In­sur­ers: we know when you text and drive

Phone use at the wheel could make driv­ers unin­sur­able – if firms choose to draw on ex­ist­ing data, says Olivia Rudgard

The Daily Telegraph - Your Money - - FRONT PAGE -

Driv­ers who make calls at the wheel could find that their in­sur­ance pre­mi­ums rocket un­der plans by in­sur­ers to mon­i­tor il­le­gal calls and texts made while driv­ing. Ex­ist­ing “telem­atic” un­der­writ­ing – which al­lows in­sur­ers to as­sess pol­i­cy­hold­ers’ driv­ing habits and skills – can al­ready log when driv­ers’ phones are in use and whether a hands-free de­vice is con­nected.

Mo­bile phone use at the wheel could prompt warn­ings from in­sur­ers and re­sult in pre­mium in­creases – or even the with­drawal of cover.

Telem­at­ics in­creas­ingly in­volves driv­ers be­ing tracked via their mo­bile phones through an app that they have down­loaded. This can tell the in­surer when and where the ve­hi­cle is in use, as well as com­mu­ni­cate de­tailed in­for­ma­tion about brak­ing, ac­cel­er­a­tion and cor­ner­ing.

What is less well un­der­stood is the app’s abil­ity to mon­i­tor other phone func­tions, en­abling it to de­tect whether calls are be­ing made – and if they are hands-free.

The app runs in the back­ground of the phone. In the­ory, an in­surer could see in even greater de­tail what a driver is do­ing, in­clud­ing whether or not they are play­ing mu­sic, us­ing map­ping ser­vices, or tex­ting.

One in­sur­ance bro­ker, Drivol­ogy, has al­ready used the tech­nol­ogy to col­lect ex­ten­sive data about how us­ing a phone at the wheel af­fects driv­ing be­hav­iour.

Driv­ers with con­vic­tions for tex­ting or call­ing at the wheel al­ready face rises in their pre­mi­ums – but this tech­nol­ogy en­ables in­sur­ers to in­crease pre­mi­ums be­fore an ac­ci­dent has even hap­pened.

Data from the AA shows that in­sur­ers put up pre­mi­ums by as much as 28pc if a driver is caught by po­lice us­ing their phone at the wheel.

Many will refuse to of­fer cover al­to­gether.

Mon­i­tor­ing calls, texts and so­cial me­dia use

Wunelli, which pro­vides telem­at­ics tech­nol­ogy to in­sur­ers in­clud­ing the AA, Hast­ings Di­rect, Ad­mi­ral, and the Co-op, said driv­ers who had con­sented to hav­ing their driv­ing be­hav­iour recorded via their smart­phone could also have their call data mon­i­tored.

To date, telem­at­ics poli­cies are of­fered pri­mar­ily to young driv­ers with a prom­ise that they will make car in­sur­ance more af­ford­able. Av­er­age pre­mi­ums for 17-24-year-olds have grown to more than £1,200.

The pop­u­lar­ity and use of telem­at­ics is spread­ing. Ac­cord­ing to the Bri­tish In­sur­ance Bro­kers’ As­so­ci­a­tion, telem­at­ics poli­cies have grown by 23pc over the past year and are now used by 561,500 driv­ers.

Around a quar­ter of these are thought to be poli­cies that work through apps on smart­phones. Other poli­cies mon­i­tor driv­ing through “black boxes” that have to be in­stalled in a car. In­sur­ers say the poli­cies re­duce pre­mi­ums for an over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of driv­ers. Ad­mi­ral, for ex­am­ple, says 80pc of driv­ers us­ing its “Lit­tleBox” pol­icy pay less when they re­new.

But some driv­ers have com­plained that their driv­ing be­hav­iour has been in­cor­rectly recorded, lead­ing to in­creased costs.

Se­lim Ca­vanagh of Wunelli said the com­pany col­lected phone data on be­half of some in­sur­ers, but de­clined to name them.

“The ob­jec­tive is twofold: firstly, en­able in­sur­ers to price fairly; sec­ondly, ed­u­cat­ing the driver to these road risks,” he said.

Us­ing the firm’s tech­nol­ogy, more than 4,000 driv­ers, cus­tomers of Drivol­ogy, had their mo­bile phone use while driv­ing mon­i­tored over 18 months. The re­search found that driv­ers us­ing a phone at the wheel pro­duced sim­i­lar re­ac­tion times to drunk driv­ers.

Con­cerns about er­rors by telem­at­ics sys­tems – such as pas­sen­ger use of a phone be­ing mis­in­ter­preted as some­one mak­ing a call at the wheel – have slowed the roll- out. Drivol­ogy ini­tially told Tele­graph Money that it col­lected phone call data and used it to de­ter­mine pre­mi­ums, but later back­tracked.

Si­mon Mor­ris­sey, head of data and pri­vacy at law firm Lewis Silkin (pic­tured on Page 1), said in­sur­ers needed to be more hon­est about data col­lec­tion.

“That type of ‘cross-pol­li­na­tion of in­for­ma­tion’, where one app knows what you’re do­ing on other apps, cre­ates a pri­vacy is­sue. In my view, if they know that you’re us­ing your phone while driv­ing, that is in­tru­sive,” he said.

Jonathan Hewett of Octo Telem­at­ics said his firm was work­ing on the “next wave” of tech­nol­ogy, which would over­come these is­sues – and he was con­fi­dent that more in­sur­ers would start to use the tech­nol­ogy.

“The only re­sis­tance is a per­cep­tion that it would be a bar­rier for con­sumers. There’s con­cern that they would see it as a Big Brother sce­nario,” he said.

“But there is also huge con­cern from in­sur­ers about dis­tracted driv­ing. Our cur­rent clients are in­ter­ested and the topic is in­creas­ingly in every­body’s mind.”

In Novem­ber the Gov­ern­ment dou­bled the penalty for driv­ers caught mak­ing calls at the wheel to six points and a £200 fine.

New driv­ers will face an im­me­di­ate dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tion if ap­pre­hended.

Lawyer Si­mon Mor­ris­sey: ‘ Pri­vacy is­sues’

One of sev­eral telem­atic apps

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