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Progressive Snapshot ‘bombshell’: Device can raise driver bills

Dear Flo: Love the ads. “Sprinkles are for winners” is genius. But news that premiums can go up, not just down, from Progressive’s driver-tracking Snapshot device sounded familiar.

Reporting by The Palm Beach Post last year took a skeptical look when car insurers promoted the gadgets as something that can only lower bills.

In what trade press reports are describing as a “bombshell,” market leader Progressive is acknowledging its Snapshot device can and will raise premiums for some drivers — about one in five may see an increase.

“You’re right — our Snapshot program is evolving,” Progressive spokeswoman Erin Hendrick told the Post.

A new model has been launched in Missouri, she said: “In this new version, we’re pleased to offer more people even bigger discounts.”

The company plans to roll out the new program to additional states beginning this summer. No word yet on Florida.

More than 2.5 million customers have tried Progressive’s Snapshot program. Other insurers have similar plans that typically feature devices that plug into the car, such as in a diagnostic port below the steering column. If drivers sign up and save money, wonderful. But the Post explored the potential for privacy and pocketbook issues consumers might not see coming.

Progressive found that the majority of drivers, nearly 80 percent, deserve a discount for their safe driving, Hendrick said: “In fact, about half of all Snapshot participants will get a double-digit discount in our new model. We’re also offering a discount as soon as drivers sign up for the program, which they’ll keep until renewal as long as they leave the device plugged in.”

A “small portion of the riskiest drivers could see a higher rate,” she said.

She added, “It’s important to call out that the changes we’re making will not affect anyone who has previously signed up for the program under different terms. We will honor the terms our customers signed up for and they will retain the discount they earned.”

The Post noted surveys showed most drivers had little idea the devices track not only miles traveled, but also things like a constant record of your speed, if you drive between midnight and 4 a.m., and how hard you hit the brakes. Even if you never have an accident or a ticket, the data could hurt you financially by taking away discounts. Now, the information can impose higher premiums at the company’s discretion without an actual smudge on your driving record.

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