In Part 1, I explored the problem of high insurance rates for EVs, and the problems that can come with giving insurance companies even more data. Long story short, there are life-and-death level privacy risks that come from having your personal data out there, the data isn’t as good as we think, and insurers will eventually want even more of our data or money.
In this article, I want to explore the problem a little more so we can see why alternative approaches are necessary, and then go through some of the options I’ve come up with.
I May Be Wrong, But I’m Not Alone
I know not all readers will agree with what I’ve had to say in Part 1, and some will think I’m being extreme or paranoid. Keep in mind that I’m not saying that you personally shouldn’t be able to purchase such insurance or share your personal data with whoever you want. I think customer choice is a great thing, and you should be able to choose that option if you’re comfortable with it and think it suits you.
Even if us “luddites” who don’t want telematics-based insurance are 100% wrong and 200% stupid, around a third of insurance customers aren’t comfortable sharing telematics data, so addressing this concern with alternatives is still a smart move. Leaving a third of the market to a company’s competition isn’t a great move, and if a manufacturer’s insurance monitoring programs are really saving lives, having 1/3 of the population sit those out leaves a lot of chances to improve safety on the table.
Manufacturers and insurers should come up with alternative approaches that we can choose from depending on our comfort level. That way, people comfortable with the risks of telematics-based insurance can still use it, while people like me can have alternatives to choose from. Plus, you can do telematics plus alternatives, and save even more!
On top of this, public support for innovative insurance programs can be improved when people aren’t reading about how something like a “safety score” could lead to bad driving. People don’t like to feel like guinea pigs, especially when it’s for an experiment they didn’t sign up to be part of. Once again, even if these concerns are unfounded, they should still be considered if a manufacturer doesn’t want the government coming down on them.
Things Any Alternatives Must Do
High performance vehicles often come with high insurance premiums because the history of other owners with the same make and model isn’t so great. Big wrecks, a high number of small wrecks, or anything else that drives the average cost of claims for that make and model up leads to a high “symbol,” and high premiums for the owners of that vehicle type.
Telematics helps insurers offer lower rates because (in theory) they don’t have to guess at who is more likely to do something irresponsible with a vehicle that has 2–5 times the power of the average family sedan they had a good driving record in before.
For any alternative solution to work at reducing what you pay for insurance, it must (A) lower the actual number of wrecks and the costs of those wrecks for the make and model in the wild and/or (B) help insurers to see that you’re personally a less risky driver. Ideally, both should happen.
Idea #1: Tutorial Mode For New Owners
One of the biggest problems with fast cars is that it’s a lot easier to get in over your head. People who have been driving a gas car with only 100–300 horsepower don’t know how different a vehicle’s dynamics can be with 500+ horsepower and full, instant torque from zero RPM. Thus, even experienced drivers can make big, big mistakes.
If manufacturers offered an optional “Tutorial Mode” for new owners, insurers would likely approve a discount for drivers that went through the tutorial and gradual got used to the higher power levels a performance EV offers.
The car can start out offering only a small fraction of its full potential power for a set number of miles, while offering safety tips through the infotainment system. With a reasonably good driving score (with plenty of leeway for the occasional need to do things like stomp the brakes), the vehicle can unlock higher levels of power a little at a time until the driver finishes the tutorial and has full power at their disposal.
No data, other than that the driver passed the tutorial program, would need to be sent to insurers, so privacy concerns wouldn’t be an issue if one chose to use these “training wheels.”
Idea #2: In-Person Training For New Owners
Earlier this year, I had a lot of fun going to Ford’s “Bronco Off-Roadeo” near Austin, Texas. The event is meant for new Bronco and Bronco Sport owners to get familiar with the off-road capabilities of their vehicles in a controlled environment with professional instructors. Perhaps more importantly, the training time is included in the price of the vehicle.
Not only was it a fun experience and a great show that Ford put on, but I left the event knowing a lot more about how the new Ford Bronco works, and where the vehicle’s features would work best. I didn’t leave there knowing everything, but anyone would be a safer off-roader after attending such an event.
There’s no reason that other manufacturers, including the manufacturers of high-performance EVs, couldn’t do the same. Insurance companies already give discounts for additional driver training, so this would be a great approach.
Idea #3: In-Car Virtual Reality Training
In-person training is expensive, especially if a customer has to travel to the event. Fortunately, modern technology gives us other options, and today’s EVs are well-suited to this kind of thing.
It may surprise some readers that the United States Air Force uses the DCS World flight simulator software to train A-10 Warthog pilots. The simulator runs on a normal gaming computer, using off-the-shelf VR goggles like the Oculus Quest. Add a decent set of controls (joystick, throttle, and a few other odds and ends–all available for cheap on Amazon), and you can provide a person with a simulation of flying that’s close enough to the real thing for the Air Force to allow it to serve as training time.
Here’s the thing: Tesla already uses the vehicle’s controls for in-car games. Beach Buggy Racing 2 Tesla Edition uses the car’s steering wheel and pedals to control the video game car on the car’s center display.
Tesla’s computing hardware is also up to the task of powering advanced VR software, especially the newer ones. So, that’s not going to get in the way. Add some power-steering-based wheel force feedback and modified sim racing software to the car, work any adjustable suspension to add realism, plug in a pair of VR goggles, and you can have a very robust and realistic car simulator software.
The gaming potential of using a Tesla as a sim racing rig is cool on its own, but it could also serve as a great virtual environment for safety training. While parked, the driver can experience all sorts of driving situations we would rather not ever see on the real streets, and learn to effectively deal with them to avoid collisions.
This could enable every Tesla to come with a months-long advanced driver training course that drivers could go through in their spare time to get insurance discounts. If other manufacturers’ in-car computers are sufficient to do this, any EV could potentially serve as a training area.
I’ve personally tried DCS World, and found the experience very realistic. I’ve also done Star Wars Squadrons in VR, and while I have no idea what flying a TIE fighter is really like, it did feel very realistic. But, none of my personal experience is anywhere close to what an Air Force flight instructor or a professional race car driver has. If today’s VR is good enough for them, it should be good enough for anybody.
Do You Have More Ideas?
I’m going to hand this back to the readers now. Do you have any ideas that EV manufacturers could use to improve safety? Do you have any other ideas to reduce insurance costs without introducing potential dealbreakers like monitoring or tracking?
I’d love to hear about them in the comments!
Featured image by United States Air Force (Public Domain)
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