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Eric's Autos: Big Brother Riding Shotgun

Eric Peters on

Progressive insurance is a lot like public education. Both are euphemisms that sound happy enough but mask a number of not so-smiley-faced realities.

In the case of Progressive Insurance - the company - the smiley-faced ad girl you see on TV is quite unlike the cold, impersonal entity that will be riding shotgun with you in reality. An entity that wants to monitor, record and transmit deliciously detailed information about the driving habits of its "customers" (a despicable term, given that people are forced to buy insurance) in order that said "customers' " premiums may be "adjusted" accordingly.

Progressive's calls it Snapshot- another False Flag euphemism ginned up by a clever copywriter to mask its ugly reality.

Because in fact, in reality, a "snapshot" is taken (and recorded) every time you get behind the wheel. A given "snapshot" is merely the data sample the system sends back to Progressive HQ at any given moment. But the fact is the system keeps constant track of your speed, how rapidly you accelerate and decelerate, when you drive - and how often you drive. Just for openers.

Progressive says: "Knowing more about your actual driving behavior allows us to more accurately predict whether you’ll have an accident, which is better for us, and helps you to control your insurance premium, which is better for you."

Well, it is better for them. Because Progressive knows it can justify expensive premiums on the basis of vague "predictions" about a person's faster-than-legal (though by no means necessarily unsafe) driving, or by "predicting" that a person who drives more miles annually than average is more likely to wreck, even if he doesn't actually wreck.

But it's not better for you, because driving faster than an under-posted speed limit (or more miles annually than someone else) doesn't necessarily mean you're a "risky" driver - just that you'll pay more for your premiums.

The irony is that while touting a personalized risk assessment, in fact Progressive is using generalized risk profiles (in addition to deviations from its arbitrary "good driving" standards) to justify its premiums.

"Speed," for example, is a complex variable. It is by no means the only or even necessarily relevant variable in terms of whether a given person is a "safe" or "unsafe" driver.

A driver traveling 80 on a highway with a speed limit of 70 is technically "speeding." That is, he's driving faster than The Law says he may. But is it fair to characterize this as unsafe? The insurance companies say yes, absolutely. But the fact is they say this about every speed limit, and we know at least some speed limits are bogus - and the insurance companies have tacitly conceded this, but only after the fact. After, that is, they "adjusted" people's premiums.


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