Does insurance need a Big Brother?

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11 August 2010
Craig Beattie
I happened to come across this article today about Pennsylvania state possibly using of road side cameras, number plate recognition software and an insurance database to automatically fine vehicles on the road without insurance. In the UK this type of technology is already in heavy use. Number plate recognition cameras and the Motor Insurance Database or MID fulfil this purpose. The UK's Motor Insurers Bureau quoting figures of over 500 uninsured vehicles seized by the police a day through the use of the MID. It is worth noting the MID is not used to automatically fine individuals in the UK at present. Police are automatically alerted to uninsured cars by an in-car camera and can phone an insurance company to verify a customers insurance before seizing the vehicle. In addition, the City of London gains significant revenue from charging for car access to the city. The toll is called The Congestion Charge and uses number plate recognition technology to monitor and enforce the fee. Similar deployments have been made in other European cities to enforce various road laws, with Celent's very own Karen Monks observing one in action in Florence, Italy. So in this time of economic uncertainty, where various US states are looking for cost savings and revenue streams - should insurance align itself with the Big Brother approaches to monitoring drivers? The number of uninsured drivers on the road has always been a significant problem and with household budgets under pressure the problem will increase. Dealing with this issue comes at a significant price though. The cost to the insurance industry of setting up such a system is considerable, especially one that can be reliable enough to automatically fine customers. Insurers not able to update the central database in a timely manner risk having their customers fined or if the UK method is adopted - stopped by the police while their cover status is checked over the phone. Once again timely data integration will have a significant impact on customer satisfaction. Whilst the insurance industry will resist the costs involved and customer advocacy and privacy groups will lobby against such moves it seems inevitable that automatic checking of vehicles status using number plates will eventually become a reality in most developed countries, if it is not already in place.

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