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23/11/2016
A&J Lawrence

A&J Lawrence

What will you spend your extra £40 on?

Well, I for one am looking forward to my insurance premiums falling £40 next year. That’s what we’ve been told will be the result of new government measures tackling the whiplash ‘epidemic’ in this country, writes Alan Feldberg.

The argument is that by cracking down on fraudulent and exaggerated whiplash claims, the industry will save £1bn a year. Insurers have promised to pass those savings on 100% to drivers, leading to an average decrease of £40 a year in the price of our premiums.

There’s just one thing that doesn’t add up.

Insurers have paid out less in personal motor claims every year since 2010 but our policies haven’t gone down accordingly. In fact, our premiums have tended to get more and more expensive even though motor insurers are paying out less and less. Their overall motor payouts shrunk by 30% between 2010 and 2015, from £8.3bn to £5.8bn, but premiums have still been going in the opposite direction.

There may be justified reasons for this, such as the rightful rising costs of repairing technology-heavy cars, but will those reasons not still be there next year? And the year after that? If so, how does the £40 claim stack up?

Certainly fraud is an issue. The latest figures reveal that a new soft tissue claim is made by a driver in the UK every 40 seconds, with one in 60 of us seeking compensation for whiplash each year. Despite a reduction in road traffic accidents, whiplash claims have shot up 50% in a decade. Clearly, these are the sorts of numbers that can’t continue and are part of the reason why the UK has been anointed with that rather tabloidesque tag, ‘the whiplash capital of the world’.

The government proposals, which appeared to have slid off the table after Brexit but then suddenly remerged nicely packaged last week, suggest capping whiplash claims at £425 compared the average payout of £1,850 now, and paying nothing for minor injuries. Not surprisingly, the insurance industry has welcomed these reforms proposed by Justice Secretary Liz Truss. It has campaigned long and hard for this and appears now to have nearly won the day.

But, call me cynical, why would an industry that has spent so much time, money and effort arguing for something for years happily give away the fruits of its victory to the general public? Philanthropy? To improve its reputation? Unfortunately, there is no way to accurately measure the savings these reforms might bring, so no way of gauging if they’re being passed on to drivers 100%, 10% or one per cent. And if premiums rise next year, we’ll simply be told they would have risen by an extra £40 without these reforms.
But the simple logic of it is that insurance is business, business lives off profit and their profit comes from premiums.

I recently spoke to someone who explained how using evidence-based science to establish claims is keeping whiplash fraud in check in many other countries. Essentially the medics don’t just assess the claimant; they also study the details of the incident to establish if it could have caused the injury. These medics have scientific training and a huge database of similar incidents to help them determine ‘causation’.

A pilot in this country had also been successful, although the results haven’t been published yet. So the obvious question after that was, if this approach works so well why haven’t UK insurers picked it up yet? His response was off the record, and the few insurers we approached declined to answer.

Perhaps there are too many conspiracy theories around and I certainly don’t understand the intricacies of it all (which is why I approached the industry for clarity), but let’s watch this space. If I’m £40 richer in time for Christmas 2017 I’ll hold my hands up…

01/11/2016

MOTOR PREMIUMS CAUGHT IN ‘PERFECT STORM’

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) has responded to the continual rise in motor insurance premiums by publishing a five-point plan intended to tackle spiralling costs.

The report, called "Lifting the Bonnet" identifies five clear steps that could lower premiums. These are: personal injury compensation reform; no more Insurance Premium Tax rises; improved safety for young drivers; compulsory driver-assistance systems in cars; and a crackdown on insurance fraud.

James Dalton, ABI’s director of general insurance policy, said, ‘Every motorist wants competitively priced insurance that meets their needs. Consumers benefit from a very competitive insurance market, but insurers are facing the perfect storm of rising costs from personal injury claims, repair bills and Insurance Premium Tax.
‘This report highlights what insurers are doing to help keep the costs of motor insurance down, and what more needs to be done to ensure honest motorists get the best possible motor insurance deal.’

In further detail, the five steps Lifting the Bonnet identifies are:

Reforms to the personal injury compensation system. Bodily injury claims make up 37% of insurers’ costs. The government had planned to introduce stricter measures surrounding soft tissue claims but has since cooled on the idea. The ABI believes this delay is costing motorists nearly £3m a day.

IPT has jumped by two thirds in less than a year. The ABI says these recent rises alone are likely to add an extra £16 a year to the cost of the average comprehensive motor policy.

Young drivers are by far the most at-risk group on the roads. The ABI suggests a change to the way young drivers are taught, with the introduction of a Graduated Driver License.
It also argues for the compulsory introduction of driver assist systems such as Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB), which is proven to reduce the frequency and severity of vehicle collisions.

