A more surprising, counterintuitive culprit isn’t the wider world or the person behind the wheel, but the car itself. It turns out that new features designed to keep vehicles in their lanes and out of trouble are contributing to rising insurance rates.Stay in the know with our Transportation newsletter. Sign up here !That’s because the sensors that power those systems make cars much more expensive to fix when they do crash. Dent a steel bumper, and a few hammer blows gets you back on the road. Smash one on a new car, and it could mean replacing a radar, camera, and ultrasonic sensors, then calibrating them so they work properly. Replacing a cracked windshield now comes with the extra cost of having someone readjust any cameras that look through the glass. “Technology is playing a bigger role than ever in pricing,” says Nicole Beck, The Zebra’s communications chief. “It’s not actually making it cheaper for people.”
While some studies have shown the effectiveness of emergency braking, insurance companies haven’t yet seen enough evidence to justify a break in rates for most of these features. That’s not to say lane keeping, parking assist, and the rest don’t work. They’re all relatively new, and the actuaries aren’t yet confident that their benefits outweigh the extra costs they incur to repair. Complicating the picture is the fact that each automaker offers its own version of each feature, and that drivers may not keep the systems engaged.
“A lot of the developments so far have mixed results,” says Tom Karol, general counsel for the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies. “It’s not really been proven out yet, in terms of benefits.” Which is why, according to the report, drivers who go for electronic stability control, which keeps cars from spinning out of control, save just $8 a year. Those who pay for blind spot warning, driver alertness monitoring, lane departure warning, night vision, or parking assistance systems save nothing at all.
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Still, at least one company sees the upside of sensor-driven driver assistance. “They absolutely lower the frequency of crashes,” says Alex Carges, the chief actuary at The Root, an insurance startup that determines rates based on how people drive, using accelerometer and GPS data from their phones.