UPDATED: Mar 18, 2020
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Nationwide’s program follows the usual pattern; drivers get an initial discount for signing up and then go through an evaluation period in which information about driving habits is recorded and sent back to the company for evaluation. At the end of the evaluation period, a discount is calculated and applied to the policy on renewal to replace the initial sign-up discount. Nationwide promises, much like its competitors, seriously big discounts of up to 40% with the SmartRide program.
SmartRide operates using a plug-in device that connects with a mobile app and tracks driving habits. It records miles driven, trip information like time of day and amount of time spent idling, and incidents of hard braking and speeding.
While many other companies are moving away from the plug-in device and towards an app-only program for recording information, SmartRide continues to use the device approach. Which of these options is better is a matter of opinion. Some people prefer to use the app, while others find it to be a less private method of gathering information. Some apps gather information from the phone, which makes some drivers uncomfortable.
Plug-in devices provide direct access to the vehicle’s diagnostic information, reducing errors in recording that may be caused by riding in someone else’s vehicle or interruptions in service. So far, Nationwide continues to use this approach, with an app available for keeping track of what the device is recording, providing something of a combination approach.
SmartRide is a discount program with no risk of a rate increase as a result of the information that is recorded. That is true of the majority of such programs, with the exception of a few companies that may increase rates based on a recording of unsafe driving habits. The device records information for a set time period, calculating a discount over time to come to a final percentage off the rate. That discount will then stay in place for the remainder of the time that the policy is in force.
Currently, SmartRide is offered to Nationwide customers as an optional program, and it is not available in all states. Discounts and program details vary by state.
We were unable to find a clear list of states in which the SmartRide program is offered on the SmartRide page of the website, which would be helpful if it was updated. When we went to look at the app, the states listed are Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, Rhode Island, Washington, Washington, D.C., And West Virginia.
How SmartRide Works
After signing up for SmartRide, the customer will be sent a plug-in device through the mail. The website offers instructions for how to plug it in, after which it will start recording information about how the vehicle is driven.
The plug-in device stays in the vehicle for four to six months, after which it can be removed and returned by mail to Nationwide. During the program, the driver can use the app to monitor what is being recorded, with the hope that seeing opportunities for improvement will lead the driver to adjust over time. Since the discount is being calculated on an ongoing basis during the duration of the program, it will reflect changes the driver makes to their driving habits. A new discount is shown on the app on a weekly basis.
When the time period is over, the final discount is calculated and applied to the policy on renewal. Some programs allow ongoing calculation of a new discount, but SmartRide runs only once. After you have received a discount, that discount will not change, and you will keep receiving the discount for as long as you remain a Nationwide customer.
What SmartRide Records
SmartRide records several different aspects of your driving behaviors, most of which are similar to other usage-based programs on the market. These are:
- Miles driven
- Idle time, based on the idea that time spent in stop and go traffic increases the odds of an accident
- Acceleration at a high rate of speed
- Hard braking, with abrupt slowdowns in excess of 7.7 feet per second recorded
- Nighttime driving, which is considered to be time on the road between midnight and 5 a.m.
Idle time is something of an unusual factor for this type of system, and Nationwide is the only one we have seen that records it.
Most recording devices also track the vehicle’s location. The Nationwide site does not say whether or not that is the case with SmartRide, but a look at the app shows that it does record trip information, mapping the driver’s route.
How Information is Used
The information that is recorded is used solely for the calculation of the discount, and of all the information recorded, only the vehicle’s location and trip path information are not used. That information is only provided for the use of the driver.
In the app, the current calculated discount will appear as a combination of four factors: idle time, miles driven, incidents of hard braking or fast acceleration, and nighttime driving minutes.
Nationwide does not use the information to increase rates, nor do they share it with anyone else outside the company.
As soon as a driver signs up for the SmartRide program, a 10% discount is applied to the policy. This enrollment discount stays in place while the device is recording driving habits information in order to calculate the final discount.
On renewal, the actual calculated discount will replace the enrollment discount. Nationwide says that discount could be as much as 40%. That is among the loftier promises we have seen made by usage-based programs, and like most other such programs it is unlikely that most drivers will see anything close to that amount taken off their policy.
