Our mission at the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) is to help people understand how insurance operates. Sometimes that means understanding how insurers handle new technologies, particularly auto insurance. Chief Actuary James Lynch answers a question we got last week:
Q: I am researching driver assist technology and the advantages and pitfalls that could be associated with it. Do driver assist technologies raise or lower insurance premiums? A few of the technologies I’m looking at are lane-keeping devices, blind spot warning systems and hands-free cruise control.
A: As far as technological innovations go, insurance companies adjust their rates after a technology has proved its worth on the road. Only then do they know that a technology is effective and how much discount is warranted, if any. That means hands-free driving systems, which have only been introduced in the past couple months, are not earning anyone discounts right now.
You mention lane departure warnings. That is a technology that has yet to prove valuable on its own. The feature alerts a driver that is beginning to drift from one lane to another. When the driver drifts, an alarm beeps. One problem, it appears, is that drivers have trouble understanding what the beep means.
In addition, the feature can be turned on and off by the owner, and owners frequently find it so annoying that they turn it off. I happen to have a car with this technology, and I drove with it for about 10 minutes before turning it off. You would be surprised how many times your wheels touch a lane line; I know I was, particularly when the road curved. So insurers probably aren’t giving a lot of credits for the system.
That doesn’t mean that the idea of a lane departure warning is useless. The problem may be that the notification system doesn’t help the driver do a better job. There’s every chance that manufacturers will be able to refine the system so that it does better later. If that happens, rates will eventually adjust.
Another possibility: Sometimes a feature by itself doesn’t work as touted but will become an important part of a larger system. An example here is antilock brakes, which were introduced a couple of decades ago. The brakes had a special feature that was supposed to help a car stop more quickly when its brakes were slammed on. By itself, they weren’t much of a help — which surprised a lot of people – but they have become an important part of electronic stability control, a computerized system that figures out when a car is starting to skid and corrects the situation.
Electronic stability control is perhaps the biggest safety advance of our generation. The feature, standard since 2012 on all new vehicles, has cut the risk of a fatal single-vehicle crash in half. Insurers closely monitor this stuff, particularly the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and its sister organization, the Highway Loss Data Institute.
Here at I.I.I. we offer more information on auto crashes in our Issues Update on the topic.