of cheap mass produced reliable chips, and the new capacity built into transmitting and receiving systems and data processing.

Up to now insurance premiums were calculated from tables (actuarial tables, that is calculated using statistics of accidents and mortality) which when looking at the behaviour of groups of people are surprisingly accurate.

But now it is possible to calculate precise risks based on actual driving behaviour – by measuring and recording how a car is driven and assigning that data to a specific named driver.

You are driving or hope to drive – well start now. Drive reasonably. By reasonable is meant having a reasonable regard, in the UK, for the Highway Code. This means doing all those things that cropped up in the test – but this time translated into data collected and measured on a chip and captured in algorithms. These ‘things’ vary but include all or some of the following:

  • anticipation of the road ahead by measuring rates of acceleration or deceleration
  • mapping actual speed driven on the road layout and matching it against speed limits, type of road (rural, trunk road, urban, motorway)

These are the basic things the app (or algorithm) is measuring (because they can easily be calculated from global positioning satellites and existing traffic maps).

But also, the position of your car is known at all times. By known I mean that someone would be able to discover (by using a mobile or web page and assuming they had been given permission and had the correct log-in details), where the car is at any time – and also how reasonably the car was being driven. Want to know more:

Women drivers are among a special group of people who are being drawn to telematics insurance as a result of an important legal case in the European Court. Read more about this issue for women drivers here (and view a handy infographic).

All the insurance companies offering this type of insurance can be found on this site here.

Or – want to know more – then read on


Privacy – good or bad – or a bargain chip?

Is the fact that someone can check precisely where you are in the car at any time a good thing? Clearly there are issues of personal privacy. See our discussion of these issues here – but this could be a bargaining chip, particularly if this car is not yours (parent, relative, friend).

A convincing argument you can make with the car owner could go something like this: Let me drive (using an installed telematics device) because…

(a) …the insurance premium probably discounted, and

(b) at any time you wish you can discover where the car is. and

(c) …you can check at any time how I am driving the car, and

(d) …there are extra safety features the device could bring.

Also, the device dramatically reduces the chances of theft. The device could also act as an automated emergency call service.

But – act now – read on about why soon every new car will be carrying a telematics device – so why wait, make your app work for you now?

You are in the insurers’ target group

Young student drivers are an emerging market and the insurance companies are (or should be) looking to recruit to their books, young safe drivers.

At a recent international telematics insurance conference the delegates were busy constructing their ideal/typical candidate for telematics insurance:

  • she is female (obviously),
  • she’s a member of the ‘millennium generation’,
  • she is tech-savvy (uses social media, probably has an iPad, iPhone), and
  • benefits(ed) from further or higher education. If you are not already a female driver then – in the words of the web-site – you need now to start driving like a woman.

What does a typical insurance company have to say about all this – we asked the Co-op (link here) – its product is called the Young Driver Smart Box which:

… offers safe drivers cashback on their premium if they drive well. Whilst people of both genders are entitled to the discount, we expect more women than men to benefit as data shows that young females tend to drive more safely.

In December 2012 when the EU gender directive came into force, The Co-operative Insurance doubled the discount for safe drivers who use its Young Driver Smart Box scheme…

All motorists with the Young Driver scheme who score a ‘5’ [the highest score available] for their driving performance are entitled to 20% cash-back on their original premium.

The Co-op has some impressive statistics about how its young driver scheme is helping improve road safety. It calculates:

…The Co-operative has seen car crashes drop by a fifth among users. Around 30,000 young motorists are signed up to the scheme.

Insurance claims have fallen:

We have seen excellent benefits from the introduction of telematics through reduced claims and many of our customers have benefited via lower premiums so we would always look to explore potential future uses.

The Co-op says:

Telematics insurance products are very competitive: our Young Driver telematics product is typically 20% more competitive for our young driver customers. The additional underwriting controls at new business ensure that we insure better quality risks and this enables the product to be more competitive.
As more and more insurers follow suit and join the telematics industry, the challenge will be to offer cheaper premiums to customers and that means driving down the cost of technology used to monitor driving. The most traditional form of technology has been the ‘black box’ or wired device which is fitted to the customer’s vehicle to monitor driving performance. It’s likely we’ll see more use of other forms of technology. One of the options is a smartphone app and we’ll see this more widely used, especially among young drivers.

And here is the Co-op’s breezy video  –Radio 2 type tunes but good interviews with young (Mancunian?) drivers.

