Black box insurance

Not cycling, but still important.
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JohnToo
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Black box insurance

Post by JohnToo » 6 months ago

Has anyone else got a black box fitted as part of their car insurance? Following my retirement, we now have to insure our daughter privately, and as she's under 25 the company offer us lower premiums for fitting a black box (even though 99% of the driving is my wife and me not her).

Preliminary indications are that the black box (or to be pedantic the algorithm that processes the data) quite likes our speed and smoothness of driving - but penalises, quite heavily, driving at times of day it doesn't like and to some extent on roads it doesn't like (it doesn't actually tell you which roads are a problem, it just tells you after a journey that it didn't like the choice of roads).

I'm also a little concerned by the psychology. When you know that it penalises hard braking, it creates a motivation not to do hard braking. I tend to brake quite hard initially at any potential hazard on the basis that you can always ease off a second or two later after further assessment, rather than because I've allowed an actual emergency braking situation to develop. Should I allow the black box to change my driving style?
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Joan
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Re: Black box insurance

Post by Joan » 6 months ago

Interesting question, and I will reply seriously later. But my first thought was "you'll want to borrow a car if you are disposing of a body"

@Fabbers has some sort of van thingy, doesn't he?
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Rutabaga
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Re: Black box insurance

Post by Rutabaga » 6 months ago

Why the need for 'hard braking'?
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Re: Black box insurance

Post by JohnToo » 6 months ago

Rutabaga wrote:
6 months ago
Why the need for 'hard braking'?
I don't want to give an exaggerated impression - I'm not going round doing emergency stops all over the place - and the black box seems to agree because overall it gives me greens not ambers or reds for the smoothness of my driving style.

However...

When I encounter something unexpected - you see some kids approaching the road - you turn a corner and there's a lorry coming the other way - you see a pothole and you're not sure how big it is - you're on a residential road rendered single track by double parking and you see a car coming the other way - my style has always been to brake fairly hard as a first reaction. You can always assess the situation and subsequently ease off the braking as appropriate, but I'd always rather brake sooner unnecessarily than brake later when it'll have become more urgent. Most journeys I do, the black box app typically flags "hard braking" once or twice, and because it shows you where on the map, you can relate it to your memory, and each time so far it's been one of the above examples.

What I am now reassessing is whether my justification for my driving style is valid, or whether the black box app knows better than I do?
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Sonic Budgie
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Re: Black box insurance

Post by Sonic Budgie » 6 months ago

Obviously I've never been in a car with you, but from your description of feeling the need to brake harshly in situations like a lorry coming round a corner or kids on the pavement and you having to do it a couple of times a journey, I'd say you need to do some rather urgent work on your hazard perception. The black box sounds like it's spot on, in fact it may be being too lenient.
Last edited by Sonic Budgie on Wed Apr 10, 2019 11:10 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Black box insurance

Post by Rutabaga » 6 months ago

I suppose what I'm kind of edging towards is the idea that what you're describing is poor driving practice. I used to do regular advanced driver training (the RoSPA certificates only last 3 years and have to be retaken), part of which involved reducing braking to the point where one hardly braked at all. If a passenger lurches forwards even slightly when the driver applies the brakes (or releases the clutch), that's bad style. The level of caution and concentration required does seem slightly ludicrous at first, until one realises that that is how people should really be driving all the time, resulting in safer road environments for everyone. OK, I know full well that not everyone (in fact hardly anyone) will want to behave in this way, but actually once one gets over the feeling of slight embarrassment at doing so it's easy, reassuring, and less stressful. It's a bit like deciding to be that annoying driver who sticks to the 20mph speed restriction when no one else does.

So I suppose I'm saying that you have a choice, to change your driving practice or continue as you always have and pay more for it. That seems entirely reasonable to me.
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Re: Black box insurance

Post by Mister Paul » 5 months ago

Mrs P had a company car a couple of years ago that had driver monitoring fitted. It told you a % score at the end of the journey. If you accelerated anything more than slug-like (the kind of acceleration you need when joining a motorway) it beeped and said something stupid like "woah there". Three beeps and your line manager got an email.

The blokes in her office started a competition to see who could get the most emails triggered.
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Re: Black box insurance

Post by JohnToo » 5 months ago

Mister Paul wrote:
5 months ago
Mrs P had a company car a couple of years ago that had driver monitoring fitted. It told you a % score at the end of the journey. If you accelerated anything more than slug-like (the kind of acceleration you need when joining a motorway) it beeped and said something stupid like "woah there". Three beeps and your line manager got an email.

The blokes in her office started a competition to see who could get the most emails triggered.
Thank you.

