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Telematics: What you need to know!

How digital telematics tech will make you drive more carefully

Your next car will know on you and report your driving style to you. It'll keep track of any risky maneuvers you perform and tell the police if it thinks you're to blame or not for an accident. And how? It's all about digital telematics.

Telematics is a method of monitoring a vehicle. By combining a GPS system with on-board diagnostics it's possible to record – and map – exactly where a car is and how fast it's traveling, and cross reference that with how a car is behaving internally.

Add communication over a 3G network and telematics can be used to send both data and communications back and forth between a vehicle and a central management system. Using sensors in cars and a trackside wireless network, Formula One teams have been using telematics for years for tell exactly where opponents are on the racetrack.

At the fringes telematics is also a term used to describe 'connected car' features in general, which include live weather, traffic and parking info on the dashboard, apps, (such as featured on the CarHub device

Who will use telematics?

All of us. The tech can be used for monitoring complete fleets of vehicles (everything from courier companies to emergency services) and even for tracking stolen cars. Increasingly it's going to be found integrated into 'connected' cars – think a situation where your cars breaks-down, and the AA is automatically alerted and sent data on your car's diagnostics – though the first wave will likely be car insurance firms desperate to offer 'usage based insurance' policies.

Why now?

Technology is changing – and so is the law. The European Court of Justice has ruled that from the end of 2012 car insurance premiums must be gender neutral (bye bye Sheila's Wheels), so car insurers have to find another way of assessing risk. What better way than using accurate data on how we, as individuals, actually drive? That said, the totally open, transparent approach that telematics brings might be too much of a leap for some insurers nervous of sharing personal data.

This is 'pay as you drive', right?

Wrong. Although the use of telematics is, ahem, accelerating, it's also undergoing a change from being focused on pay as you drive (PAYD) to pay how you drive (PHYD).

"We basically monitor and assess the driving behaviour of the vehicle user via on-board technology which enables us to provide a much more accurate rate, and a very specific understanding of risk," says Johan van der Merwe, MD of pay-as-you-drive car insurer Coverbox, which also offers free theft tracking.

"The amount of information we gather from devices installed in customers' vehicles – time and location of journeys, driver behaviour during those journeys, and so on – means that we are in a position to develop much more bespoke insurance products, personalised to specific drivers."

Telematics also means that well-behaved drivers can be rewarded with lower fees.

"We all know young drivers who are maniacs behind the wheel, but we also all know young drivers who are incredibly safe and sensible behind the wheel," says van der Merwe. "The current insurance market lumps them all together as being equally high liability. We can change that."

The more detailed the information collected, the closer the insurance industry can get to accurately apportioning blame to specific drivers involved in an accident.

Will telematics tech mean lower car insurance premiums?

If you're a good driver, almost definitely. The pricing model used by car insurers will suddenly become 'de-averaged', with the new model based – in theory – purely on rates on driving style and location rather than lifestyle and home address. In short, it's fairer. As well and reduced insurance claims for drivers that take less risks, such systems can also provide feedback on a driver's performance, meaning fewer crashes and incidents, and therefore fewer insurance claims. It's also possible to tailor feedback to maximize fuel economy.

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