Black Boxes: The Ultimate Backseat Driver

Black box

Passing your driving test. It’s such a milestone in the lives of many young people in the UK, giving them the freedom to roam free and be more independent. At least, that’s what it feels like on the surface. However, the reality of this is under threat in the form of so-called ‘black box’ technology. 

Telematic gadgets have been introduced by insurers to track the every move of motorists under 25 behind the wheel. However, not only do they give data to insurers, they also alert parents if their child is speeding, braking too quickly, or just driving badly. Great news for parents and the insurance industry, but is it gratefully received by young drivers, too?

In a survey carried out by YouGov, nine out of ten students in the UK said they would happily have a black box fitted in their cars as a way to secure lower premiums. The research also revealed that more than half (52%) of parents with children living at home would encourage them to take out black box car insurance. 

Taken at face value, the idea seems a pretty smart one. The usually high insurance premiums dished out to young drivers are substantially reduced on the premise that a black box is fitted into their car. The deal is that if you drive well, you keep your discount.

Drive badly, however, and your premium could return to the higher standard rate.

Black boxSounds fair enough, but some argue that this practice is simply infantilising young people and invading their privacy, to boot. There is also the argument that telematics technology is a little too close to ‘Big Brother’ for comfort. 

This technology could be set to become more intrusive. Insurers are moving towards ‘nudge’ tactics, whereby a driver’s behaviour can be honed and improved through a scoring system. A driver could be penalised (and his or her premium increased accordingly) if they travel more miles than they are supposed to or drive at statistically more dangerous times of the day. Repeatedly driving between 11pm and 6am, for example, will adversely affect their score.

Two years ago, Ford launched MyKey which gives parents an unprecedented amount of control. It allows mum and dad to set a maximum speed, disable the stereo until seatbelts are fastened, and prevent an override of the airbags or traction control in their offspring’s Ford Fiesta. Most certainly safety first, but you can’t help feeling sorry for the teenager who has had the fun of driving taken away. 

We are also seeing an increase in apps to monitor driving, although these rely on a driver’s phone being in the car with them and switched on. 

Of course, telematics is not going to stop at the 17 to 25 age group; we could all be driving with telematics in the future. From 2017, all new cars made in the EU will be fitted with these black boxes in a bid to increase road safety.

So, whatever your viewpoint, telematics are here to stay. And while it may take some of the fun out of driving somewhat, our roads will be safer for it.

Which side of the debate do you favour? Is the invasion of privacy worth the benefits?