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Every driver has a driving footprint

Everyone has their unique way of talking, sitting or walking and there is no reason why driving would be an exception. Everyone has their own style. You may be inclined to break hard going round corners, or to pull quickly away from traffic lights. Now researchers have created a new way of measuring and identifying your driving footprint - and it is surprisingly accurate.

The University of Washington study used a small sample of drivers aged 24-47 and asked them to drive the same car around a circuit, and then along an open road at 80 kmh. In the car were 16 sensors placed on various systems, for example, the brakes, accelerator, gears, engine revolutions per minute and speed.

Even with only these few indicators, researchers could identify the driver with 100% certainty. In fact, they could do so using information from just one source! After 15 minutes of brake pedal data, they had an 87% chance of correctly identifying the driver.

Had researchers included other common variables, such as seat position, use of heating/cooling or favourite music and volume, the task could have been even easier.

Why identify your driving footprint?

It would be possible for rental car companies, insurance companies (or even parents) to discover:

  • Who should be - but is not - driving the car
  • Whether a driver is actually banned from driving
  • How many different people have driven the car.

You might ask if it is possible to fake the way you drive. Unless you are very clever, this is almost impossible to do.

It is not a big step to imagine that, one day, all Australian insurance companies will have ready access to these type of data all the time. For example, drivers who are taking high risks on the road could be penalised, even before an accident occurs. In fact, all cars could report back on driving behaviour, no matter who was at the wheel.

Usage-based insurance

In America, this is already starting to happen. Liberty Mutual partnered with Subaru early in 2016 so Subaru drivers with the Starlink infotainment system can use an app that tracks their acceleration and braking. Liberty Mutual offers drivers a 5% discount for enrolling into its RightTrack program and a further 30% discount for following guidance on driving safely. Progressive, Allstate and State Farm in the US all have similar types of program.

This is known as usage-based insurance. It means insurers can match a person’s risk more accurately with coverage offered and the price drivers pay for that coverage.

Theoretically, usage-based insurance lets customers take more control over the insurance premium they have to pay. In practice, it may be harder for many drivers to change their unique behaviour than they think, even for a welcome discount.