Technology to reward motorists who drive carefully with lower insurance premiums has been extended to all drivers in France.
Electronic trackers, similar to an aircraft’s ‘black box’, have been offered to young drivers by Direct Assurance since 2015 but were rolled out to all age groups earlier this year.
Similar offers have been used for years in some parts of the US and on a smaller scale in the UK.
Direct Assurance sales director Emmanuel Wehry said: “Having insurance that is profitable for the company and at the same time is attractive to buyers requires complicated algorithms.
“We are the only ones in France who put in the effort to really make it work.”
Scores are averaged at the end of the month
Anyone subscribing to the offer, called YouDrive, is sent a small electronic device that plugs into the OBD (on board diagnostics) in their car.
All cars sold from 2004 onwards have OBD plugs, often found in a cubby hole under the steering wheel, and many vehicles dating from before 2004 have them too.
The box records driver information, which is sent, in the form of a map, to your smartphone. A score is assigned for each journey.
Parts of the drive that contribute to a low score are highlighted with an explanation.
At the end of the month, scores are averaged and the amount you pay adjusted accordingly.
In addition, there is a 10% bonus for people who do not drive much – less than 500km – in the month.
To start seeing cost benefits, the average score must be at least 60 out of 100.
Scores of 60 to 70 get a 10% reduction; above 70, a 20% reduction; above 80, a 30% reduction; and above 90, a 40% reduction in premiums.
“We’ve found that 92% of our YouDrive motorists save money each year, compared to having our classic car insurance,” said Mr Wehry.
“Of those, one in three saves more than €200 a year.”
Punished for accelerating to fast and breaking to hard
A test by a journalist at consumer rights association UFC-Que Choisir found it was difficult to get the 40% reduction – his first test with the device earned him a score of just 14.
“And I didn’t think I was a bad driver,” he wrote.
Looking at the data on his phone, he found he was being punished for accelerating too fast and braking too hard.
He was also penalised for speeding because it was judged in comparison to other traffic, and not to speed limits.
After at least four training trips, he finally scored 100% on a country road by taking care to drive below the authorised limits, anticipating corners to avoid harsh braking, slowing down without using the brakes before entering villages, and accelerating gently after leaving them.
Read more: 10 questions on driving fines in France
Data cannot be used as evidence after an accident
The company says it does not keep or record any personal data linked to the box and it has not had any problems from France’s CNIL data protection agency.
This means, however, that if YouDrive motorists are involved in an accident that is not their fault, they cannot use the data to prove to the police how they were driving.
Mr Wehry said people with YouDrive had 15% fewer accidents than other drivers, which pleasantly surprised the company.
“And because they usually drive slower than other motorists, and concentrate on driving as smoothly as possible, they use less fuel, which has become increasingly important,” he said.
Other insurance companies in France have trialled ‘black box’ insurance, particularly Allianz, with Allianz Conduite Connectée.
Although no longer offered, it claimed in 2017 to have around 20,000 customers.
Broker AcommeAssure, part of La France Mutualiste based in Brittany, has a product called Novys that is offered only to drivers who have not had insurance for three years, have had a licence for less than three years, or are under 21.
Broker LesFurets suggested ‘black box’ offers are still a relatively niche market in France.