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Tuesday, 1 August, 2000, 15:31 GMT 16:31 UK
Drive safely, pay less
Drive BBC
Insurance companies in the UK are following events
By BBC News Online internet reporter Mark Ward

Some safe drivers in Texas are paying less for their car insurance by agreeing to have satellites monitor their driving habits.

How much they use the car, the routes they take and the speeds at which they drive are being monitored high above the Earth.

Data gathered by in-car transponders is then passed on to US insurance giant Progressive which works out where the vehicles have been and how often drivers have been at the wheel.

The Progressive customers who drive less, at quiet times of the day and in safe areas pay less to insure their vehicles.

Back-seat driver

The system, called Autograph, has been trialled over the past year around Houston, Texas, and is now being extended to drivers anywhere in the state.

Those signing up for the Autograph system get a monthly bill for car insurance and pay more or less depending on how much they use their car, just like a telephone bill.

Progressive claims that the majority of people save 25% on their insurance when using the system. Families with two or three cars are likely to save more.

Autograph uses a combination of Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites and mobile phones. Installed in the car is system that talks to GPS satellites and works out when and where the car is being driven.

Periodically, data from this transponder is sent back to Progressive over a mobile phone link. It works out if the customer has been a safe driver by keeping within speed limits, staying off roads notorious for accidents and avoiding areas with heavy traffic.

Killing speed

Despite the success of the system there are no plans to introduce it in the UK.

However, the Motor Industry Research Association (Mira) and academics at the University of Leeds are working on fitting limiters to cars that ensure they stay within the speed regulations.

A spokesman for Mira said the speed limiting system was totally anonymous and did not need satellites to work.

Companies such as Tracker and Trafficmaster do operate systems that help locate stolen vehicles and manage fleets of vehicles, but so far none are used to cut insurance costs.

A spokeswoman for the AA said it was unlikely that insurance companies would adopt the system in the UK. She said many did discriminate between car owners in terms of their age, sex, driving history and where they lived but were unlikely to take it further because it could unfairly penalise some drivers.

"Those who do the school run every morning would pay more because they drive on roads where there are lots of kids and in urban areas," she said.

According to figures from the AA, the cost of insurance in the UK has risen by 200 in six years. Now, the average comprehensive premium is 561. Shopping around can save drivers up to 30%.

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