Elon Musk has revealed more information about Tesla’s car insurance product at the company’s shareholder meeting on Friday morning (Australia time), and it signals a potentially massive shift in driving behaviour.
Think about this: If you know that your driving behaviour (as opposed to driving or claims history) will determine how much you pay to insure your vehicle, and the lives and vehicles of those around you, would you think twice about making that snappy lane change, or driving too close to the car in front? Or driving too fast?
And would you pass on your personal data privacy concerns and agree to share your driving data with Tesla knowing that it will save you money?
Using data from drivers, Tesla is implementing a safety score system (in the US to begin with) that will measure five types of driving behaviours to give a score out of 100.
Right now, this is being used to determine who gets to join the Full Self-Driving beta program. Only those with a score of 100 – and it’s not many, says Musk – will get the new rollout to begin with, with scores of 99, 98 and 97 soon to follow depending on factors.
“We’re going to start rolling out FSD Beta to all customers with a perfect driving record,” said Musk, adding that v10.2 will be out tonight (US time).
The Safety Score is the same system Tesla wants to use to determine insurance premiums. When it first revealed its insurance plans in 2019, it said that it expects premium could be 20-30% lower.
Tesla will expand its insurance product, which is currently only available in California, into Texas from next week. Its rollout to other states has perhaps taken longer than expected, and Musk took the opportunity to explain just why this.
Musk said the process of introducing insurance in the US is hampered by rules that require insurance providers to offer bespoke products for each state. The company is, according to Musk, currently undertaking lengthy applications processes in each state and expects a Tesla insurance product to be available across the US in 2022.
In addition to this, Tesla wants to change the way it can calculate insurance premiums by using real-time data to determine how safe a customer’s driving is and thereby charge “real-time” insurance premiums (how often this would change is not clear at this time).
California’s insurance rules currently preclude using driver data to determine premiums, he said, but the EV maker is applying to the state to change this.
How exactly it determines a safety score was outlined clearly in a recent posting by the company.
In its posting, the company said that the number of forward collision warnings, hard braking, aggressive turning, unsafe following and forced Autopilot disengagement that are activated by drivers will determine safety scores.
Whether or not Tesla will apply this to each vehicle, or by driver is unclear – to do the latter would require some sort of driver identification system (likely by smartphone app). The former would be easier, and would mean the owner would be very choosy about letting less careful drivers behind the wheel.
At they very least, using the new system to determine premiums will no doubt get Tesla customers thinking twice about their choices behind the wheel. On that note, our interview with Nigel Maynard, a Tesla airport pickup operator who has driven 400,000km on one set of brake pads, illustrates how Autopilot has encouraged calm driving choices.
The topic of using driving safety scores to determine insurance premiums has some other interesting impactions.
It could also mean that combined with Tesla cameras and the ability to save footage on honk, non-Tesla drivers whose driving behaviour is not curtailed by the knowledge their premium will be higher based on real-time data could be easily determined as the at-fault driver more of the time.
This is turn would likely lead to other carmakers leaning towards Tesla-like data collection in order to either offer their own insurance products, or sell that data to insurance companies, a point explored in this article, “How Elon Musk is planning to put motor insurer out of business.”
But there is still some way to go. Musk himself pressed home in the shareholder annual meeting today that the Safety Score system is still a work in progress.
As this Tesla owner can attest, there are times when the forward collision warning gives a false positive with as little as a change in road colour, or even a small stick on the road.
And although Tesla’s Safety System post doesn’t mention speed limits (and we can’t see why this wouldn’t be ), there are times when speed limits are incorrectly recognized or missed altogether – for example, there is one spot on a local road that this driver knows of where the car thinks the speed limit is 60km/hr but it is in fact 80km/hr.
Musk assures that the Safety Score system will, “improve in its accuracy substantially over time.”
Bridie Schmidt is associate editor for The Driven, sister site of Renew Economy. She has been writing about electric vehicles since 2018, and has a keen interest in the role that zero-emissions transport has to play in sustainability. She has participated in podcasts such as Download This Show with Marc Fennell and Shirtloads of Science with Karl Kruszelnicki and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum. Bridie also owns a Tesla Model Y and has it available for hire on evee.com.au.