The Smartest/Creepiest Car Insurance Idea (For Now)

It even looks like R2D2
The man is watching. But don’t worry, he wants to save you money.

We all hate insurance companies – about as much as we hate banks, airlines and cell phone service providers. Car insurance companies, however, have a new way to save you money, but it takes us one step closer to 1984.

Progressive offers its customers a device called Snapshot that monitors the number of miles driven, and how fast the car is driven. The reason is simple – people who drive more, and people who drive faster are involved in more accidents. These folks are the reason that everyone else’s insurance premiums are higher than they would otherwise be.

Insurance companies already gather mountains of information on our age, gender, geography, marital status, income and credit score (and probably a lot of things we aren’t aware of) in order to determine who is a greater risk and thereby deserving of a higher premium. But these call into questions issues of sexism, ageism and classism. Charging more to those who drive more makes a lot more sense morally and financially.

Check out this graph from The Atlantic showing the relationship between miles driven and crashes/damages/injuries.

It doesn’t get much clearer than that.

And sure, Progressive, and its competitors who offer similar but less advanced products, have intentionally left out a GPS tracking systems in the monitoring device. They rightly assumed customers would not use the product with Big Brother knowing so much. But it’s only a matter of time before we cross that line. Once the system is in place, it will only be a matter of adding (or merely activating) one feature.

Surely there are lives and money to be saved if companies could track our every motion. Certainly there are some roads that are more dangerous than others; people who drive on the safe ones who want to save. How about breathalyzers as standard equipment in order to save money on insurance?

What other information can we use to draw correlations? Level of education? Criminal record? Gun ownership? Body mass index? Religion? Race? That last one is prohibited under the Constitution, but when you make a list of all the factors, you see how ridiculous it might seem to (1) exclude it, or (2) even consider all the other bits of information in the first place.

As technology improves we are going to be confronted with more of these dilemmas over privacy and common sense approaches to saving money and lives. I’m not sure where to draw the line. In fact, I would install such a device in my car. The way I see it, the war with the machines/robots/cyborgs/mutants/whatever is coming one way or another. The only question is whether it will be my grandchildren or their grandchildren who will wage that battle.

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