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'Tattletales' put auto insurer in passenger seat

Rat yourself out and save money on car insurance.

That's the selling point for palm-sized devices, often called "tattletales," that consumers can voluntarily install into a car's on-board diagnostic port to track driving habits such as mileage, speed, time of day and braking intensity.

"It's a more accurate way to measure auto insurance risks so those customers who are lower risks, pay lower rates," said Dick Luedke, a spokesman for State Farm Insurance.

The insurers say the devices give drivers control over their rates and encourage good habits. Others wonder if the measures used by the insurers accurately predict risk.

One former Minnesota regulator is deeply skeptical and worries about how insurers will use the data they collect.

"One policyholder's discount is another man's surcharge for not using the device," said former Minnesota Attorney General Mike Hatch, who also is a former state Commerce Department commissioner. For example, an inner-city driver would stop more frequently than a rural driver, Hatch said, but a rural driver might drive faster than an urban driver.

State Farm offers some form of the device in 31 states, including Florida. Luedke emphasized that the device is voluntary. Those who choose to enroll get free use of the device for a year and an immediate 5 percent discount on their insurance rate.

After the free trial, the State Farm device costs $5 to $10 a month, depending on the level of service. Drivers can add on roadside assistance, location monitoring and alerts, so a parent might be notified if a teenager ventures into an area he or she isn't supposed to go.

Progressive Insurance's "Snapshot" device, offered nationwide, is free. Consumers plug in the device themselves and use it for six months to calculate their renewal rate, then return the device to Progressive. The insurer also offers the device free to noncustomers for a 30-day trial.

According to Progressive, more than 1 million drivers have signed up since 2008. Drivers save an average of $150 per year, the spokeswoman said.

Progressive's "Snapshot" uses the time of day and the speed to calculate the number of miles a customer drives as well as how often they slam on the brakes.

The "Snapshot" device "is great for people who drive less, in safer ways and during safe times of day," a spokeswoman said.

Allstate Insurance offers a similar device in some locales. Neither Progressive nor Allstate track location.

Not everyone provides the option. In a statement, AAA said the company is researching the costs and benefits of the devices.

'Tattletales' put auto insurer in passenger seat

02/24/13 [Last modified: Sunday, February 24, 2013 9:31pm]
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