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The program offers two methods for data collection, but unlike most others, neither plan requires that you plug a device into your car. Drive Safe and Save uses either the vehicles active OnStar system or a mobile app to gather data and calculate your new premium.
About Drive Safe and Save
State Farm hopped on board the telematics bandwagon right about the time that Progressive was marketing their similar program, Snapshot, heavily. Like Snapshot, the InDrive program initially used a plug-in telematics device to record information through the car’s OnBoard Diagnostics port (OBD-II).
Eventually, State Farm dropped the plug-in device and turned to using either OnStar or the mobile app in order to gather information (they have also discontinued their SYNC program with Ford vehicles). They are not the only company to use OnStar; National General was the first to do so, and in fact, they were the first to offer a usage-based program back in 2004. As National General is connected with General Motors, it made sense that they would use the GM-branded OnStar system. OnStar is a GM product that was originally created as a sort of help system for drivers; for example, it could contact emergency assistance if the vehicle was involved in an accident and the driver was unable to do so. The advent of telematics for car insurance was an obvious new use for OnStar.
The problem with this setup is that it limits the availability of the program to vehicles that have OnStar; that is where the mobile app comes in. Furthermore, information gathered through OnStar is limited to the vehicle mileage. Most usage-based insurance programs today offer the option of using an app, and State Farm is no different.
State Farm’s mobile app program works generally the same way as many other similar programs. Customers use one of the two methods to allow information about driving habits to be recorded including when and how frequently they drive, braking and accelerating, and speed. All of this information is used to give the driver a discount on their insurance premiums at renewal.
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How Drive Safe and Save Works
As mentioned, there are two ways to use the program. If you have an OnStar system in your vehicle, State Farm can access odometer information through that system. In order for that to work, you must not only have OnStar in the car but also have an active subscription to the service.
The vehicle must then be enrolled in OnStar Vehicle Diagnostics, which can be done by either pressing the OnStar button in the car and following the prompts or by calling OnStar to have customer service activate the system. Once this is done, State Farm can request information from the OnStar system in order to calculate the discount.
For those who do not have OnStar, the mobile app is the only way to enroll in Drive Safe and Save. The app can be downloaded to your mobile phone, but it will not work unless you have the Bluetooth mobile beacon in your car – this device is sent to you by State Farm when you enroll in the program. The device does not need to be plugged in, but simply paced in the car; it will send information to the mobile app on your phone in order to collect the data on your habits.
Drive Safe and Save differs from other such programs in the fact that it is an ongoing process. While most usage-based systems collect information for a predetermined period of time and then end collection, State Farm’s system collects information on an ongoing basis. That means that on every renewal a new discount will be calculated and applied based on your driving habits in the previous policy term. Drivers are asked to provide odometer readings on every renewal to calculate mileage-based portions of the discount.
Similar to other programs, however, Drive Safe and Save is vehicle specific. It will only record information for the vehicle that is enrolled in the program, and the discount will only apply to that vehicle. If you want to earn a discount on each vehicle you own, you will need to enroll them individually and collect data on each.
In California, there is an option known as Self Report, which allows customers to get a discount without any recording of data. This discount is for mileage only and requires verifiable odometer readings sent in by the driver.
What Drive Safe and Save Records
The goal of the program is to record both safe and risky driving habits and calculate a discount based on the overall driving behavior of the vehicle. To do that, the Drive Safe and Save mobile app records the following:
- Acceleration: the system records have quickly you accelerate and flags sharp increases in speed
- Braking: instances of hard braking are recorded
- Turns: the system records instances of sharp, hard turns in either direction
- Mileage: the number of miles the vehicle is driven each year
- Speed: the system records speed and also time spent driving at speeds over 80 mph
- Time of Day: when you drive your vehicle is recorded
- Location: vehicle location is recorded when Bluetooth and location services are enabled
This list of recorded information is a little longer and more detailed than other similar systems; sharpness of turns, in particular, is an uncommon factor.
The OnStar system differs from the mobile app; it records only odometer information and not your driving habits.
How Information Is Used
Of all of the data recorded by the mobile app system, only vehicle location data is exempt from the calculation of your discount. All of the other items on the list are taken into consideration when determining the renewal rate. The website does state that real-time speed is not recorded nor compared to posted speed limits, and it does not affect the discount – a lot of high-speed driving, however, may affect your rate.
Drive Safe and Save gives each driver a grade for each of the first three: acceleration, braking, and turning. These grades are based on safe versus risky behavior. The website states that a few instances of hard braking will not affect the overall discount, acknowledging that braking suddenly may sometimes be required to avoid an accident.
Information is used only to calculate a discount, and there is no risk of a rate increase based on your driving behavior with one notable exception. If you have previously reported driving less than 7500 miles a year and were receiving a discount based on that mileage, you may lose that discount if your recorded mileage turns out to be in excess of that number.
Data is also used for the program’s driver comparison tool, which allows enrolled drivers to see how they stack up with other similar drivers. No personal information is included in this shared data tool.