So – you get the idea — the technology to track and measure driving against a set of standard measurements is here now — and this leads to other things — read on

Before we go on some quick maths questions (not interested? — then skip and read on).

Algorithms are among the most interesting branches of mathematics – and, to repeat myself, not that difficult to understand. This is where science and art combine. But, here are some questions – which are actually social and political questions, but concern the construction of the algorithm in a telematic device.

First, is the chip installed in the insurers’ devices the same as that made for the eCall system (more about this in a moment) – for example, is it available for use to call emergency services?

Second, are the algorithms set to measure all those proper things necessary to calculate the driver’s risk to the insurance company ignoring all those things which are irrelvant? For example, we heard at the recent Chicago telematic insurance conference that a driver’s risk of accident could be accurately calculate by measuring the sped at which the driver took bends – this calculation could substitute for the other risk categories.

Third, does the algorithm calculate the driver’s risk to other drivers and road users – and if it does how this that calculation aggregated to give information to builders and designers of road or other transport systems?


Technology 2: the future car is here…

The use of telematics to change insurance is one aspect of change which is taking place. The whole design of cars is changing – and students are demonstrating exactly how – from safety, multi-band in-car radio and even mood lighting. Students at Technical University Hamburg (Harburg) have put together an electronic race car – for formula student races which is used as a demo-carrier for all kinds of innovation:

Here is an example of a future car – but using technology available now.

And here, with groovy kit and matching tunes, is how the students put together a groovy car: how it was built using components made by the German manufacturer NXP.

NXP is a mightily interesting company – it describes itself as the market leader in vehcile devices to, from and within, making the car, in the words of NXP: the ‘internet of things’. Here is NXP VP strategy Lars Reger talking about the devices, which remember, are available for mass production now: this is the guy promoting it all. And note at the end of this piece he is now talking about the use of devices to promote the safety of vulnerable road users, pedestrians and cyclists.

But, don’t forget, the companies are very good at promoting their products – but someone has to sit down and think through and then write, design and construct the chips in use. What data does the chip need to collect? – for what purpose, needing what systems and processes operated by who to do precisely what? Once designed and produced – that’s it. Who is is making those decisions, where is the public interest being expressed? – read on.

Women and equality
You would think that telematics, insurance and equality were entirely unrelated topics. I was astonished to find they are not – they are related in a important way which matters to us all. Why? Read here.

eCall – case study of European nations working together

One of the distinguishing feature of the millennium generation (or, put another way, the generation of under-25 drivers) is that they know nothing other than a unified (and unifying) Europe – a Europe within which there are no passport boundaries.

While many young Europeans have no doubt at all about this being the best way to see things, regrettably in the UK, and maybe just in England (i.e.not Scotland), there seems to be a strong sentiment to try and push this border back – to retreat to a sort of Little England.

No doubt this will be a passing phase and the interesting and life-affirming drive to make friends across every conceivable barrier will once again sweep away the fog. So, extend your horizon and take a look at what is happening under the car bonnets of Europe – students, once again, came up with something interesting.

In 2001 a science competition for young people in Germany (the Jugend forscht – literal translation: ‘Youth researches’) came up with an idea easy to understand – why not fit every vehicle with an automatic device which, should the vehicle be involved in an accident, automatically (that is without the aid of the driver or passenger) calls the emergency services giving precise details of the nature of the accident, where it has happened, and what other vehicles are involved?

The idea took off and the European Union (EU) has pushed the idea strongly – with powerful law-making tools. The system is called eCall and at the end of 2015 every new car will have to have eCall installed.

Put another way, very soon, every new car will be carrying a telematics device.

It is among the exceptional projects to come out of Europe and show European co-operation working well – to the general public good. Now, for a moment back to our friends at manufacturer NXP. Here in 2010 is NXP explaining eCall: How German manufacturers presented eCall.

And NXP helped to produce this simple video showing eCall in action.

Where are we with eCall? – read this EU fact sheet.

What does an insurer think? Here is the Co-op again on the issue:

The European Commission proposes that by 2016 all new cars will be fitted with the eCall system, which automatically gives the emergency services the vehicle location. This is the next step towards telematics insurance becoming a larger part of the landscape of insurance in the UK. We fully support wider use of telematics which helps to keep insurance costs down for those who drive well and improves safety.

Here is a EU eCall video released last month (in English) to explain the system to the Czech people.

