The technologies to monitor drivers are becoming more and more sophisticated. Invisible cameras will soon be checking our every eye movement. What happens to the data, what consumer advocates warn about and how we can benefit financially from it.

Almost two years imprisonment for a text message – such verdicts are no longer uncommon: a driver was sure that he could just type a text message on a country road. This time, his inattention caused tragedy. The young man caught a cyclist and her daughter, who was sitting in the child seat behind her. Her life could have been saved if there had been warning systems in the car to keep the driver from their high-risk distraction.

It is now technologically possible to optically detect such misconduct by drivers. And the corresponding devices are about to be ready for series production. The EU has set itself the goal that by 2050 no more people will have to die on the roads. Thanks in particular to new technologies, this seems achievable. The number and capabilities of assistance systems and sensors that record the world outside the vehicle have increased safety. The number of accidents is falling. But the greatest source of danger remains: the person behind the wheel. And that’s why the focus is now increasingly on the interior of the car.

From 2024, a regulation will apply to new cars that will make camera surveillance of the driver practically unavoidable. It doesn’t matter whether you’re overtired or distracted: anyone who steers a car and isn’t concentrating will be recorded. It’s a bit ironic: New technology should prevent us from harming ourselves through the current one – like smartphones. Apparently, manufacturers and insurers believe it is necessary for the cameras inside the car to be undetectable to the driver. They can be installed behind the instrument panel, the rear-view mirror or the B-pillar. The recording angle from the higher position is ideal, according to the manufacturer Magna, a large Canadian-Austrian automotive supplier. The devices are based on infrared light so that they can also work in the dark or when the driver is wearing sunglasses. On the one hand, the constant flow of images measures whether the eyes are open or closed. And on the other hand the position of the pupils. The underlying software detects deviations, i.e. when the driver is not looking ahead. The technology will be ready for series production in two years, i.e. in time for the new EU regulation to come into force.

This driver monitoring system must meet strict data protection regulations. It is therefore interesting who gets the data and when. Are they stored in the vehicle and only used if an accident occurs and it needs to be clarified whether the driver was at fault? Or does the data go permanently to a server to which the insurance company may also have access? Both would be technically feasible. However, the current legal situation is much stricter: even an accident memory can only be read out with the driver’s consent. It is generally recognized that manufacturers and their technology partners should primarily ensure that components such as navigation systems, the radio and assistance systems are operated less via screens and more via voice and gesture control.

Insurers are very interested in data relating to driving behavior and offer incentives for drivers to have this transmitted voluntarily. The so-called telematics ensure that data such as speed, acceleration or braking behavior are known and allow conclusions to be drawn about the driving style. Either telematics boxes send the data to the insurer via the mobile network or the driver has an app on his smartphone. There are two advantages for the insurer: You can link the rate fairly to the driving style and there are fewer accidents due to the more considerate driving style. And drivers who submit their data are rewarded with rebates on insurance premiums.

This works very practically via a point system. The less risky the driving style, the better the score and the cheaper the tariff. The criteria used by motor vehicle insurers for the calculation differ significantly. The five essential behaviors are speed, how quickly or gently you accelerate and braking behavior. After all, abrupt braking can cause rear-end collisions and it indicates a less anticipatory driving style. Driving behavior in curves is also measured, as well as the journey time and the route: the probability of an accident is higher when driving in rush hour traffic or driving at night with poor visibility. On the other hand, those who sail at 130 km/h on the relatively empty motorway collect points for the telematics score. The weighting of these criteria varies depending on the insurer. Here, a driver should see what is best for him or her, depending on his or her requirements.

Despite the supposed justice, consumer advocates have some concerns about the telematics tariffs: On the one hand, there are often reasons for supposedly more risky driving that do not have to have anything to do with careless driving. Secondly, this data arouses the desires of the police or those involved in accidents or their insurers. Legislation can change. Who knows what will happen to their data over the years? “If its data doesn’t match your own perception, there are problems. If you don’t want to report minor accidents to the insurance company, they may still know about it,” writes the consumer advice center on its website. Third, this data says a lot about a person’s private life. It is generally known that car manufacturers are increasingly networking with supermarkets, online shops, hotel chains or other players who are very interested in such data.

Basically, insurance works through the collective: the number of people creates a balance between those with a high risk and those with a low risk. Some find this unfair and therefore use the possibilities of such telematics tariffs, which ideally take into account the specific behavior of the individual. But it doesn’t quite work yet: Such point systems could be particularly exciting for those who don’t have much experience, i.e. novice drivers. The risk of accidents is estimated to be higher for them, which drives up the policies. If they demonstrate a prudent, calm driving style as part of a telematics tariff, this often saves money. The situation is different for drivers who have been on the road accident-free for a long time. The telematics tariff could even be more expensive for them. This also applies to those who are regularly out and about in the city during rush hours, who drive at high speed on the motorway or who have to drive at night.

If you want to conclude a telematics tariff, you should definitely take a very close look at the respective data protection regulations. The respective insurer now receives a lot of highly sensitive data. How does he collect and store this? Which profile will I create? How can the data be used against me in the event of an accident? How is my personal data protected? Will the insurer pass them on to the police or even other contractual partners, for example for the purpose of personalized advertising? The answers to such questions should be known.

Also important: Who bears the costs for a GPS black box? The insured often bear the rent, which can eat up the savings if you drive well. Is there an app instead of the expensive GPS box? How does the insurance penalize if I only “go online” for part of the trips? Many a driver cheated by deactivating the box or app on unfavorable routes. It is also important how to regulate when the vehicle is used by several drivers. In addition, there are classics such as the termination rule and, above all, the question of whether the advertised maximum discounts can be achieved at all.

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