Times, November 4, 1999
An Ohio insurance company has patented a system capable of
monitoring details about drivers, including how fast they drive,
how often they use their breaks, what routes they take, whether
they use seat belts, signal before turning or tailgate, and what
radio station they listen to.
The system, dubbed "Autograph," was developed by
Progressive Insurance so it could base insurance rates on actual
driving habits, and offer auto insurance to high-risk customers.
to the Oct. 25 Cleveland Plain Dealer, Progressive is
testing on several hundred Texas drivers a simplified system that
tracks how long the vehicle is driven each day and how much time
it spends in congested and accident-prone "risk zones."
McMillan, a Progressive marketing executive, said not to be alarmed
by the patent's long list of surveillance capabilities, or its mention
of marketers' lust for such detailed data about drivers.
"We threw in the kitchen sink in the patent" as
a protection against competition, he said. Maria Henderson, the
company's general counsel, said the patent "describes something
we're not currently doing, nor do we contemplate doing."
Autograph patent describes a system in which an onboard computer
and sensors collect a street of driving data.
It could determine if a car was breaking the speed limit
on a certain street, or driving in a high-risk accident area.
The data would be stored in a digitized "driving file." The car's computer would report certain "trigger
events," to a central computer via a cell phone link. Such events would include a wreck or breakdown,
or actions that would add to the driver's insurance bill, such as
speeding, not using seat belts or turn signals, or regularly braking
so hard as to activate the anti-lock brakes system.
Houston, customers sign a contract that discloses what Autograph
will monitor. They pay an
installation cost that the company won't disclose, plus $1 per month
for one car and $15 per month for each additional car.
McMillan told the Plain Dealer
that consumers like the control they get of their insurance bill;
some have improved their driving habits.
"The privacy issue is there, but it really disappears
as they understand the product."
Privacy advocates point
out that the data collected by Autograph is only a subpoena away
from law enforcers, employers or opposing lawyers.
How soon Progress will offer Autograph nationwide depends
on the time it takes to ensure the system works properly, and to
compile enough data to satisfy State insurance regulators, officials