The EU has set up a dedicated website which with handy graphics which describes eCall and last month (25 September 2013) launched the HeERO project (Harmonised eCall European Pilot) website:

‘…in the 14 languages of all the countries participating in the consortium and English. The most important parts of the website explaining the vision and objectives of the project and the mechanisms of eCall are now accessible to the greater public, leading to a better dissemination all over Europe. This is a significant achievement, as very few European projects manage to be translated into so many languages.’

Regrettably, the UK is not participating in eCall – eCall UK position. We are asking the UK government why – you can follow our progress in finding out on our blog here.

Nevertheless, eCall is pushing telematics — which raises many other interesting issues in related subject areas … read on

Geography: urban planning – the green issues.

A safely driven car is well on its way to becoming a greener car. A safely driven car with a telematics device becomes an intelligent car – we have therefore arrived in the world of intelligent mobility.

These are issues we face now – and provide useful study topics. The use of the device under your bonnet (or in your hand) is a step forward to understanding how this technology can be used to make a better world.

Our  Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR), in 2005, set up but then this year closed down, innovITS  – the Intelligent Transport Systems Centre for Excellence for Transport Telematics and Technology for Sustainable Mobility set up by the as a non-profit making organisation. The last thing it did was to publish the Impact Study on Intelligent Mobility.

The document says there are four key ways in which ITS (read telematics) can have useful benefits:

1 – …reducing energy use and making more efficient use of the present transport system…
2 – making it easier and less stressful to get from place to place…
3 – making the use of transport fleets (and these are immense) more efficient
4 – making the transport system safer.

For example, it is quite clear to the authors that

It is anticipated that ITS technologies have the potential to revolutionize surface transportation by connecting vehicles, infrastructure, and passengers.

Given this view it is odd this report has nothing to say about eCall, anyway, putting that to one side the report is important because it collects together in one place most of the current data available on the practical application of telematics. Also, it is authoritative – it has been produced by academics at Cambridge and gives a good taste of the standard at which such work needs to be written. Finally, it comes to some important conclusions which show a way forward for this technology – or, put another way, the future trends (and future trends can equate to future jobs). The authors say:

Given the global and UK policy agenda to reduce the energy and environmental impacts from transport an in-depth case analysis of the potential for ITS to address these challenges is undertaken. Based on empirical case studies and evaluations around the world it was found that the deployment of ITS can have positive impacts on transport systems across a range of modes, infrastructure and activities. For measures related to network efficiency there are reductions in carbon (CO2) emissions of 10 -15%; reductions in other environmental emissions (CO, NOx, PM10) ranged from 2 –20%; fuel consumption decreased 5 – 15%; traffic congestion reduced from 12 – 30% and average vehicle speeds increased 5 –25%.

Politics: information(data collection and use) and human rights

We are faced with political and ethical problems. See our discussion of these issues in relation to car insurance here.

Who is deciding what information to collected about us and how it should be used?

Where is the dividing line between private and public?

Is there something about the information collected on a device in an individual car which needs to be commonly shared between everyone?

The data collected by telematics devices is, we are told, the new oil with its flows being almost as profitable.

And now we know that we live in a world where governments think it right they should be able to have access to every part of our life.

Most of the discussion about the Edward Snowdon revelations have been concerned with print and broadcast media. But, the biggest use is going to relate to what we do in our own lives with out portable devices (phones, mobiles, cells). Here is a recent discussion of these issues in The Guardian. These are big issues and for us here in the UK clearly require new laws – laws which flow from a wide-ranging public discussion.

And the best contributions to these debates are informed ones – and there is no better way than starting now on one’s own doorstep – or should that be car doorstep? – into a car with a telematics device – let us know.

For example – would you support a call to make it compulsory for every under-25 driver to have a telematics device installed in their car? We would like your feedback – comment here …

Jonathan Coe

    Jonathan Coe, Editor

    Journalist and comms specialist for over 40 years – trained in print, broadcasting, and industrial intranet. Written about comms policy (eg. as radio editor at Time Out); held senior comms roles in public bodies (National Health Service, local government) and privatised undertakings (London Electricity – now Electricité de France). Since, has developed interests in the ordinary citizen's use of judicial review to challenge irrational decisions of government and the use of rights (like the Freedom of Information Act) to explore irrational decisions (like the BBC's original decision to close the BBC digital radio service BBC 6 Music).

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