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How to drive smarter with motor telematics

Intelligent automotive technology could lower your insurance premiums, alert you to accidents on the road ahead and automatically call out breakdown vehicles
First published on August 12, 2014

Anyone who drives needs car insurance and no one enjoys sifting through offers to find the best price, or paying the premiums. But this disliked essential expense opens a window on to the world of motor telematics: the technology behind the "black boxes" that can track driving habits and, provided you're sensible, lower premiums.

These boxes have been around for some time, but they only hint at the potential of the fast-moving world of motor telematics - an area that's accelerating as fast as the cars that will benefit from this new technology.

Insurance boxes - which come bundled with specific policies - have, after starting life in commercial fleets, become sophisticated pieces of equipment and are one of the few types of telematics device that have gained traction with consumers.

The gadgets use GPS and motion sensors to detect certain driver behaviors, such as hard acceleration, slamming on the brakes and speed-limit infringements.

These boxes sound intrusive, but the numbers prove that they're catching on. A 2013 report by risk management and consultancy company Towers Watson found the majority of drivers in the six largest European insurance markets are willing to embrace telematics, with this figure hitting 70% in Italy and Spain. The situation is similarly rosy in the UK: price comparison site GoCompare says 57% of British drivers will use telematics-based insurance by 2017.

New applications
There are many other applications for this type of technology. Towers Watson found that "significant numbers" of drivers over 35 "responded positively" to the prospect of "extra services such as theft-tracking, automated emergency calls and breakdown notification at additional cost."

Services like these will have a big impact on the way we drive. Systems such as the forthcoming eCall standard - a European initiative designed to bring speedy assistance to drivers involved in a collision anywhere in the EU - promise to alert emergency services with crucial data in the event of an accident.

But that's just the start. Eventually, sensors will warn drivers when their vehicle is too close to another car and diagnostic systems will be able to tell mechanics exactly what's wrong - ideal for cutting down the financial and time costs of repairs. In-car systems will estimate likely injuries in accidents and software updates will bring new traffic and roadwork information to cars without user intervention.

The road ahead isn't entirely clear, but initiatives such as eCall only bode well for the connected cars of the future.