Telematics is a perplexing word, invoking a hotline for mathematics homework help or a telecoms service delivered by the members of Eurythmics. Really, it’s a portmanteau of telecommunications and informatics (itself a funny word, meaning the science of information processing) and broadly describing the long-distance transmission of information.
The primary commercial application of telematics—and where you will have heard the word—is for cars, and ‘telematics’ has expanded to describe nearly all forms of automation within vehicles. The use of telematics in vehicles ranging from the GPS tracking to in-car satellite navigation to emergency warning systems to black boxes that can record your good driving behaviour and trim your insurance premiums. The uses are myriad, applicable on both large and small scales. Telematics can help managers of large fleets of lorries, buses, or coaches keep track of where their vehicles are at all times, but it’s also used by security systems like OnStar to locate your personal vehicle when you’re involved in a crash and direct emergency services to you.
To get a handle on telematics, we’ll run down its primary uses in personal vehicles: for safety and security, for convenience, and for insurance policies.
Safety and Security
Telematics systems can help locate a vehicle in the event of an accident, breakdown, medical emergency, severe weather, or theft.
Collision notification systems transmit an alert to a telematics command centre when airbags in a car are deployed or other sensors triggered. An operator at the command system contacts the vehicle, through its in-built mobile network modem, and if the occupants confirm there has been an accident, or fail to respond, the operator dispatches emergency services to the GPS location the car has relayed. Motorists can also contact the command centre if they’re suffered a breakdown, to summon roadside assistance, or in the event of severe weather that strands them or a medical emergency.
Stolen vehicle assistance systems operate a bit like Apple’s Find My iPhone, but for your car. They allow the appropriate authorities to track stolen vehicles using GPS. (Remember you should never trace and confront the thieves of your vehicle yourself). Once a vehicle is reported stolen, some advanced systems can prevent its engine from being restarted once it’s been shut off and can slow a vehicle if the police are in pursuit.
But telematics isn’t only useful in emergencies; it can also deliver solutions to make your daily life easier. Telematics systems can simply and cheaply resolve some of the most irksome mishaps of owning a car: locking your keys in the vehicle and forgetting where, in a vast, packed car park, you left it. These systems can remotely unlock a locked vehicle and can flash the vehicle’s lights and sound the horn to help you locate it, getting you back on the road quickly.
Telematics systems can also monitor and diagnosis key vehicle systems, alerting drivers and dealers of issues, or simply reminding them about—and even scheduling appointments for—regular maintenance. GPS functionality can offer turn-by-turn directions to your destination and recommendations for nearby restaurants, attractions, and most importantly, the nearest petrol station.
With telematics insurance policies, a black box installed in your vehicle, or operating through your smart phone, records, stores, and transmits data about your driving habits. The black box will monitor how quickly you accelerate, how sharply you take turns, how many miles you drive, how long your journeys are, what sort of roads you’re driving on, and if you drive after dark. A black box might seem like giving a lift to Big Brother, but good driving behaviour can dramatically curb your insurance premiums.
For more experienced drivers and those who have accumulated hefty no-claims bonuses, telematics insurance policies can be more expensive than other policies, especially at the outset before you’ve proven your stunning driving cred. But if you’re facing sky-high premiums with a standard policy, for example if you’re a driver under 25, an inexperienced motorist, or have driving or criminal convictions, a telematics policy, once you’ve logged good behaviour, can mean significant savings. Young divers can earn as much as 25% off their premiums with a telematics policy.
Be wary though: telematics polices can also see your premiums adjusted upward. If you’re a reckless driver or even if you have a few bad driving habits, including taking turns too quickly and edging over the speed limit, or if you drive frequently at night, even on the way to your regular night shift at work, you could end up spending even more for a telematics than a standard insurance policy.