Something you're going to want to smack

A magic box from GreenRoad Technologies (UK) will be installed in 200 military vehicles as part of a six-month trial to determine whether it's possible to detect bad driving and then intervene to improve it. As nearly as I can tell, the boxes have accelerometers (i.

A magic box from GreenRoad Technologies (UK) will be installed in 200 military vehicles as part of a six-month trial to determine whether it's possible to detect bad driving and then intervene to improve it. As nearly as I can tell, the boxes have accelerometers (i.e., sensors that measure acceleration) that pick up how hard you accelerate, how hard you corner, how hard you brake, and how much hot coffee you spill all over your chinos. These measurements are used to give you continuous (red light, yellow light, green light) feedback on your driving. On the theory that if you give people a metric, they'll optimize it, the hope is that the boxes will improve soldiers' behavior on the road.

So What?

It's interesting to wonder what would happen if you just lied and installed a box that blinked randomly as the car was driven. It's the sort of experiment rat psychologists like, and the result is usually that the rat does whatever it's supposed to do even though the pellet (green light, in this case) is being provided without regard to its behavior. Maybe the researchers could save some money on accelerometers. (Come to think of it, in order for this to be a controlled experiment, they'd almost have to have a group of cars with random boxes. Hmm.)

For years I've been waiting for insurance companies to try this sort of thing, and I've heard vague rumors of research pilots along these lines, but never anything definite. Here's the idea as I see it: The insurer installs a box in your trunk and a needle on your dashboard. The box senses how safely you're driving and moves the needle accordingly. The position of the needle represents your insurance premium at that instant. Think of it as a speedometer, except it's a Big Brother-ometer.

We really do tend to optimize metrics, so I think wide adoption of this technology could make us much more careful drivers. You could even go further, actually: The box could signal to the insurer that the driver was ignoring the needle and speeding (say). A voice response unit could call the customer's cell phone and say, "Slow down! That's dangerous!" Then it could say, "And by the way, hang up! 'Cause that's dangerous, too!"

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