The full 40% discount is a nearly impossible to attain level of driving perfection, and in all of our research into these programs, we have yet to find a driver who has seen the highest level of rate reduction. On average, these programs result in a discount of between 10 and 15%, which is what most drivers can realistically expect. As we note later, however, Nationwide does appear to perform a bit better in terms of average discount – nearly 20% in many reported cases.
SmartRide discounts are applied not to the overall premium, but only to certain coverages. The website does not spell it out, but in general the discount will apply only to the liability, medical payments, and collision portions of the policy, and not to coverage that is not related to the risk your driving habits represent in terms of the likelihood that you will be involved in an at-fault accident. That means you won’t ever see your overall rate reduced by the earned percentage, but only that part of the cost of your insurance to which it applies.
Eligibility for SmartRide
SmartRide is available to all Nationwide auto insurance customers, both old and new. New customers can start earning the discount from the beginning. The site does not say how it works for existing customers, but it may require waiting until renewal to start earning the discount.
The SmartRide device can be used with any vehicle 1996 or newer, with the exception of some hybrids and diesel vehicles that lack the right technology for the plug-in device to work. This is common to all systems using a plug-in device.
The companion app for SmartRide is available for both Android and Apple devices as long as they have the required operating system, which most modern smartphones should.
Installing the plug-in device is straightforward, and instructions will come along with the device in the mail.
The Nationwide website had a video that will walk customers through the process of installing the SmartRide device. This involves plugging it into the Onboard Diagnostics (OBD-II) port on your vehicle. In most cases, that can be found underneath the dashboard. If you have trouble finding it, you can turn to CarMD’s guide to find out where it is found on your particular vehicle.
In order to monitor the device’s activities, drivers will need to download the app. That can be found in your device’s app store and obtained at no cost. Once downloaded, just follow the installation instructions in order to start monitoring your discount.
How SmartRide Stacks Up
SmartRide is right about in line with most of the other similar programs we have seen in terms of how it operates.
The program only allows you to earn a discount once, which means you have a short time period in which to get the most out of it. Some other programs, particularly those that use only an app, allow the drivers to continually improve upon their results. The flip side of that, of course, is that you may have the opposite experience and get a smaller discount if your driving habits do not get better. Some drivers will likely prefer having it over with rather than being constantly monitored.
A few of SmartRide’s competitors do come with the risk of a rate increase if your habits turn out to be less than stellar, but there is no risk with SmartRide. Your rates will not go up as a result of using the program. That said, there are a number of customers that have complained of seeing their earned discount essentially disappear on renewal as a result of a general increase of the base premium. It is likely that the increases were going to happen either way, but it’s still a frustrating experience when you have been promised a discount. It is also worth noting that we have seen similar comments with other insurance companies.
Interestingly, while the average discount for usage-based programs falls in the 10-15% range, we saw quite a few Nationwide customers reporting that they had earned closer to 20%. That is a pretty good discount for not a lot of effort.
Nationwide is one of the companies that is still using the plug-in device method of tracking driving habits. We touched on that a little bit above and how it may or may not appeal to you depending on your opinion of using mobile apps on your phone. While other companies, like Allstate, are phasing out the devices, at the moment there’s no sign of such a move on Nationwide’s part.
The plan is not available in all states, which is not entirely unusual, but for a company as huge as Nationwide we would expect to see more availability. State laws do have some bearing on this; the program details differ specifically in California.
Overall, SmartRide is a pretty solid entry into the usage-based market, with most of the same options and tools as are offered elsewhere. It is worth noting that Nationwide itself usually ranks on the high side in our rate comparisons. With rates that are already higher than other companies, even a large discount earned from the program may not be enough to make the policy competitive with other companies out there.
The Bottom Line
If you are already a Nationwide customer and not looking to switch, it can’t hurt to give this program a try; you will get a discount right off the bat and likely earn a larger discount for the duration of your policy. It is unlikely, however, that SmartRide is going to provide the impetus for many people to switch to Nationwide given the fact that they’re generally expensive, to begin with, and similar discount programs are available from pretty much all the big players in the industry.
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