GPS for your own good

GPS for your own good

Summary: Last year, a UK insurance company tested a "pay as you drive" insurance system that uses a GPS receiver package to track exactly what distance a car is driven and set each month's premium accordingly. It's a sensible idea: If you leave your car in the garage for a month, there's no reason why you should be charged the same as someone who drove 500 miles over the same period.

TOPICS: Hardware

Last year, a UK insurance company tested a "pay as you drive" insurance system that uses a GPS receiver package to track exactly what distance a car is driven and set each month's premium accordingly. It's a sensible idea: If you leave your car in the garage for a month, there's no reason why you should be charged the same as someone who drove 500 miles over the same period. Even better, because the instruments are transmitting (not just recording), if your car is stolen it can easily be tracked and the miscreants apprehended.

So what?

The system has some interesting potential side effects. For one thing, the police (or an estranged spouse) could easily subpoena your "travel records" for use in an investigation. The insurance company could also start charging based on where your car spends time: Long periods in high-crime neighborhoods would affect your premium accordingly. Even more provocative, companies could begin collecting data on their customers' driving habits: when and how much they speed, how often they change lanes, their tendency to accelerate rapidly or slam on the brakes, and other features of their driving performance that could (potentially) correlate with accident data.

Really good analytics might even indicate when someone is driving in an impaired state (such as he just saw his latest premium notice and is in shock). But the most intriguing and perhaps lifesaving possibility comes when you hook the insurance company's server to a SPAM phone dialer and arrange for a deep, authoritative, machine-generated voice to call and remonstrate with customers who are speeding or otherwise driving recklessly. (Of course, you'll be able to cut the irony with a knife if answering the phone distracts you so much get the idea.)

Topic: Hardware

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  • There's More


    abbout a case where there has already been one case of a car rental company that used a GPS-based tracking device to monitor the movements of it's cars.

    One immediate outcome was a customer who failed to have his deposit returned.

    The tracking system was able to record his time at A and B - and match that to a database of all routes. The rental company was therefore able to state that the customer had broken the terms of his rental agreement because the only way he could have made it form A to B in the recorded times was by speeding.

    Thus, the rental company became a, wholly legal, vigilante police force - fining a driver for speeding without due process. I suppose that one could argue that a right of appeal exists, as the customer could still have taken his case to arbitration (or a court) to have possible errors or omissins looked at, but...

    I'm really not happy about this. Why is there no national debate about how new technologies are invading our lives without any consideration for what is happening to our personal freedoms?

    The other day I saw an article about how construction workers where being monitored at work using RFID tags. Fortunately I don't have a boss, but if I did would he have the right to watch my every move, every visit to the john, every cup of coffee? How do we decide whether my stop to chat to a colleague next to the water cooler was productive or not?
    Stephen Wheeler
    • Muddy water

      I don't entirely disagree with you. On the how we act at work thing, it would be fairly evident that your boss could take monitoring to the extreames and beyond the realm of privacy.
      But with the Rental Company I see that being perfectly acceptable. If the contract you sign says you are not allowed to speed in the vehicle and they have a means of verifying it, then why shouldn't they? It's also a matter of breaking the law...
  • more is less

    I think we should have more technology, that
    creates so much data, it would be impossible to
    keep track of it all.

    (only kidding) Once again, I can conscience the
    government being big brother, but I only need
    one. Corporations please step aside.
  • Comments

  • Isn't Technology Great?

    I think that corporations should be able to enforce their contracts. In the rental car example, the contract stated that you weren't allowed to speed, the renter was speeding, so he was in breach of contract. While GPS can give an accurate reading of your speed of travel, I would have to question the database the corporation used to specify what the speed limit was. How can we know it's accurate? What if you're driving on the highway instead of the service road alongside? Is the GPS accurate enough to tell which road you're on? Who polices the speed limit database? Do we need a Police database for speeds? What about construction zones - How/when do they get added? How/when do they get removed? My parents once received a photo-radar ticket for speeding in a construction zone that had been removed the day before. The police officer on site that day didn't realize the sign had been removed and dutifully set the radar to 50 km/h instead of the usual 100 km/h, thus giving several thousand drivers a speeding ticket for double the speed limit as he set it in the radar.

    As for insurance companies? Maybe if this technology was widespread, people would drive properly or risk losing their insurance. I know it would settle me down (leadfoot here).
    Similar devices do exist (non-GPS) for parents to monitor their teenagers while driving the family car. Governments would experience a spike in fine revenue when such a system was first installed, but over time, fines would fall significantly as drivers became more wary of getting tickets. Another question? Who gets the ticket? The owner of the car - you can't pin it to a specific driver because the owner may not be the driver.

    Technical note: GPS is not always accurate enough to track lane-changes. When you've got a +/- 10 foot accuracy level, then that could show you're driving down the dotted line, instead of being in a specific lane.
  • And what about potential lateral effects?

    In there is an extensive reflection about the lateral effects of this project and the importance of solving these problems satisfactorily so that the project can be successful.
    The problem is not different from the one that have the hospitals, banks or many state offices.
    • Big Brother Again

      I agree with Wheeler. There are good points to GPS devises in cars and there are bad points.

      I don't begrudge a rental car company putting GPS on a vehicle in order to find a stolen rental car, or to see if the car has crossed the border or state lines, but checking for speeding and fining someone goes over the line. I've written rental car insurance in Mexico. My site is <a target="_new" href="">Mexican Auto Insurance</a>. Using GPS to find a stolen car or PU would be a great use of this technology tool, but not for speeding or erratic behavior.I think it's poor business judgement to fine a speeder. Why not simply refuse to rent to them in the future?