Meanwhile, the ABI recorded 70,000 fraudulent motor claims last year, valued at £800m. A further clampdown could reduce premiums and the ABI believes the government should implement the recommendations of the Insurance Fraud Taskforce.

Motor insurance premiums have risen an average of £100 this year and the price of the average policy is expected to soar to more than £700 by the end of the year.

12/10/2016

Police force data reveals that tyres now account for 50% of defective vehicle offences

New analysis reveals that defective tyres account for a growing proportion of the total penalty points received by drivers for the poor condition of their cars.

The automotive servicing and repair company collated data from British police forces regarding the issuing of penalty points for vehicle defects over the past three years. Analysis of the information showed that in 2015, 50% of the defective vehicle offences for which drivers received penalty points were due to issues with their tyres – up from 40% in 2013.

The overwhelming majority of tyre offences were having insufficient tread, with 65% of cases categorised as being below the legal minimum of 1.6mm. A further 2% were stated as being below 1mm, and even more worryingly were the 26% who were found by the Kwik Fit analysis to have tyres with the ply or cord exposed. 3% of the cases were for tyres which were under or over inflated, while 2% of offences were for having a tyre with a lump, bulge or tear.

This analysis comes after a UK wide study by Tyresafe, in conjunction with Highways England, found that more than a quarter (27%) of tyres being replaced were already illegal2 with tread under 1.6mm at the point of replacement. Tyresafe, an organisation focused on raising awareness of tyre safety, estimates that 10 million vehicles could be driving on illegal tyres in 2016.

Roger Griggs, communications director at Kwik Fit, said:

"These figures reveal that some drivers on British roads are taking serious risks with both their own safety and the safety of other road users. We would encourage drivers to pay much closer attention to the condition of their tyres – after all they are the only things keeping their car connected to the road.

"There is absolutely no excuse for a tyre being worn down so far that its ply or cord is exposed – it will have gone past the legal minimum way before that point. If drivers are trying to save money on their motoring, then risking penalty points, a fine and higher insurance premiums by not replacing their tyres is not the best way to go about it."

In some instances, the ply or cord will be exposed because the tyre has suffered uneven wear. Wheels can move out of alignment gradually over time or because of an impact such as hitting a pothole or bumping into a kerb. Uneven wear can mean that a tyre which has a lot of tread across most of its width is well below the legal limit in one strip all the way round the tyre. Spotting and rectifying uneven wear early can lengthen a tyres life span and save drivers a lot of money, as well as making them safer on the road through better handling and grip.

21/09/2016

What will cars look like in 2050?

Car companies have recently been telling us what the car of 2020 will be like: autonomous is one word used, electric is another, and it will be connected to the internet too. Sound exciting? It is, but it’s doubtful you’ll find all of this on the forecourt in the next seven years (cars typically get completely redesigned every five to seven years). However, the directions being proposed are a very good starting point to look even further and ask the question: what might the car of 2050 look like?

For a start, will there even be cars in 2050? Will an invention that will be 150 years old by then be replaced by something better? Will environmental concerns kill it? Will people become tired of getting behind the wheel, as recent studies suggest? The answer seems to be “maybe”, but the reality is that the automobile is a very liberating and flexible means of transportation. It fulfills people’s desire to move around freely and independently. And – done right - the automobile can be a sustainable and safe means of transportation.

But we must also acknowledge this form of mobility comes at a premium, as polar ice melts, megacities become suffocated by smog and congestion, resources dwindle, and around 1.2 million people get killed in traffic accidents globally every year. We know why: we want to be mobile, and our mobility has some negative implications.

So what can – actually, must – we do in order to make the automobile of the year 2050 cleaner, safer, leaner and still enjoyable to use? This is a crucial question: mass-motorisation in emerging countries means there will be more than three billion vehicles on the planet in 2050, compared with around one billion today.

Hands-free driving
The automobile in 2050 will be self-driving. Companies are working on concepts allowing cars to cruise along on the highway without driver intervention, many of which are likely to be seen on our roads.
There is the Super Cruise from General Motors, which controls the vehicle on long highway stretches when not much is happening. Then there is the Traffic Jam Assistant from BMW; cars move along in a congested traffic area just like a school of fish. Or there’s Road Train from the European Satre project which includes Volvo, where one vehicle with a professional driver leads a platoon of other vehicles, connected virtually and following like pearls on a string along the highway – turning the commute into possibly more productive time as the drivers can now work or rest. And when the car makes it to its destination, it can park itself in a high-tech parking structure, just as Audi has demonstrated.
Will the driver need to do anything at all? Will there still be a steering wheel? Cars will probably require that drivers monitor what the vehicle does and switch from one mode to another – such as highway driving to city driving. There will probably still be a steering wheel, but some models could have a little joystick that the driver only uses rarely.