I'd abandoned this thread because I couldn't find any way of responding to the previous two posts that didn't make me sound like a typical male, full of affronted pride at any criticism of his driving and unable to contemplate that his driving could have any faults. And also (we're all friends here, aren't we, so we can be honest with each other) because I was feeling quite upset.

I know what scores the app gives me for the smoothness of my driving so I don't feel the need to defend my overall driving style. But you have highlighted another example of one of the issues that I was floating. Driving as smoothly as possible is clearly desirable for several reasons. But there are instances where, it seems to me, if we drive with the over-riding objective of driving smoothly, we are likely to do things that are less safe. The situation you allude to is one - when entering a flow of traffic, on a motorway or just a busy road, the safest thing to do is to accelerate reasonably rapidly up to the prevailing speed, which is not the smoothest thing. Likewise, I continue to think that when conditions on the road change - some new event happens or some new piece of information comes to your awareness - such that reducing speed is appropriate, making the reduction in speed quicker rather than slower is often the safer (but less smooth) thing to do.

Clearly, the better our anticipation and general road awareness, the less often we will need to accelerate or decelerate at a rate that is recorded by an app, and the safer we will be, and I don't have any beef with an app basing its judgement largely on those factors, for that reason. But I still think there's an interesting issue to explore of when a concentration on smoothness above all else can become detrimental to safety.
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Re: Black box insurance

Post by Iris » 5 months ago

I've always been a bit sceptical about black-box insurance, because I think its proponents overstate the case for its ability to discriminate between levels of riskiness.

Conventional motor insurance pricing works by getting lots of data and trying to find the key rating factors that are more likely to give rise to a claim. A typical large insurer will have several million policy years of data, and the typical claim rate depends on type of claim. For most types of claim it's somewhere between 5% and 25% per policy year. That's an easily tractable problem using statistics. The exception is major bodily injury claims - the really expensive ones - where the rate is more like 0.1% per policy year. You need to make some fairly strong assumptions, but they're typically reasonable and justifiable ones. For instance it's quite common to assume that the cost of a claim is pretty much completely random once you've had some sort of crash that causes injury - so you can use the rate of other kinds of claim as a proxy for the rate of major injury claims.

Black-box insurance pricing works on the same basis. Except that instead of several milion policy years of data you've potentially got several million* individual data points per policy year of driving, multiplied by several million policy years. And you've got roughly the same number of claim events as before. So the frequency of claim events is extremely low, even for common claim events like minor shunts or windscreen damage.

There are roughly two ways of dealing with that problem. You can either throw some sort of data mining algorithm at it - but then you struggle because you'll find it difficult to distinguish between noise and signal and correlation and causation, and because you'll struggle to explain the results you mine. Or you impose a pre-determined structure of riskiness on the data to crunch the several million x several million data points down to a number that is tractable.

It sounds as if it's the second approach which both the examples in the thread are using. That's not surprising, because there's a lot of professional and regulatory pressure to produce results which are explicable - and, incidentally, I think it's the more defensible approach ethically. But the result is that someone who thinks he's a good risk is being marked down, and people who have spotted a flaw in the algorithm compete to look as "bad" as they can.

As it happens, I think aiming to drive smoothly is largely a sensible approach. It uses less fuel (all other things being equal), it makes your passengers' ride more comfortable and it means other road users will find you much easier to share the road with. The joining-the-motorway scenario is a rare case where those factors don't apply - as is the scenario of accelerating rapidly to overtake an obstruction safely. Whether it improves safety materially I don't know, but I wouldn't be surprised to discover it did - because it makes you more predictable.

*20,000 miles per year divided by 30mph average multiplied by 60 x 60 to get to seconds.
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Re: Black box insurance

Post by Rutabaga » 5 months ago

JohnToo wrote:
5 months ago
Thank you.

I'd abandoned this thread because I couldn't find any way of responding to the previous two posts that didn't make me sound like a typical male, full of affronted pride at any criticism of his driving and unable to contemplate that his driving could have any faults. And also (we're all friends here, aren't we, so we can be honest with each other) because I was feeling quite upset.

I know what scores the app gives me for the smoothness of my driving so I don't feel the need to defend my overall driving style. But you have highlighted another example of one of the issues that I was floating. Driving as smoothly as possible is clearly desirable for several reasons. But there are instances where, it seems to me, if we drive with the over-riding objective of driving smoothly, we are likely to do things that are less safe. The situation you allude to is one - when entering a flow of traffic, on a motorway or just a busy road, the safest thing to do is to accelerate reasonably rapidly up to the prevailing speed, which is not the smoothest thing. Likewise, I continue to think that when conditions on the road change - some new event happens or some new piece of information comes to your awareness - such that reducing speed is appropriate, making the reduction in speed quicker rather than slower is often the safer (but less smooth) thing to do.

