Education Centre

Think you are a good driver? Let’s see what your car’s black box has to say. – Mar. 2013

Most people are completely unaware that their car has a black box. The device is known as an Event Data Recorder (EDR) and while it’s not yet mandatory, approximately 90% of cars on the road are equipped with this device. If you are wondering if your car has one, it should be disclosed in your owner’s manual.

EDRs are similar to commercial aircraft flight-data recorders, but don’t record voices or GPS locations and only retain information during a crash event, and from 5 to 30 seconds immediately before. Some of the recorded data includes:

  • airbag deployment
  • speed
  • engine RPM
  • brake pressure
  • position of the accelerator pedal
  • seatbelt use
  • lateral and longitudinal acceleration

The original purpose of an EDR was to provide manufacturers with an airbag diagnostic tool, but today the police will often access this device and use the data to obtain convictions. While there are at least 12 US states that have laws regarding the ownership and use of EDR information, Canada does not have EDR specific legislation and this data is regularly used in the courts.

One of the better known Canadian EDR related cases is R. v. Gauthier. The defendant, Eric Gauthier, was found guilty of dangerous driving causing death based on evidence that included data extracted from his Pontiac Sunfire EDR. Montreal police were able to determine from 5 seconds of EDR data that immediately prior to impact that Mr. Gauthier was driving at close to three times the speed limit.

Vehicle information and your insurance rates

It appears that most people have no problem with the police using EDR information in an accident investigation, but what if you’ve never had an accident and an insurance company wanted to regularly access your car’s information to determine your insurance rates? Knowing how quickly you accelerate, corner and break, the time of day you drive and the miles driven can help the insurer better understand your risk of having a claim and provide you with a more accurate insurance cost.

Using variable driving information to determine insurance costs is known as Usage Based Insurance or Pay-As-You-Drive (PAYD) insurance. While a typical annualized insurance premium is based on your reported usage at time of application and other assumptions, a PAYD system also relies on verified information such as regular odometer readings. As mileage and other driving data can change from one month to the next, customers pay a premium that could increase or decrease based on the latest reported information and the insurer’s risk assumptions.

There are three types of PAYD systems:

1. Mileage based

2. Mileage, plus amount of time or time of day driven

3. Mileage, time, date and some of the same variables monitored by your EDR such as brake pedal force

While approximately 80% of major US auto insurers have a PAYD option, many rely on a simple mileage based calculation and may limit it to commercial clients or cars equipped with OnStar systems. Participation is voluntary and discounts typically range from 15% to 30%. One of the best known PAYD systems is offered in the US by Progressive Insurance.

If you watch any US television, it’s hard to miss the commercials for Progressive Insurance and their ultra-enthusiastic cashier named Flo describing the huge premium discounts available with Snapshot. Snapshot is a small device that plugs into the diagnostic port of your car’s computer system (typically located below your steering column) and it monitors some of the same vehicle information collected by your EDR. How often you slam on the brakes, mileage, and time of day driven are automatically sent to the insurer through a cellular connection. As long as you drive within their safe limits, you are entitled to a discounted premium.

Snapshot data can be viewed through Progressive’s secure website and this provides customers with an opportunity to make changes to driving habits that will lead to bigger discounts. This can also have additional benefits like reduced wear on the car and improve fuel economy.  If a customer fails to stay within the safe limits, the discounts will be reduced or eliminated, but Progressive claims it will not use this data to increase rates. In the event of a claim, this insurer also promises that the data will not be used without the customer’s permission.

The Snapshot program has been successful for Progressive and similar real-time systems are likely to become available from other major US insurers. In Canada, no comparable systems currently exist. This probably reflects the significant setup costs, technological issues and the challenges of complying with the many differences between provincial insurance regulations.

What are your feelings about access to your driving data? Is police access to your EDR data a serious privacy concern for you? If a device like Snapshot was available in Canada, would you consider installing one in your car?

Please note that our advice is not intended to replace that of a qualified insurance expert who has personally reviewed your specific benefits and insurance needs. To find your local CBIA Sales Representative, click here.