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Your insurer is watching; so what?

Progressive is the latest auto insurer to ask customers to put monitoring devices in their vehicles. Privacy advocates are yelping. This driver thinks the idea should be taken even further.

By doubleace Mar 16, 2011 4:15PM

This post comes from Lynn Mucken at MSN Money.


The folks at auto insurance giant Progressive have rolled out a nationwide advertising campaign for their Snapshot program, which monitors how their customers brake and how far and when they drive.


Tailgating them are privacy guardians, who can't find anything wrong with the voluntary program but worry aloud that, like candy cigarettes, this could be a threshold product that leads to future abuses.  Post continues after video.

According to the Progressive website, customers can cut their insurance bills by up to 30% by installing a small, company-provided data recorder in their vehicle's OBD II diagnostic port; all cars built after 1996 have one. If you meet the Progressive criteria -- gentle braking, fewer miles driven than average, and limited driving during rush hours and those nasty midnight-to-4 a.m. hours when everyone but you is driving drunk -- you get a discount after 31 days. After six months, you send the device back, and your discount is locked in "for as long as you're insured by Progressive."

That last phrase is important. Progressive says it will not increase your rates based on the data, but pointedly avoids saying it will not cancel you.

Progressive says its device will not record where or how fast you drive, but Robert Ellis Smith, publisher of Privacy Journal, told USA Today that some states ban such programs, even on a voluntary basis. He also voiced concern about insurers "changing the rules down the line."

"NorlandIrish," a reader of Nashville's Tennessean newspaper, agreed: "Just one more nail in the coffin of our privacy. … I realize they have a certain level of risk that's out of their control when we get behind the wheel, but that's what the insurance biz is about -- risk! I'm a safe driver and don't do anything that would get me into trouble, but I'm not going to have Big Brother in my car!"

As the last sane driver in Southern California, I'm convinced Snapshot is heading in the right direction. Here are other driving habits it should record:

  • Tailgaters: Perhaps this is understandable if the car ahead is tootling along at 50 mph in the inside lane, but unforgiveable if the car ahead is cruising at 70 and lanes are open both left and right. A few years ago, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology determined that a car at 67 mph -- 98 feet per second -- requires 226 feet to stop. Maybe that's why a third of all accidents are blamed on tailgating.
  • Zippers: These are the drivers who charge up from behind until you can read the brand on their sunglasses, then, without signaling, change lanes. Even if you see them coming, you don't know where to hide.
  • Multi-taskers: Texting, talking on the phone or with your head turned toward a passenger, readjusting the kid's car seat, applying makeup, eating a sloppy burger, reading a map, punching in data on the GPS, and -- my new favorite -- taking photos of yourself with your cell phone. We've all been guilty of some of these. And we've all been very stupid.
  • Speeders: You do it. I do it. After all, it is the most common law violation in the U.S. But there is a difference between going 40 in a 35 and barreling along at 90 in a crowded 70 mph zone. They build those cars to go 120 because they want to sell them to you, not because they actually want you to drive that fast.
  • Bad mergers: There's a multitude of sinners here. 1) Not now you don't! Lining up in a single lane a mile before the merge is not good driving, it is stupidity. The most efficient way is to wait until the point of the merger, then alternate. The only reason this doesn't work is that the one-laners are seething and won't cooperate because you didn't wait with them. 2) My lane! Come on; let them in. It won't add 5 seconds to your drive. Besides, they're just going to speed up and slide in two cars ahead. 3) Show some gratitude -- just a little wave of the hand when someone lets you in. It'll make their day and reinforce a good habit.
  • Intersection jumpers: Clearly in second place at the intersection, they zip through anyway. This is not only rude, it's dangerous if the driver you are cutting off has the better reflexes.

More from MSN Money: 

Mar 17, 2011 3:03AM
Millions of drivers are breaking the law with no insurance because they don't know this about a savings called "Auto Insurance Clearance"

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