How do I get my car insurer to reveal the secrets of its black box?

When my wife and I bought our first car, the lowest insurance offers involved black boxes to track our driving. We went with Bell, part of the Admiral Group, which promised personalised driving advice, no curfews and tracking for only six months, unless your ratings are in the bottom 5%. We estimated we would travel 10 miles a day, including a margin for the occasional big trip. Usually, it’s nearer 12 miles a week. The manufacturer feedback from my car tells me my speed, braking and anticipation average 85%, but Bell’s first two assessments, after a few months driving no more than four miles a day, gave me an average score of 43% and advised I use the car less.

My third assessment, after driving an extra seven miles to a hospital appointment, scored 35%, with my driving style rated at 19%. Again, I was told to use the car less. Bell’s website gives no detail about how it arrives at the numbers. Its feedback has doubled the number of hours I’ve spent behind the wheel, misinterpreted “direct routes” available, and shrunk my average speed to 3.52mph.
JB, Watford

Black box – or telematics – insurance is an appealingly cheap option, particularly for new drivers who can face huge premiums. Prices rise or fall depending on driving style, monitored by a plug-in device, or GPS. There have been soaring complaints, however, from drivers who claim that inaccurate data is being used to raise their premiums, or to cancel their policy altogether. Critics claim the technology, which can be affected by poor weather or lack of signal, is flawed.

“We’ve seen reports of a driver crossing the Channel, when the car was on the driveway,” says Jacqueline Dewey of consumer hub Smart Money People. “It does not seem the technology has improved much since its introduction. Of most concern is companies using these recordings to cancel cover, sometimes without notice.”

Bell says its scoring methodology is “commercially sensitive”, but that it uses the types, times and speed of journeys, as well as driving technique, to assess overall risk.

Scores tend to stabilise as more data is collected, it says. “These scores are recalculated each day, incorporating all data collected, which helps us average out any spikes in behaviour to give a fairer reflection of performance overall.” According to Bell, 89% of its Plug & Drive customers earn an extra discount when their policy is renewed. It offered to collect your black box for examination and you have taken your case to the Information Commissioner’s Office in the hope of forcing Bell to explain how the scores that decide your premium price are calculated.

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