Telematics ‘black boxes’ can save you money by rewarding safe driving and lowering your insurance premiums, but when they make mistakes the opposite can happen, as drivers are finding out
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A young driver with a telematics box in his car was left bemused when it asked him if he had been involved in a crash 27 years before he was born.
Telematics car insurance works by tracking your driving using a special ‘black box’, or your smartphone.
It then charges an insurance premium based on how you drive.
Many young drivers choose telematics insurance because they are charged huge premiums otherwise .
The average premium for a young driver is £1,062, according to research from Which? – with fuel and other costs adding another £700 a year on top.
One driver, Aaron Horlock, fitted a telematics box to his car to get cheaper insurance as a driver in his early 20s.
The box was sent out by insurance company Freedom Brokers, and generally worked as he expected.
But one day Horlock, a London-based musician, was surprised to see a notification from the company, asking if he had been involved in an accident.
Knowing he had not had any crashes, Horlock opened the accompanying telematics app to investigate.
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The mystery thickened, as the app thought he had been involved in a crash in 1970 – 27 years before he was born.
It was also around 37 years before his Volkswagen Fox even rolled off the production line.
But the alleged crash defied the laws of physics as well as time.
The app thought this accident happened at sea, several hundred miles off the coast of Nigeria.
Horlock saw the funny side and told the firm no such accident happened.
“It just came up one day asking me to confirm if I had an accident or not,” he said. “It can do the same thing for emergency braking or stalling, things like that.”
But Horlock got off lightly, as sometimes mistakes made by telematics companies lead to insurance being cancelled or premiums rising.
This can be seen on review websites like Trustpilot.
While most telematics insurance companies get overwhelmingly good reviews, and help save money, some occasionally do the complete opposite.
One driver with a telematics device from Insurethebox (ITB) said he was charged for 200 miles he never drove – and when the box was not even connected to the car.
The driver said: “I removed the black box as told by ITB to do and now this week it shows I am 201 miles in the red and need to buy more miles.”
He then he sold the car he removed the black box, smashed it up and put it in the recycling as per Insurethebox’s instructions.
But the company then got in contact to say he had been caught speeding – 25 days after he had sold the vehicle.
Insurethebox has been approached for comment.
Part of the problem is that telematics devices, like all technology, occasionally just make mistakes.
For example, driving on a 70mph motorway under a bridge with a 40mph speed limit road above can appear to an insurer like you are speeding.
The telematics devices can also lose connection at intervals, causing issues for drivers.
Some record data in regular pulses rather than constantly, while others just lose connection now and then.
When this happens it can lead to strange situations being recorded as if they really happened.
This is what happened with Horlock, according to Freedom Brokers.
A Freedom Brokers spokesperson said: “I can assure you that incidences such as this are extremely rare. In this instance an accident alert was triggered in the two or three seconds before the telematics device had found a GPS signal and time-stamp so the reading was simply the default setting.”
The app works by working out where drivers are in relation to a single default point – the centre of the earth, at zero degrees latitude and longitude.
This point, as it happens, is just off the coast of Africa.
The spokesperson added: “We take accident alerts very seriously so while the location and time information was set to default we automatically assess the data recorded by the telematics device to understand if there could have been a collision and then check with the customer, via their app or voice via the device that they are ok.”