Motor Mouth: Surrendering our driving freedom $50 at a time

It’s an almost certainty that any time anyone starts an admonishment with “I’m sorry, but …” that what they’re about to say will be anything but apologetic and not even remotely penitent. I am pretty sure that the Don Rickles dictionary of pointed insults translates “I’m sorry, but …” into “I can’t believe you’re so stupid.” Even the more politically correct translation of “Did you really say that out loud?” hardly passes muster as an utterance of sincere regret.

Nonetheless, I’m sorry, but have any of you who have signed up for the recent spate of useage-based auto insurance programs  read George Orwell? You know, the one where Big Brother follows your every move from dusk till dawn and tells you it’s for your own good?

For those of you who have no idea what I am talking about — and, no doubt, I’ve read 1984 one too many times — some insurance companies, reacting to the consumer outcry against rising auto insurance premiums, are offering useage-based insurance (UBI) programs that constantly monitor your driving. The programs propose to be benignly beneficial, providing up to a 25 per cent discount on your monthly premium depending on the how far, how fast and when you drive. In other words, the less you drive (say, less than 15,000 kilometres a year), the slower you drive (like one of those infuriating hypermiling Prius owners desperately seeking to match Toyota’s advertised fuel economy) or when you drive (daylight hours, but not during rush hour and most certainly not after 12:00 a.m. on a Saturday night), could save you $50 a month on your auto insurance policy.

Never mind that some of the limits — some limit speed, others limit the rate of “acceptable acceleration” — can be so restrictive that they can be exceeded by a Suzuki Swift with a missing spark plug, but somehow the thought of volunteering to be under constant surveillance seems anathema to a society that claims it understands what Orwellian means. Even 1984‘s “future” saw the curtailing of personal freedoms forced upon Oceania’s proletarian public by torture and coercion, the author of the world’s blackest dystopia probably never imagining a situation in which his “proles” would volunteer to be spied on.

Those of you who religiously obey speed limits may see little evil in such coercion (after all, who cares about the censorship of a book one never planned to read, right?), especially since all and sundry offering such services in Canada have so far promised to: a) Safeguard all private information, and, b) That all the information collected will only be used positively (i.e. reducing your premium) and not punitively (bumping up your insurance costs should they record you exceeding the speed limit).

Of course, that would also mean that you trust your auto insurance company so much that you can’t even imagine a world where they might someday penalize you if you do contravene their restrictions. And what if their programs do gain traction? Will they then refuse to insure anyone who won’t install a black box in their car (imagine the black market for telematics “jamming” as miscreants — like Yours Truly  — seek to substitute some Little Old Lady From Pasadena‘s driving habits for our own vehicular malfeasance). This entire system must be an authoritarian’s ultimate dream. No longer will it be necessary for insurance companies to rely on the police to catch miscreants in the act of breaking the nation’s traffic laws before raising their rates; said scofflaws will simply volunteer the proof of their misdeeds themselves. Thank you very much and your premium will be going up by 20 per cent this year, sir.

Orwell could have even been a jingle writer for some of the programs. One company’s slogan  — “Take Control With Ajusto” — is as perfect an example of Newspeak “Freedom is Slavery/Ignorance is Strength” doublethink as I have seen in modern advertising. Quite how one gains true control of one’s life by surrendering every bit of information of when, how far and how fast (from which, it has been shown, one can infer where) you drive is beyond me.

And lest you think this is a dystopia long in the future, such programs are already widespread in England and advancing at such a rate here in Canada that independent insurance brokers are starting their own program lest they be left in the dust by the multi-nationals (to be noted is that the system being offered by individual brokers in Ontario does propose a method of turning the data acquisition off). And you bikers out there shouldn’t feel ignored; experiments in Saskatchewan are already underway with three-dimensional accelerometers that measure lean angle. Carve the perfect corner on your motorcycle and you, too, could be penalized by some nameless, faceless bureaucrat from

Motoring is slowly coming under attack. We are being shepherded toward a less autonomous electric car future and, as far-fetched as it may seem now, we could also see our right to drive curtailed because self-driving cars are so much safer than we unreliable humans. But it’s one thing to see one’s freedoms restricted in the name of greater public safety and preservation of our planet and quite another for a measly 12 per cent discount on a monthly insurance premium.

But what about that proposal to increase speed limits?

Shortly after my Motor Mouth rant on Canada’s ridiculously low speed limits, Chris Klimek, founder of the website posted his proposal for higher speed limits on the Ontario Liberal Party’s website, ostensibly a forum asking for ideas that could form future party platforms.

Thanks, in part, to Driving (and other media), Klimek’s idea quickly reached the top three — briefly flirting with the top spot — of a possible 1,151 program ideas for Liberal endorsement. Interesting then that Premier Kathleen Wynne has made reducing auto insurance costs a priority for her government. Imagine the consternation party insiders might have in promoting a higher speed limit as part of their platform when the insurance companies they are lobbying to lower their premiums are insisting on being able to monitor each and every driver’s driving habits.’s idea was temporarily pulled from the forum — supposedly being “flagged by users” despite there being far more controversial proposals put forward. Nonetheless, “Increase Ontario 400-series Highway Speed Limit to 120-130 km/h” remains in third spot with voting currently running about three-to-one in favour.

About David Booth