March 23, 2014

News & Features

Eyes on me: Seattleite tests pay-as-you-drive

NWautos

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(Thinkstock)


Would you allow your auto insurance company to ride along every time you drive? What if doing so could save you up to 30 percent off your premiums?

Several companies offer pay-as-you-drive — also known as usage-based insurance — programs for discounted rates. They monitor drivers' habits through either a black-box-type device or connections to in-car systems such as OnStar, InDrive or Sync.

Despite my privacy concerns, the possibility of lower rates was tempting. Since I live near my Seattle office, drive only a few days a week and consider myself a good driver, I decided to give it a try.

I recently enrolled in Progressive's Snapshot Test Drive program, a free 30-day trial. I received the device within a week and installed it in the data port of my 2013 Mini Cooper.

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When I started my car the next day, I heard the three beeps that signal the unit is activated. I thought about it periodically, but it wasn't a distraction, and I felt like I drove the same as usual.

On Day 9, I got an email from Progressive saying that I was "on track to save 30% EXTRA off our rate," and had scored an A+. Well, duh, I thought. This is a breeze. I dozed off that night thinking of creative ways to spend all the money I'd save.

My smugness came to a halt the next day as my first "hard brake" warning sounded. True, I stopped quickly to avoid a jaywalker in bustling South Lake Union during rush hour — but it's not like I slammed on my brakes. Still, it was enough to drop my score to A- (and my savings to 17 percent) by Day 17, even with no other warnings.

Four days later, with only one warning in three weeks, I was back up to 20 percent savings. But my confidence was shattered yet again when I got another hard-brake warning on Day 22. The next day, I was down to a score of B, and my projected savings was only 7 percent. I started to worry and began checking my progress online. I got one more warning on the last day of the trial period.

The final numbers were disappointing, at least to someone who had expected to end up at the higher end of the discount scale. I scored "excellent" on rapid accelerations (0.3 per 100 miles) and total mileage per day (12), but my 4.7 hard brakes per 100 miles landed me in the "good" category.

Bottom line: My quote was about 11 percent less than my current premium. I considered switching, but knowing that I'd have to leave the device in my car for five more months felt a little too Big Brother for me.

I'm considering trying MetroMile, which charges by the mile, rather than based on how you drive (plus a monthly base rate). The San Francisco-based startup, which began offering service in Washington state in November, targets those who drive less than 10,000 miles per year.

But for now, I'm willing to pay a little more to motor in my Mini without a backseat driver.

Kristi Barnes is the advertising publications manager at The Seattle Times and managing editor of NWautos.

Cutting into privacy? Find out more about insurance discounts through monitoring.

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