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Tue., July 29, 2008

A high-tech monitoring device makes it possible to reduce insurance premiums for drivers who avoid jackrabbit starts and slam-on-the-brakes stops, an insurance company says.

The catch? Bad drivers who take a chance on the program may wind up paying a surcharge instead.

Auto insurer Progressive Corp. has begun offering its drivers the chance to cut their costs based on how they actually drive, not only on their age, credit score and number of tickets or accidents on their record.

The monitoring device – sort of like a black box for cars – tells Progressive what time people drive, how many miles they’ve driven, how fast they accelerate and how often they hit the brakes. It does not track where people go.

Under Progressive’s program, customers can earn a first-term discount of up to 10 percent just for signing up. When they renew their policy, their rate could decrease by up to 60 percent based on their driving habits. But it could also increase by up to 9 percent.

Richard Hutchinson, a Progressive general manager, said the program is designed for drivers who are consistent and safe.

Progressive began the program in Alabama in late June. It’s also been made available in Minnesota, Oregon and Michigan. A national rollout of the program will continue through 2009.

Other companies recently began offering similar options.

GMAC Insurance and OnStar vehicle services last year started a new program that allows motorists to earn an extra discount based on the miles they drive.

Several insurers in recent years have offered monitoring of a particularly vulnerable population of drivers – teenagers. Under American Family Insurance Co.’s program, for example, a camera records audio and video images of the road and the teen driver when motion sensors detect swerving, hard braking, sudden acceleration or a collision.

There’s an extra benefit to monitored driving programs: they help cut traffic congestion and pollution, according to the Environmental Defense Fund.

Associated Press


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