Road Safety News

DfT commissions study into telematics and novice drivers

Monday 17th November 2014


The DfT has commissioned research into the effect that telematics can have on novice drivers and the consequential impact on road safety.

Earlier this year the Government ruled out publishing a green paper on young driver safety until it has more research into how telematics can improve driving behaviours.

The primary objective of the study is to “estimate the impact of the use of telematics products on the driving behaviour and safety of those using them”. This will then be used as the basis for “quantitatively estimating the possible impact of the wider adoption of such devices on the wider population”.

The main element of the research is expected to centre on a comparative analysis of the insurance claim data of two groups of novice drivers who passed their driving test less than two years ago. One group will have a telematics product and the other will constitute the control group of novice drivers who have never used a telematics product.

The project will commence with a three-stage scoping phase: a review of the existing evidence on the impact of telematics on accident reduction; establishing what UK insurance claims data is available and considering how best this data can be used to estimate the likely reduction in road traffic accidents which may result from the wider adoption of telematics products; and developing a methodology for using this data to create an experimental sample of telematics users and a matched sample of non-telematics users. 

The DfT intends to commence the project in December 2014.


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We do indeed need to avoid the possibility that telematics could have a negative impact on driver behavior. In Gloucestershire we have had a young driver fatally injured following a crash caused by him allegedly rushing home to beat the telematic curfew.

Of course we already know vehicles are communicating with vehicle manufacturers and the belief is they will eventually communicate with each other. This 'may' offer the missing context into assessing a driver's behavior for any given set of circumstances. Add to that the ability of some vehicles to sense white lines, pedestrians and other hazards. To link all of this technology could give a clearer picture, or it could simply take many of the decisions out of the driver's hands and into the hands of technology.
Chris Harrison Gloucestershire

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My app was designed for eco-driving and so it made sense to warn people if they were not driving in an eco-friendly way. Once I had created the app it got me to wondering how badly I could drive and yet still keep the bell from going off. It turned out that I pretty soon got the hang of keeping my speed up through junctions and roundabouts etc and accepting a much narrower margin between me and other vehicles. The most bizarre finding was my extreme reluctance to move smartly out of the way of oncoming vehicles. If I had stopped at a a junction then I would crawl away from the junction holding everybody up as I gradually accelerated. I did find that there is no hand signal for "sorry for ruining your journey, but I'm doing an experiment". Overall I would say that stopping the bell going off became the overriding task imperative to the detriment of everybody else on the road. You would only find out if something similar was happening in the broader telematics user population if you had some way of recording context as well as the raw data.
Duncan MacKillop, Stratford on Avon

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Duncan’s earlier point about the use of telematics in safety does indicate the extent to which this type of intervention is, certainly for driving, still in early stages of development. It is harvesting vast quantities of data about driving styles and early attempts are being made to use the data from an individual drive to influence not just behaviour at the time of the action, but also planned behaviour based on delayed and considered feedback.

As I said earlier I’m keen to see this develop and the opportunities for reward based systems through delayed gratification (perhaps the much lauded and much needed insurance reductions) or through instant reward (Duncan, had you thought of reversing the feedback so that the bell rings and a piece of cheese appears when good behaviour is detected!?) could pay dividends.

I was curious that Duncan’s point about feedback avoidance (‘’driving the telematics”) would be replicated in his own system by avoiding “that wretched bell” and of course in each case context is, as has been rightly pointed out, absent. This is perhaps why penalties and rewards will need to be based on aggregated behaviours rather than for single events.

Lots of work to do here but with much of the costs absorbed at the point of manufacture and the opportunities for the technology to make stakeholders like parents and employers ‘’involved’’ in the drive, I do think this is an avenue worth exploring.
Jeremy, Devon

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A fascinating report from ingenie, full of all sorts of interesting information.

Speaking as a non-expert in these matters (that is if you disregard the millions of datapoints and the hundreds of hours of driving analysed for the development of an eco-driver app) it seems that the real benefit of the telematics system is in the feedback that drivers receive. It seems such a shame that the ingenie feedback is only generated a few times a month as you would have thought real-time feedback would be even more beneficial. This is the system I developed for the app which rang a bell at the point of the exceedence. I did this so that the driver could immediately relate the actions that caused the exceedence with the currently unfolding situation. My test pilots who ranged from new drivers right through to the elderly all reported the same thing along the lines of "that wretched bell"! Although this bit of the app was designed to promote 'eco-driving' skills the parameters are exactly the same as those recorded by the telematics insurance system. My system initially set the exceedence limits to be quite generous and allowed the drivers to reduce the limits as their skill improved. As well as promoting good eco-driving techniques it was also discovered that avoiding the bell was a lot of fun for the younger drivers, especially if they were with a group of friends in the car.
Duncan MacKillop, Stratford on Avon

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As you probably know, the insurance industry is leading on telematics, not the DfT. There are loads of experts within the insurance sector who I'm sure could allay the concerns you express below. Anyone who heard the presentation by Richard King, founder of ingenie, at the Young Driver Focus event earlier this year, could not fail to have been impressed by his excitement at the potential of telematics to reduce casualties among young drivers.

As you admit, you've not seen any data from telematics - maybe it's best to leave this one to the experts who have?

FOOTNOTE: ingenie has just published a report summarising more than 200 million miles of telematics data:
Nick Rawlings, editor, Road Safety News

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Great claims are made for telematics, but I for one have never seen any of the data that has been gathered from them. We also don't know what the exceedence parameters are or what the baseline was that was used to set those boundaries. The DfT research is very welcome, but it seems to be coming a bit late in the process as you would have thought that this would have been done before rolling out the product to the public.

Young drivers are not as stupid as we tend to think they are and it's entirely possible that they will soon learn to 'drive' the telematics rather than actually driving the road. One big problem with telematics is that the data they store is shorn of any context. Without context who's to say that an exceedence was a bad thing or was neccessary to avoid a collision? Another problem is that exceedence driven systems will tend to put a cap on any driver's range of abilities. If heavy braking generates an exceedence then the users will soon forget how to use strong braking to advantage. It is a common problem in exceedence based systems that people will very often avoid performing an action that will save their lives if they worry that the action is going to lead to an exceedence.
Duncan MacKillop, Stratford on Avon

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The words used in the above story are our words, not the DfT's words (unless they are in speech marks). It is a brief summary of the DfT's scoping document. I do not think we should assume the 'conclusion has been decided' as you suggest below.
Nick Rawlings, editor, Road Safety News

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I am concerned that the phrases “how telematics can improve driving behaviours" and "the impact of telematics on accident reduction" suggest the conclusion has already been decided. Suppose telematics make road safety worse, what would then occur? Would this result be published?

The comparative analysis mentioned needs to be performed as a scientific trial. The test drivers (telematics users) must be chosen at random from the sample group, the other drivers are the control group. There needs to be a large enough group and crash rates need to be one of the measures reported.

Telematics will be a very expensive intervention and we must learn from mistakes made with previous interventions. We must make sure that the results can be relied upon and scientific trials are the only way to achieve this.
Dave Finney, Slough

Agree (7) | Disagree (12)

It seems that a study into the effects of telematics on collision reduction isn't the only bit of research that remains outstanding.

I'll be interested in the outcome of this study - I feel that the use of telematics has a promising future in behaviour change and a shift to more effective, reward-based controls.

But I do hope that when deciding on the overall legislative, technical and cultural climate in which future young and inexperienced drivers will operate, that all relevant evidence will be considered and a balanced outcome achieved based solely on that evidence.
Jeremy, Devon

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