News out this morning suggests that more and more motorists are willing to have a so-called black box recording device fitted to their car in exchange for the lure of lower insurance bills – and most analysts predict that this is a trend that is only going to go on rising.
Certainly momentum is behind such schemes, with statistics presented by the British Insurance Brokers’ Association (BIBA) suggesting that, from 12,000 motorists driving with black box recorders attached to their cars in 2009, this year that figure will jump to 455,000. That 2016 figure is a 39% year-on-year rise, too, although such exponential growth could be misleading given the relatively small figures concerned.
Black boxes are, not surprisingly, most popular among young drivers, traditionally the most punatively hit by insurance premiums. The basic ethos is that if you can prove you are a good driver to the black box, which usually records everything from journey times through to speed, cornering styles, acceleration and braking, then you will earn financial rewards from your insurer in the long-run. BIBA says careful drivers can earn savings of up to 25% on their policies, or more than £1000, although there’s plenty of online evidence from people who’ve tried it to suggest actual savings rarely live up to the promises.
Even so, in the not-so-distant future the floodgates are surely going to open beyond young drivers. Are we are ready for that, and are we sure that we want it? After all, fitting a black box is now quick and cheap, and it’s not hard to follow the arguments suggesting it should be mandatory to have a black box - after all, if you’ve nothing to hide what’s the problem with being watched by Big Brother wherever you go?
I have some personal experience of this, having driven around with a black box fitted to my Dacia Sandero long-term test car a few years back (no jokes about it doubling the value of the car, please). At first, I tried to carry on as normal, but as the results came in I couldn’t help adjusting my approach; lovely though it was to be applauded for some aspects of my driving, poor scores for over-zealous cornering and, ahem, getting from A to B too soon, made me think a bit more carefully. The application of a few marks out of 10, and the knowledge that raising those marks could earn me some money back, did wonders for my mindset, and even translated to fuel savings. Little wonder official figures suggest accident rates are 40% lower for those who choose to fit a black box.
For all that, though, I found it quite intrusive to get text messages if I stepped over the line, and worse still to be sent maps showing exactly where I’d been and how I’d been driving when I’d been there. In isolation this information wasn’t in any way damaging, but the growing realisation that my every move was being followed did start to prey on my mind - and, let me assure you, this is from a man with as clean a conscience as you’ll find with regards to my whereabouts. Could, for instance, my struggles to get an above average cornering score have been used against me if I’d slid off the road one day? Or could my aggressive use of the brakes, something I rather suspected stemmed from living in the stop-start traffic of London, have counted against me in an accident?
The whole issue of personal privacy is wider than this isolated case, and many will argue that carrying a mobile phone around with you these days opens you up to being followed just as, or more, closely, than a black box on your car will ever achieve. But these black boxes also represent another potentially major advancement in the loss of personal liberty. So much so, I wonder how many readers would voluntarily submit to being monitored, even with the potential cash incentives on offer.