Clearly, the better our anticipation and general road awareness, the less often we will need to accelerate or decelerate at a rate that is recorded by an app, and the safer we will be, and I don't have any beef with an app basing its judgement largely on those factors, for that reason. But I still think there's an interesting issue to explore of when a concentration on smoothness above all else can become detrimental to safety.
It's a shame you were upset, but (1) driving smoothly is not an overriding objective, that is hazard perception, and (2) no one suggested concentrating on smoothness above all else. Like most things in life, once it's been practised for a while it becomes second nature.
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Re: Black box insurance

Post by JohnToo » 5 months ago

Iris wrote:
5 months ago
…. The joining-the-motorway scenario is a rare case where those factors don't apply - ….
I think this is key.

Smooth driving is, as a rule, the desirable thing for multiple reasons as you and Rutabaga have said. It can be achieved only through anticipation and awareness which improve safety, it produces better fuel consumption (I got 68 mpg on my last mainly urban journey over to my parents), and it is more comfortable for passengers.

The exceptions, when smooth driving is not the optimum, are rare. For urban driving, the particular black box algorithm I have signed up to typically records perhaps one braking event that is severe enough to be noted as such, out of, what? a few hundred? thousand? times when I apply the brakes or decelerate through engine braking. Which is why it can flag them to me (and I can obsess about each individual one and inflict my obsessing on the rest of you) whilst still scoring me quite highly for smoothness.

From the "statistics behind insurance decisions" perspective, what I find interesting is that the app seems to weight time of day quite heavily (I've had several journeys conducted around 330-4-430 pm scored surprisingly poorly for time of day). Presumably that is based on quite a large volume of aggregated data.

It also scores me down sometimes on road choice, but not in any obviously predictable way. It likes motorways, but it can rank one urban route as better than another when there is little obvious difference in risk between them to my eye. It is presumably basing those decisions on accident data, but I do just wonder how big the data set it draws on is - could just one or two accidents on a given road, which could be largely random, then lead to that road being marked down? That would chime with your suspicions, Iris.

Edited by moderator to close quote
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Joan
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Re: Black box insurance

Post by Joan » 5 months ago

The unintended consequence of this, and I think John's worry, is the gamefication of driving. Our aim should be to drive safely and efficiently, but the algorithms put another factor in there: driving in a different manner to get a new high score.

Thinking about it, while it might possibly make drivers like John slightly less safe (not braking hard when possibly they should), I think that it might make distracted drivers more focused. Someone might decide not to check their twitter while driving because they might then lower their score by having to brake suddenly when they look back at the road. I suspect the some total will be safer not less safe.

I think if John is a good driver, then he should stop looking at the data. It doesn't sound like it's helpful to you.

I'm also concerned about privacy. I lived at home into my twenties. I would not have liked my dad to have had an app that would tell him where I had been. Personally, I don't think I would get a black box if I could afford not to.

I'm reminded of hypermiling. It's a good idea in principle, but it can lead to bad practices. I heard a hypermiler on the radio complaining that his wife would use the car and then go to the first or most convenient parking spot, ruining his average while maneuvering in. He would drive round and round until he found a spot he could drive right into. His technique kept a lower MPG, but paradoxically her technique uses less fuel.
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Joan
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Re: Black box insurance

Post by Joan » 5 months ago

This ad came up when I was watching YouTube on VPN.

It's interesting that they almost use the downsides to advertise it.

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Re: Black box insurance

Post by JohnToo » 5 months ago

I'm finding that there are certainly times when you have to nerve yourself to do things that you know will be penalised. Stopping at Amber lights is one obvious example. And I remain unconvinced about the optimum braking strategy - brake evenly over tbe whole available distance, or brake harder earlier as a precaution. But i am increasingly a convert to black boxes. The subject of compulsory driving test resist for elderly drivers often comes up; I think compulsory black boxes could pretty well obviate that need. If we could have a legally referencable database of speed limits and link to that, that would be a massive step forward too (this black box compares your speed to the average of other drivers on the same route not to the speed limit).
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Re: Black box insurance

Post by Iris » 5 months ago

From memory, all new models launched from next year have to have a black box designed in. There are obviously questions around safety and security of sensitive data, and what it will be allowed to be used for - and how you can tell who is driving - but it's happening. There are also obvious links to autonomous vehicles.
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