Your car knows exactly how bad you drive

Asia's Tech News Daily

Your car knows exactly how bad you drive

You don’t have to drive fast to be a hazard on the road. Recently I rode with a very careful driver who was having trouble staying within the lines. While swaying, the oncoming traffic came unhealthily close and other motorists began to honk in horror: watch out!

It went well, although I got out ten years older. Where’s the Automatic Lane Keeping Aid when you need it?

Most of the time near misses remain hidden. According to American figures, the average motorist is only involved in an accident once every 17.9 years. Young drivers often make a mess, insurers know. To encourage you to drive more carefully, some auto insurance policies measure your driving. A dongle in the car or an app on your phone registers reckless actions. Those who do not score penalty points pay a lower premium.

Car manufacturers really know exactly how bad your driving is. The sensors and cameras in a modern car register every bend, every intervention, every tap on the gas. That produces a cartload of data – much more detailed than measurements via a smartphone.

BMW stores such driving data on a separate server, which insurers can view (with your permission). But there are also car manufacturers that play for insurers themselves, such as Ford and General Motors.

Tesla goes one step further. Elon Musk’s latest product is auto insurance based on real time driving behaviour. Other ‘traditional’ risk factors, such as age or claim-free years, no longer play a role, Tesla writes: “We believe your premium should be based on how you drive, not who you are.” The premium is, however, adjusted to the neighborhood where the car owner lives.

Data is Musk’s showpiece. Tesla insurance (now only available in California and Texas) calculates a safety score based on the Predicted Collision Frequency – the probability of a collision per million miles driven. Aggressive driving costs points: abrupt braking, sharp turns and sitting too close to the vehicle in front. Ridiculously fast accelerating – Tesla’s trademark – is apparently not seen as dangerous driving.

However, aggressive driving is not the only cause of accidents. Fatigue plays a role in 15 or 20 percent of accidents. Then you don’t have to drive fast, just get out of your lane or not brake.

Tesla is counting on Autopilot driving assistant to help prevent that. If you have to correct the same driving assistant abruptly – sometimes driving with Autopilot feels like a game of arm wrestling – it will not cost you any points. However, you will be punished if you try to drive with free hands for too long.

The driver can save on premiums, there is no need for ‘unnecessary’ insurance intermediaries and, according to Musk, it is useful for new car designs to know what needs to be repaired after an accident. So win-win-win.

But isn’t Tesla building too much on the data stream? The security score is still ‘beta’; work in progress. That same score is also used to select guinea pigs that will test Tesla’s new full self driving test software on public roads. That optional safety package is being tried in the US and is still full of errors – for example, the car sometimes mistakes the moon for an orange traffic light. The naming is misleading: full self driving software does not produce a fully self-driving car, any more than AutoPilot is an autopilot.

One day our descendants will tell each other, shaking their heads, that people used to steer themselves and trusted other road users to follow the same rules. Until then, we’ll have to make do with driver assistants, taming Tesla’s pioneering spirit and the occasional cringe-inducing ride.

Marc Hijink writes weekly about technology here. Twitter: @MarcHijinkNRC

A version of this article also appeared in NRC in the morning of October 20, 2021

Your car knows exactly how bad you drive
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