Consumer Watch: Motorists can drive a bargain

By Susan Edmunds

Cars with technology which reports how well they are being driven may lead to big cuts in insurance premiums

Big Chill boss, Michael Roberts, says good driving saves money. Photo / Doug Sherring
Big Chill boss, Michael Roberts, says good driving saves money. Photo / Doug Sherring

Better drivers may soon be paying lower insurance premiums than those who escape crashes only through sheer luck.

Insurance companies throughout the world are looking at a technology called telematics as a way to access better information about their customers and charge them accordingly.

John Lyon, chief executive of Lumley Insurance, said the amount of information that was becoming available was huge.

GPS units in cars could provide insurers with information on how far a car was driven plus the speed and the number of sudden stops and manoeuvres a driver made.

"That information enables a company to potentially understand its risks and exposure a lot more."

He said some international insurers were already charging people by the kilometre or on the basis of the way the car was driven.

Some insurers in Britain advertise discounts of 30 to 50 per cent for people with telematics-based insurance. It is primarily marketed to younger drivers.

Toyota has said that from this year its new models would be fitted with telematics.

Gary Young, chief executive of the Insurance Brokers Association of New Zealand, said several British insurers were offering "pay as you go" insurance tied to GPS monitors that reported back on where a car was being driven and when.

He said that would be popular in New Zealand with people who were worried about the cost of insurance. If they knew it would be more expensive for them to drive after 10pm they could then avoid it.

"It's just whether the market is big enough."

A survey of British drivers last year found that more than half expected to change to a usage-based product in the next five years.

Broker James McGhie, of Apex, said that in New Zealand the technology was so far being used predominantly by businesses to demonstrate to their insurers that their fleets were well managed.

Mike Roberts, of Big Chill, said being able to demonstrate that his staff were good drivers had saved him some money on his insurance, "but I'd argue not enough".

He said it was hard to compare savings because other factors had usually changed when it came time to renew insurance policies.

But being able to show some evidence made insurers more likely to take the company on.

"Insurance companies do look at you more favourably."

Digital drive recorders are also being used after accidents to back up claims.

They can provide information on speed and details of how the accident happened, such as whether a car spun or flipped.

Michael Pryor, general manager of strategy and business performance at IAG NZ, which operates insurance brands that include State, said it was something his firm was watching closely.

"Important considerations for us will be to understand how this type of service benefits customers, how cost-effective the technology is, and what risks are involved, for example, understanding potential privacy issues around the information provided by the technology."

- Herald on Sunday

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