‘Big Brother’ Device Allows Monitored Driving

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Imagine a device, smaller than an iPhone, that anyone can use to see everything about the way a particular car is driven — exact times, routes and speeds – and will send text and e-mail alerts when thresholds are surpassed.

The gadget being offered by Travelers Cos. works on any vehicle made after 1996 and first became available a few weeks ago in Connecticut, although the insurer rolled it out in eight other states previously.

Those who use it receive a 5 percent discount on automobile insurance just for participating. They could also get up to 20 percent off their premium if they are low-mileage drivers — fewer than 10,000 miles in a year.

Other insurers, such as Progressive Insurance and Allstate, have similar technology that allows people to get a lower premium based on the way they drive. Travelers, however, doesn’t use the driving performance to change rates. Instead, Travelers suggests customers may use the device to watch how their teens drive.

Slamming on the brakes? It knows.

Speeding? It clocks you every inch…or mile…of the way.

It also determines if you’re stepping on the gas too harshly, accelerating like NASCAR driver Danika Patrick or Burt Reynolds in Cannonball Run.

How It Works

The device simply plugs into a port near the steering wheel and dashboard — the same port mechanics used to diagnose automotive problems on a car.

Travelers has an online help program showing photos of almost any vehicle and where to plug it in, as easily as a night light. The property-casualty insurer, which employs about 7,000 people in Connecticut, bills the system — called IntelliDrive — as a way for parents to coach teens on their driving.

The idea is that parents and teens will sit nicely by the computer and discuss how the teen has been driving. Travelers offers tips for people who brake too quickly. How quickly?

“It’s the equivalent of 0.3g,” said Tony Hare, managing product director for Travelers Personal Insurance. “But the way that we always talk about it: If you’re driving, and you’ve got your books, and you slam the brakes and they fly off the seat, you exceeded 0.3g.”

Bad habits can be linked to an alert system. So, a text message or an e-mail can be sent any time a driver speeds, brakes too hard or steps on the gas too quickly.

IntelliDrive also allows for an invisible fence of sorts to be created on an online map, with the alert system sending notification if the vehicle leaves that boundary. Not only that, it will tell you exactly when and where the vehicle left the boundary — an exact street location.

For parents, it can work as a curfew, too. The system can be set up with text or e-mail alerts if the car is driven during a certain time of day.

All alerts are sent after the car is shut off to prevent those monitoring the system from responding to the alert with a text to the driver to “slow down” while he or she is still driving.

Other Devices Available

Other insurers have similar technology, which is broadly called telematics. However, none of the other devices have text or e-mail alert systems or GPS mapping capabilities, though a Progressive device does beep if you’re driving badly.

Progressive Insurance has offered this type of technology since the early 2000s. Progressive said last month it holds six patents for technology related to “usage-based insurance.” Progressive offers its device in 43 states, including Connecticut. It monitors how often you slam on the brakes, how many miles you drive and how often you drive during the higher-risk hours of midnight to 4 a.m.

Allstate offers an initial discount of 10 percent on premiums just for using its gadget, called Drive Wise. Customers can get an additional deduction of up to 30 percent based on their driving, with credits for fewer miles, no hard braking or accelerating, maintaining a speed less than 80 mph and driving during the day or early evening.

“It’s not specifically marketed toward teens, but it does track driving behavior and gives customers a letter grade as part of a full driving report,” said Julia Reusch, an Allstate spokeswoman. “So, it’s a great method for parents to use to track their teen’s driving behavior. We have a website Drive Wise customers can log into that displays the data collected from the device, which is where the letter grade is given along with additional driving data.”

The Allstate device does not have GPS capability. So, it doesn’t show where the car was driven, as you could do with the Travelers device. Also, the Allstate device is available in 10 states, but not in Connecticut yet.

The Hartford Financial Services Group also has a device called TrueLane, which allows people to get a discount based on their driving performance, such as mileage. It is available in Connecticut.


About Matthew Sturdevant

Full-time staff journalist at The Hartford Courant and magazine freelancer with a master's degree in writing from Dartmouth. My work has appeared in The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, Taiwan News, The Baltimore Sun and many other news sources. My blog has been referenced by Politico.com, the Kaiser Family Foundation, the Georgetown Law Library and a number of organizations in healthcare and business. Sturdevant’s blog is "a well-written wealth of ideas," said The Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism, (businessjournalism.org, May 18, 2011). I have experience writing for newspapers, magazines, Web sites and blogs as well as shooting and editing video. I made regular appearances on news-talk radio and on the NBC affiliate station in Corpus Christi, Texas. I made occasional appearances on the Fox affiliate in Connecticut promoting Hartford Courant articles.

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One thought on “‘Big Brother’ Device Allows Monitored Driving

  1. Jayne Ubl

    It’s great to see that people are developing new ways to help keep teens safe behind the wheel. But good old-fashioned experience behind the wheel with a parent works well too. As a parent, with two teen sons, my husband and I didn’t understand the importance of teaching our sons more than just what they needed to pass the driver’s test. We realized, after each of them totaled a car, that we didn’t give them to training they needed to stay alive behind the wheel. We didn’t know-that we didn’t know! That is why I am so behind drivesaferidesafe, its is a company that offers resources for PARENTS to help teach their teens how to become safe and defensive drivers- a driver’s training expert has them for six hours – a parent has them for life. As a parent who has seen what can happen without enough proper behind the wheel experience- I am interested in seeing more parents learn how to create smarter drivers- which will result in safer roads for all.

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