Motortrades Insight Magazine Online

‘Sophisticated accelerometer’ used in Italy to record and report car crashes could be adapted for UK to prevent whiplash fraud

Published: 16 December 2013

Telematics devices, commonly known as ‘black boxes’, have two aspects to them: they track your car and they collect data, crucial to deciding if you are a god driver or a bad driver and where you can improve. 

As young driver fail to resist the temptation of reduced car insurance, are black boxes as reliable as they are claimed to be? And should young drivers put their finances in the hands of a device which rather obnoxiously tells them if they are a good or bad driver? 

Andrew Smith, Managing Director of Cobra UK, the company behind the manufacture of tracking devices for Ferrari, Maserati, Porsche and Bentley, says its ventures into making telematics devices that are reliable depends on ‘the firmware and software on the device’.

“If the technology wasn’t accurate and we weren’t recovering the vehicles, there would be a big issue,” Mr Smith explained, talking about the accuracy and importance of vehicle tracking systems for high-value vehicles including sports cars which attract thieves.

“The insurance company tells us what data they’re interested in, in terms of underwriting risk and we download that data, provide it to them and then put it on an internet dashboard for the driver to see how they’re performing. So the data is transmitted every day without fail. The policy holders, on average, tend to look at their dashboard two to three times a week at least to see how they’re getting on with their driving score.”

So those drivers who do have telematics devices installed on their cars are engaged and make an active effort to regularly look at their driving score. 

Many devices, including Co-operative Insurance’s Smartbox, measure various safe driving parameters, including a driver’s average speed on different types of roads, how fast and hard the car accelerates or brakes, what time of day the car is driven and how fast corners are taken. 

But that third one discriminates heavily against young drivers. If you are on the policy and are driving at night, you could see the cost of your insurance rocket when it is reviewed every 90 days – an unnecessary and unfair restriction that discriminates against young people and steers many away from installing the device. It remains obvious from this ‘parameter’ of night driving that insurance companies are conservative and continue to discriminate against all young drivers, even in their black policies. 

“Well, pay-as-you-drive is just that,” Mr King admits in an interview with Motortrades Insight. “It’s based on how you drive so if you are a driver that takes risks and do speed and do have collisions, it will put up your premiums. But then, ordinary insurance goes up if you have a collision because you lose your no claims bonus. So the best way to keep your insurance down is to do further driver training, be safer on the road and try to avoid having collisions in most places.” 

Most, if not all, of the insurance policies for young drivers with black boxes on the market today have no claims bonuses included, which can reduce costs significantly.

“The reality is that the technology itself will provide a lot more in terms of benefits to insurers over time which will allow them to reduce the risk and reflect that into the policy cost,” Mr Smith explained. “For example, everybody talks about ‘crash for cash’. The reality is that every telematics device that I know of has something called an accelerometer. The accelerometer measures movement side to side, up and down and back to back. 

“In Italy, for example, we have such a highly sophisticated accelerometer on our insurance policy customers over there. If there is a crash, immediately, with no human intervention, it’s all automatic and produces a crash reconstruction report from the data from the accelerometer.”

He said this advanced technology which produces reliable reports allows insurance companies to mitigate the risk of people making false whiplash claims.

“If that technology gets adopted I’m almost certain it will help reduce policy costs because a big issue for insurance companies is ‘cash for crash’,” he added.

He also believes that this technology, currently used in Italy due to the ‘high degree of fraud’ in the Mediterranean country, will help doctors and insurance companies in analysing crashes and determining if a particular accident was likely to have resulted in a vehicle’s occupants obtaining soft tissue whiplash injuries. He feels the technology Cobra UK makes could easily be adapted for the UK. 

“Literally, it produces a three-page electronic report within six seconds of the event which shows a full breakdown of what happened and how. What happened X number of seconds before the crash? What happened X number of seconds after the crash? It will plot the incident on a map so you can see exactly where it is. It’s pretty irrefutable that it’s literally taking information from the vehicle itself and then transmitted it before anyone has any chance of tampering with it.”

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