If you’re an OnStar user, your discount will be calculated based on the annual mileage alone.
Drive Safe and Save Discounts
The State Farm website advertises that drivers could save up to 50% on their auto insurance premiums by signing up for the Drive Safe and Save Program. That is a really big number, but like most usage-based programs is not going to be easily attainable – if it’s attainable at all.
The program starts with an initial enrollment discount, which is described on the State Farm site as “about 5%” – that is pretty vague, and no explanation is given for why or how this discount might vary.
Once enrolled, the data collection begins and a new discount amount will be calculated upon renewal. The program continues for as long as the driver chooses to keep it, and a new discount based on the gathered information is calculated at every renewal, which is usually every 6 months.
According to customer experience with the program, the actual discount for most people turns out to be in the range of 10-15%. That is in line with the average discount from other usage-based programs, but a far cry from the high-end 50% discount amount State Farm advertises. If the average discount falls in the 10-15% range, it’s difficult to believe that any driver can achieve 50% off.
That is the same result we have seen from other programs; they promise a top end discount but we have yet to encounter anyone that has managed to achieve that top end. Most other programs, however, cap out at 30%, which means their average discounts are about halfway to that cap. For State Farm, the average discount falls very far below the cap.
There does not seem to be any real risk to using the program, however; unlike Progressive’s Snapshot program, drivers will not be dinged for risky driving behaviors. As noted, the only potential for a rate increase comes from having a higher actual mileage than the driver reported when signing up for coverage.
Eligibility for Drive Safe and Save
In order to sign up for Drive Safe and Save with OnStar, the car must have an OnStar system. Most OnStar-equipped vehicles that are 2004 model year and newer are eligible for the program. The vehicle must have an active OnStar subscription plan, and Vehicle Diagnostics must be activated.
The State Farm site states that there are no model year restrictions on the use of the mobile app for “eligible vehicles”, but it does not state what makes a vehicle eligible.
The mobile app is restricted those with compatible smartphones; older phone models may not be able to run the app.
In California, the Self Report system can be used for which all vehicles are eligible except antique cars, motorcycles, and commercial vehicles.
State Farm does not restrict the Drive Safe and Save program to new policies, unlike many other systems. Existing customers can sign up for the program at any time by contacting their agent or downloading the mobile app and following the prompts.
Unlike plug-in devices, State Farm’s program has little to no setup required. The GPS beacon that connects with the mobile app must be kept in the car, but it does not have to be plugged into a port. It can be kept anywhere as long as the signal reaches the mobile phone. The beacon stays in the car for as long as you remain in the program.
The mobile app can be easily downloaded for either Apple or Android phones and is installed by following the prompts on the phone.
How Drive Safe and Save Stacks Up
The Drive Safe and Save program has a lot in common with other usage-based insurance programs, with the exception of the OnStar connection.
Using OnStar to collect odometer data is a simple method of getting a discount for those that have the system already on the vehicle, and already have an OnStar plan. If you do not have a plan, you’ll need to consider whether the cost of the plan is worth it compared the savings provided. For those already decided that paying for OnStar’s other services isn’t worth the money, the chance of a discount is unlikely to change that opinion. The amount most drivers will see in premium reductions will not cover the cost of the subscription in most cases.
What that means is that the OnStar based program is probably worthwhile if you do already pay for a plan; it only records odometer readings, and if you drive a lot less than most people you are likely to see a rate reduction with little risk.
As for the mobile app, it does not come at a cost or with any other requirements as long as your phone already supports it, but it does record a lot more personal information. Still, it may be worth a try for those with good driving habits.
While it seems customers do not see anywhere near that very appealing 50% discount, 10-15% is still a pretty decent discount for not a lot of effort. It is about on par with other similar programs.
The fact that State Farm no longer offers a plug-in device may put a few people off from the program. Plug-ins do not require that an app on your phone be running at all times when you drive, and for some people can feel less invasive. It also will not run down the battery on your phone; although the website claims that there’s little battery drain, any app running in the background will still use up power. Plug-in devices are something of a plug-and-forget setup that may appeal to those that prefer not to have to worry about keeping an app up and running.
That said, mobile apps are everywhere these days, and the usage-based ones do not come with much more difficulty or risk than any other. The system of using a GPS beacon helps to avoid those pitfalls of other mobile apps, such as recording even when you are in someone else’s car.
Finally, worth noting is that this program continually calculates new discounts on renewal, which means you can continue working towards earning a bigger discount. That is different from other programs and can be a motivator to safer driving habits.
The Bottom Line
The Drive Safe and Save program has very little risk, and it can provide a reasonably good discount. For those that qualify, it is likely worth giving the program a shot. As with all such programs, drivers should keep their expectations realistic – you are not going to save 50% on your car insurance, and you will be disappointed if that’s what you expect. For those that are just looking to trim the bills as much as possible, Drive Safe and Save is a pretty safe bet.
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