Is Your Car Insurance Company Spying on You? Is the Data Admissible in Court?

Car insurance tracking satellite Some of you noticed the Progressive Insurance ads that started in 2008 for their Snapshot program which tracks driver behavior and rewards safe driving practices with lower rates. Know as “telematics”, the collection of objective driver behavior data is now spreading with State Farm and Allstate now rolling out a similar systems. Progressive claims that it is in licensing discussions with 24 other insurers. see Wall Street Journal Article: “State Farm is There as You Drive”


This begs the question; how long before this evidence shows up in a civil case in Georgia because it has already cleared an innocent man of Murder charges.

According to Progressive’s website it tracks:

“The Snapshot device records vehicle speed and time of day, and when the device is connected and disconnected from the vehicle. It also records the Vehicle Identification Number upon installation. Other information, such as miles driven and rates of acceleration and braking, is derived from the speed and time information recorded by the device.” Progressive Privacy Disclosure

What they claim not to track:

“Snapshot focuses on how safely, how often, how far, and when you drive, NOT where you drive. The Snapshot device does not contain GPS technology and does not track vehicle location or whether you’re exceeding the speed limit. We also don’t know who is driving the car in which the device is installed.” Id.

Progressive Data Clears Innocent Man of Murder Charges
In a fascinating turn of events, the Progressive data has been used to exonerate a father from charges that he murdered his daughter. Cleveland Plain Dealer article

Michael Beard of Parma, Ohio was charged with suffocating his infant child so he could sleep with his wife. He maintained he arrived home from the late shift, came in and found the child non-responsive. He then rushed the child to the hospital. The prosecutor told the jury that Beard had been home and suffocated the child to have sex with his wife. The Progressive data gave the alibi: The engine had been on until 4:44AM, then turned off, then turned back on 3 minutes later. This fit the defendant’s story precisely and the jury returned a “not guilty” verdict.

What Data Will State Farm Collect?

According to the Wall Street Journal, State Farm is rolling out their “Drive Safe and Save” campaign this year and Allstate is licensing the Progressive system later this year. The future is now. kno
State Farm’s website says their system will monitor:

Braking
Acceleration
Turns (left and right turns)
Time of day the vehicle is driven
Speeds of 80 miles per hour or over State Farm Disclosure

Clearly the State Farm system is more advanced in that it is getting data directly from the computer running the engine and safety systems. With this data available for download directly from State Farm, subpoenas and letters requesting the production of these records will become commonplace in:

1. Criminal trials to establish and rebut alibis.
2. Criminal trials to establish speed violations in vehicular manslaughter data.
3. Civil car and truck accident cases.
4. Defense and prosecution of speeding tickets.

While some of this data is already available for download from the electronic control modules in the car, much of it can be wiped out by use subsequent to the event. The insurers will retain the data for a least a month if not longer and therein lies the difference.
It’s clear that specific data would be admissible in a case. What about character evidence?

If State Farm Rates a Driver as a Poor Driver based on Hard Driving Data, is That Admissible in a Civil Trial Against the Driver?

Even though we have a new Georgia Evidence Code section on character evidence in OCGA Sec. 24-4-405, it is unlikely that the Courts will start admitting evidence of driver habits to prove action in a specific crash.

However:

The Data Will Be Admissible in Negligent Entrustment Cases

This data will be hugely important in any cases involving negligent entrustment. That means any crash where a husband lends the car to the wife or parents lent the car to the child. Every month, State Farm will send out a grade report on braking, speeding, etc and the parents cannot then claim a lack of specific knowledge that the child or spouse is not a reckless driver. The comedy value will be watching a major insurer that bases pricing decisions on the data try to argue the data is not reliable or not relevant to driver safety.