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Progressive Snapshot: Is it worth it?

I turned 25 last year, which in the highly mathematical and calculating eyes of the US insurance industry meant that I had suddenly matured into a much more responsible driver than I was at 24 years and 364 days of age. As a result, I expected my insurance rates to go down. Imagine my surprise when my insurance renewal notice from GEICO actually quoted a $50 increase in my insurance rates. To me, this was a clear signal that it was time to switch companies.

Typically, I score really high on brand loyalty. I tend to stick with a brand for as long as possible, unless they really mess up. This qualified as a major mess up. As a result, I started shopping for insurance quotes.

Two companies that quoted me significantly lower rates (30%–40% lower) were Progressive and Allstate. Both had an optional programme that could give me further discounts based on my consenting to the companies tracking my driving habits. Now, I am a careful driver – I hardly ever accelerate hard. I hate using the brakes at all – I prefer to control my speed mostly using my engine and careful planning except in the case of an emergency. As a result, the prospect of an additional 30% discount seemed like a sweet deal. Of course, I have my concerns with companies tracking my habits, of the security practices (or lack thereof) at these companies. Allstate required persistent tracking, Progressive kind of stops tracking after six months or so. Therefore, Progressive it was.

The Snapshot device is a simple OBD2 adapter that plugs in to the OBD2 port in my car. It is small and unobtrusive. The only thing that alerts me to its presence is the three beeps when I start my car. Unfortunately, that is where the praise stops and the annoyances begin.

The very premise of these tracking systems is that bad drivers will tend to follow practices that will result in them braking hard. Therefore, these devices penalize hard braking above everything else, and let you know through a very annoying beep. Having spoken to a friend who was enrolled in Snapshot, I had the impression that the device requires a rather gentle touch on the brakes, so that meant really careful driving. However, I soon found out that my normal driving was well within the device parameters and never triggered the device; this reinforces my notion that Americans don’t know to drive. The proliferation of the automatic transmission has resulted in a generation of people who don’t listen to or feel their cars, and people who jackrabbit on a regular basis.

However, the premise of penalizing hard brakes is fundamentally broken. As a careful driver, I would never brake hard unless I had to avoid an emergency, such as a child running out on the street in front of me, or a drunk man making a sudden dash, or the traffic light changing from green to yellow when I’m less than 30 m from the light. Having a device beep and inform me that money is going out of my pocket while I’m still trying to avoid an emergency situation is a very bad idea. The device further compounds this foolish UX with a very bad engineering decision to somehow not account for a noisy input. Case in point, a woman walks onto the street, resulting in my braking. Not very hard, but harder than I usually would. This triggers those annoying money out of pocket beeps, but when I get home and check, the single braking event has been counted as two separate events and has resulted in $12 out of my pocket.

For a moment, think of the implications of such a bad design. Now, whenever I have a situation that may not necessarily be an emergency, my instinct is to not brake because the stupid device takes money away for doing the right thing. Light changes to yellow, try to go through it because braking before the stop light will cost me money. Pedestrian at the crossing, be aggressive and they won’t actually be dumb enough to step out in front of the car.

For the past four months, this device has been making driving hell

Obviously, I don’t indulge in such behaviour, but my point is that I’m inclined to. Just a few days ago, the traffic light changed from green to yellow, and I braked from 45 mph to a stop in around 50 m. Not unsafe by any stretch of the imagination, but a hard brake, and essential, because the light had turned red before I reached it. That one event counted as three trips of the idiotic non-hysteresis measuring algorithm employed by the retarded coders at Progressive or their subcontractors; that is serious coin out of my pocket. What should I do the next time the light turns yellow and I’m travelling at 45 mph? Should I stop and definitely have money out of my pocket, or should I barrel right through if there is no police officer at the scene? I know the answer, but I’m not sure if the average motorist will stop.

The Snapshot device has made driving hell. Instead of concentrating on being a safe driver and shooting for fuel economy second, I feel my focus shifting to avoiding braking first. That is a dangerous thing for a driver.

So, should you enrol in the Snapshot programme? Well, it depends. If you are the kind of driver that drives for long distances, and brakes hard, don’t go for it. If you are a careful driver, and like me you drive really low miles, you may want to consider the potential of a 30% discount in your insurance rates against the potential headaches of having a nagging device in your car, that like most other naggers, tends to nag right when it is most inconvenient. You may also want to consider the privacy and security risks of having an internet connected device connected without a firewall to the CAN bus – a network that was designed without any security considerations whatsoever.

In my case, I had an initial discount of 27% which dropped to 24% after the red light incident. If this discount holds, I’d say, ‘not a bad deal.’

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