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Carl tries out box which can lower your car insurance

By Carl Jackson Thursday 10 January 2013 Updated: 12/01 01:32

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Buy photos » Reporter Carl Jackson tried out the Smartbox to monitor his driving. Picture by Marcus Mingins 0213016MMR

LAST month, new laws came into place which prevent motor insurance companies using gender to calculate premiums.

This could see price increases for up to 65 per cent for some women drivers who had previously benefited from policies nearly half the cost of those for men. To combat the changes, and to offer a lifeline to fledgling motorists, Co-operative has doubled the cash-back rewards on its Young Driver insurance policies. The groundbreaking scheme for 17 to 25-year-olds launched in March 2011, uses telematic technology to assess driving performance and is the UK's only 'Pay how you drive' policy.

It involves drivers having a 'Smartbox' fitted to their vehicle, which uses satellite technology to assess their driving ability in four key areas. And those who have been judged by the machine to have driven well over a 90-day period can get their premiums reduced.

Eager to find out how it worked and how his own driving performance would fare, Standard reporter Carl Jackson took it for a two-week trial.

I have always felt I would pass my test again tomorrow no sweat, after driving for five years and racking up thousands of miles on the road. Well with a 'Smartbox' fitted to my car, my speed, acceleration and braking , cornering and even the times I drove would be monitored. My performance in each area would be marked between 1 to 5 (very poor to excellent) and updated within 24 hours for me to review by logging on to an online 'driver dashboard'.

For the first half of the test I decided to drive in my normal way throughout a typical working week. I would resist the temptation to log on to check my scores displayed as speedometer like dials with the needle hovering from red (very poor) to green (excellent).

Pleasantly, after seven days my overall score was a four (a nice lime green). Policy holders are assessed every 90 days and anyone with this average daily driving score would get ten per cent of their premium returned through a cash-back reward. Any driver notching up a five would see a return twice that amount.

Going into the second week I was confident I could sway the needle to green and the online dashboard certainly helped by providing a comprehensive breakdown of each day's performance in the four areas. I had also made a driving diary to pinpoint exactly what journeys and circumstances might have led the needle veering into the dreaded red zone.

After a solid start on Friday and Saturday (days one and two), my performance plummeted on Sunday, courtesy of a dash up the M5 to Droitwich in convoy for a morning football match. A score of one for speeding, as well as acceleration and braking, dragged my overall daily safe driving score down to a disappointing 2.5.

Some thick frost on the Wednesday and Thursday called for some careful negotiation on the side roads near home which had become treacherous. To prevent being late for work I made up time with more hasty driving on the winding rural lanes in Barnt Green and Alvechurch with national speed limits. However, this did not impress the eye in the sky and my cornering was knocked down to three for the two days.

After reviewing the first half of the trial, I was rewarded for more conscientious driving on day eight, with near perfect marks for speed and cornering. Frustratingly, the overall score was dragged down to a three, following a one, influenced by the time of day I drove at. A 2am night out in Bromsgrove as designated driver cost me dear. Advice on the online dashboard said driving between 11pm and 6am was statistically more risky with crashes more likely to occur.

For the rest of the week, I became a slave to the black numbers in the red circles and it paid off with scores staying between four and five for both speed and cornering from Sunday to Friday. Through gritted teeth I even stuck to the recommended 20mph on school roads on the evenings when children had long gone home.

I have admittedly picked up some bad habits over the years and going back to driving this way did not come as naturally as I had originally boasted. Limits are there for a reason, to ensure the safety of pedestrians and motorists. Anyone who has been on a speed awareness course will have been told that 35mph is the 'killing speed'. The THINK! campaign demonstrates the chances of death for a pedestrian hit at 40mph is four times greater than if they were hit at thirty. But on today's roads you certainly feel like you are in the minority by sticking rigidly to thresholds, and it takes frequent glances down at the speedometer. You almost feel apologetic travelling 30mph at rush hour with rows of headlights blaring behind you.

As something more to think about, the Smartbox insurance also deters reckless driving. Motorists who regularly break speed limits or take corners too sharply could see their premiums rise by up to 15 per cent, with their policy being cancelled in extreme cases. However, the Co-op estimates crashes have reduced by a fifth among motorists on the Young Driver insurance.

At the end of the trial, my overall score came in teetering between three (standard) and four (good). The last thing I expected was to deteriorate after trying to improve. A few isolated dashes and late night driving can certainly be costly for those hoping to save cash on their premiums.

Throughout the fortnight, improving acceleration and braking proved illusive with 13 out of 14 days marked around 2.5. Ten days of rush-hour travelling can certainly increase the possibility of sudden stops at junctions and quick pull-aways to get out of busy roundabouts. But overall, I still came away thinking with the Smartbox, the cost of your premium is literally in your own hands. I am sure I am not the only one who has changed insurers year-on-year, having been dismayed at seeing a high renewal quote.

For young drivers, fresh from lessons, the Co-op's Young Driver insurance is ideal. It encourages a continuation of the steady style which examiners are looking for and brings some fun to dreary commutes.

The Smartbox is certainly no gimmick, and is already driving down premiums for 50 Bromsgrovians and thousands more nationwide.

For more, visit www.co-operativeinsurance.co.uk and click on Young Driver Insurance.

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