How UBI (Almost) Turned Me into a Dangerous Driver

October 11 2021 | Deanna Breading, Guest Author

I’m a senior citizen. My now-grown kids used to chide me for hardly ever reaching the speed limit even before my hair turned gray and the wrinkles stopped disappearing when my smile faded. So, my pedal-to-the-metal foot had gone into storage long before usage-based insurance (UBI) became widely available and telematics devices were handed out by insurers to their policyholders who were eager to qualify for a discount on their insurance premiums.

DBBlog101121 350x250But my brief fling with a telematics device was motivated by something different. It’s not like I was really looking for a new insurer. (I’ve been with mine for over 35 years and we have a pretty solid relationship.) I guess it was just curiosity. You know, check out the new kid on the block, try something different, see what all the fuss is about … but what happened really shook me to my foundation. I figured I was a shoo-in for reduced premiums and maybe even an award or two. But what I discovered about myself led me down a path of frustration and into a sea of self-doubt. I flunked.

How could that happen? Well, it went down like this: The way I understand it, usage-based insurance is just what it sounds like. Basically, you get charged in proportion to how much you use your car and how safely you drive. You get a telematics device to attach to your car, usually under the dashboard if it’s a dongle, or it could also be a smartphone app. It collects information (data) as you drive, like number of miles driven, speed, location, and HARD BRAKING. The device I got was also a “teaching” device. (That’s what I called it. It probably has some other fancy tech moniker.) It made a dinging noise that sounded whenever I started to go into unsafe behaviors like exceeding the speed limit or hard braking. And the noise would alert me so that I could slow down or remember to start braking sooner (as if you can always anticipate that). Hopefully, I would sense what needed to change and become a safer driver. So, once I installed the device, the insurance company would collect data for a specified period of time, analyze the data, and then offer me my discount! Or so I thought. Hmph. So off I drove.

Over time, I learned to hate the dinging noise. It wasn’t overly loud or unpleasant at all. It was what it represented. Every time it started, I had a knee-jerk reaction to DO something. It was scary and distracting at first. I had to discern what I was doing wrong. And as I collected my own “data,” I discovered that my problem was pretty much hard braking.

Now, this knowledge led me to a quandary: To brake or not to brake. That was the question.

Q:  If I am approaching an intersection and the light turns yellow, do I speed up or hit the brakes?

A:  It depends. If the yellow light begins when I am so close to the intersection that I will give myself whiplash if I brake, then I’m probably going to give it a little extra gas and hurry through. Or not. You see, my telematics device was watching. Would it know I went through on a yellow??? I hit the brakes… Ding, ding, ding!!! So, what have I learned? I’ve learned that to avoid getting dinged, I am going to just hit the gas and go through all the yellows, just in case. (I was determined to qualify for that discount.) But rather than becoming a safer driver, I had actually adopted a risky behavior and put myself and others on the road in jeopardy.

But here’s the bigger problem. What if I’m driving in my neighborhood and a kid on a bike comes flying out of a driveway? What do I do? It’s a no-brainer. I brake. Fast and HARD… Ding, ding, ding. OH, cease with the dings!

And guess what? In the end, I “failed” and got notified that I didn’t qualify. I know that it wasn’t because I’m a bad driver. In fact, I am a very safe and careful driver. But because the telematics device didn’t fully measure what was really going on, I looked like the little old lady from Pasadena’s Ohio cousin. Something is seriously missing.

Fast forward a few years … Lately, I was reading a paper and my eyes passed over the phrase: Contextualizing UBI data. It hit me like a brick. The context of the situation is the missing link. If a telematics data device could “see” the whole picture, it would thank me for hard braking when necessary and give me a shiny gold star. And maybe even a discount.

I certainly hope that contextualizing UBI data is the direction that this tech is going in. But until it gets there, I am equipped with a SMART brain that possesses the kind of intelligence that is NOT artificial, and I am going to be using it to decide when and how hard I need to be hitting the brakes.




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Deanna Breading, Guest Author