Personal Finance

More auto insurers want to track your driving behavior in exchange for lower rates

Auto insurance rates on the rise
Auto insurance rates on the rise

Fair Isaac Corp. made its name giving people credit scores.

Now, the company known as FICO wants to rate your driving skills. It is developing algorithms along with eDriving, a provider of driver training, to assess a driver's level of risk. FICO will test its driver score on teens early next year and eventually plans to roll it out to all consumers.

People who use eDriving's Mentor smartphone app will be given a FICO Safe Driving Score and told how they could improve their skills. The app tracks drivers' acceleration, braking, cornering, speeding and how they engage with their training on the app.

"We are taking a Weight Watchers or FitBit approach. It's a little bit of gamification and a little bit of shamifcation," said Celia Stokes, eDriving's chief executive.

Roughly 400,000 novice drivers a year use eDriving training and could have their skills scored by FICO.

The FICO driving score will be separate from its well-known credit score. "They are complementary products," said Rachel Bell, a senior director at FICO.

Auto insurance and your credit score

Auto insurers use people's credit scores from FICO and other providers to help set their insurance rates. More than 95 percent of U.S. insurance companies use credit to set auto premiums in every state except California, Hawaii and Massachusetts, where the practice is prohibited.

Credit scores can have a significant impact on your auto insurance rates regardless of your driving record. The FICO score ranges from 300 to 850 and the average American has a credit score of 699.

If you have fair credit, defined by FICO as 650 to 699, you'll pay an average of 28 percent more for car insurance than a driver with excellent credit, which is a score of 750 or above, according to an analysis by InsuranceQuotes.

Your credit history is becoming more important to insurers.
Laura Adams
senior insurance analyst at InsuranceQuotes

That figure is up from 24 percent in 2013 when InsuranceQuotes last studied the impact of credit scores on auto insurance rates.

"Your credit history is becoming more important to insurers," said Laura Adams, senior insurance analyst at InsuranceQuotes.

Insurers use your credit score to derive a credit-based insurance score to determine how likely you are to file a claim. Each insurer has a different formula. "It doesn't exist in a format that consumers can request from their insurers," Adams said.

So if you want to lower auto insurance rate, work to improve your credit score.

Rising rates and accidents

Having good credit is increasingly important to policyholders because auto insurance rates are rising at the fastest pace in nearly 13 years, according to the U.S. Consumer Price Index.

The countrywide average auto insurance expenditure rose 3.3 percent to $841.23 in 2013, or $70.10 per month, from $814.63, or $67.89 per month, in 2012, according to the latest data from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

However, because insurance is regulated by the states, rates can vary dramatically depending on where you live.

A growing number of fatalities on the highways is contributing to higher rates.

Last year, 35,092 people died in crashes, a 7.2 percent increase in deaths from 2014, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That is the largest annual percentage increase in fatal crashes since 1966, when highway fatalities rose 8.1 percent.

U.S. highway deaths have continued to rise in 2016, with fatalities up 10.4 percent in the first six months of the year as compared to the first half of 2015, preliminary data from the NHTSA show.

Nearly 3 out of 4 drivers have used Facebook while driving.
National Safety Council

"More people have jobs and they are driving more," said Jim Lynch, chief actuary and vice president of research and information services at the Insurance Information Institute.

Distracted driving also may be a root cause for the steep rise in auto accidents and fatalities, Lynch said. More than 3,000 people were killed and 431,000 injured in distracted driving accidents in 2014, the most recent data available from the NHTSA.

Texting and using smartphone apps while driving make it more dangerous on the roads, Lynch said. Nearly 3 out of 4 drivers surveyed by the National Safety Council said they have used Facebook while driving.

"That data is before 'Pokemon Go' came out so distracted driving could be worse now," Lynch said.

Smartphones to the rescue

Smartphones are part of the highway safety problem, but they could be part of the solution too.

Over the past 18 months, auto insurers have expressed renewed interest in what is known as usage-based insurance as consumers become more comfortable with sharing their data to get discounted rates, said Gwenn Bézard , co-founder and research director at financial services research firm Aite Group.

For instance, more than 30 percent of new customers are now opting for usage-based insurance at Nationwide and Progressive, Bézard said.

Usage-based insurance, which bases rates on your driving record more than your credit score, relies on devices known as telematics to track driver behavior.

Telematics have been around for more than decade. Some insurers require drivers to have dongles that keep tabs on what they do behind the wheel to qualify for usage-based insurance. As smartphones have gotten better at detecting how people drive, insurers are responding to that by offering more usage-based insurance, Bézard said.

FICO may be offering its Safe Driving Score to enter into telematics and help insurers provide usage-based auto insurance, Bézard said.

By 2020, about 70 percent of all auto insurance policies in the U.S. will use telematics, according to estimates by Strategy Meets Action, a Boston-based research firm.

The average discount [for usage-based insurance] has gone up from the mid-teens to the mid-twenties.
Alex Hageli
director of personal lines policy at the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America

The rise of usage-based auto insurance fueled by smartphones means drivers could possibly save more on their coverage.

"The average discount [for usage-based insurance] has gone up from the midteens to the midtwenties," said Alex Hageli, director of personal lines policy at the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America.

Whether you decide to allow your auto insurer to watch you like your mom on Facebook, you may be able to get a lower rate on your coverage by regularly price shopping.

"Each insurer has its own special sauce," Hageli said. "So it's good to get in the habit of shopping around for the best rate at least once a year."