Driving is likely to get much safer (human error still accounts for the majority of all accidents) and also much more efficient, as centralised traffic control will lead to a smoother flow and less congestion. But how much of an effect this new technology has will depend on how widely it is rolled out.
The changes might not stop there. We may also have some other kinds of automobiles, which are small, highly efficient mobility pods similar to the GM EN-V concept or autonomous vehicles like the Induct Navia. These will be urban, flexible solutions to move people around.
In many metro areas, a well-organised public transportation system will be the most effective way to move large numbers of people. However, some commuters might not want to take it, either because of network problems, schedules or safety concerns. Publicly organised on-demand transportation systems that can accommodate up to six people will bring travellers automatically to their destination in downtown areas, and then move on to serve others. Customers will simply enter their destination and payment information – think of it as a totally automated taxi system.

Digital frontier
Personal mobility will become more of a service, one that companies such as Google have recognised. The search and computing giant has become strongly involved in creating automated vehicles. And some think the car needs to serve us in other ways, whether we drive it or it drives itself. Many car companies are already working with Apple to integrate Siri into automobiles, creating virtual personal assistants in the car to help us with routes, traffic information, and the scheduling of our day. Our vehicles will be fully integrated into the digital lifestyle of 2050 – whatever that turns out to be.
It is hard to imagine what the world of Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and Google will be like in 30 years time, but we can assume that everything that has a digital representation will be available in our cars. The automobile seems to be the final frontier for the digital lifestyle – some people want to be disconnected while driving – but in decades to come it will be completely connected and – hopefully – safe to use.

But what will actually drive these cars? Electricity? Hydrogen? Or will it still guzzle petrol and diesel? At first glance, one might think the good-old internal combustion engine is on its way out. However, its demise may not be quite so quick. In general, the daily commute will be in an electric vehicle with no combustion engine. The electricity grid is likely to include a much higher percentage of renewable energy by then, so everyday driving will be cleaner as well. But what about longer trips? Batteries might allow a 500-mile range, but they might be heavy and expensive, and recharging them might take time.

So, the ultimate solution for long-distance car travel might still be a combustion engine. Research is underway by institutions and car companies across the world to further improve efficiency and cut emissions. In 2050 a small, turbo-charged, rotary engine might serve as a range extender – used only a few days a year, but good to have on board. Another range extender might be wireless power transfer to the vehicle as it moves along the highway.
An alternative is hydrogen-powered vehicles, converting hydrogen into electricity in a fuel cell. This would result in a smooth electric drive and only water vapour coming out the tailpipe. While fuel-cell technology has already come a long way (Daimler and Toyota are at the forefront of this evolution), there are still challenges to overcome, such as where to get the hydrogen from. It is unclear if there will be an answer by 2050.

Morphing motors
People value flexibility; just as they have come to expect it from their smartphones and laptops, so will they want it from their car? As mobile technology has allowed us to make decisions on everything in an instant and away from home, we will want those same freedoms in our cars.
The commuter of the future may have a "personal mobility portfolio", with the car being only one part of it. An automobile might be there to drive for pleasure on the weekend (the affection for the car will probably not go away completely). As mobile internet becomes ever-more powerful it will be totally normal and convenient to step out on the street and make an immediate decision. You could hail a self-driving shared vehicle. You could jump into the car of a social-media friend, who just happens to be driving by and going in the same direction. Or you will take public transportation if is the best option. The car will be totally integrated into a greater mobility network.
We are already seeing beyond existing car-sharing schemes, such as ZipCar, where people can book cars for the hours in which they actaully need them. There will be a network of different options to integrate services in places such as airports, all of them combined in one app on our 2050 communication device. We basically tell the app where we want to go and, based on our preferences, three different optimised transportation modes will be offered, similar to the three different routes that a GPS navigation system offers us today.

There's one more question to ask: what will the 2050 car look like? Will we still be able to recognise it? It might still have a steering wheel, maybe just a joystick. It is safe to assume that it will still have four seats and wheels and might still resemble a metal box. But that’s where the similarities may end.
Carbon fibre or other lightweight material might replace steel. The design will be a mix of efficient contours (low aerodynamic drag) and emotional styling. And maybe there will be some sort of morphing shape. MIT has looked into some very promising vehicle concepts that allow for small footprint in the city and a more safety and dynamic configuration for the open road.

The car of 2050 might be relatively easy to recognise, which might not be true for the phone or computer. This is because a car is a car is a car – it is supposed to transport people and goods and as long as people continue to be as tall as they are cars won’t look too much different. But the personal automobile as we know it will have much competition: from remote-controlled, on-demand pod and personalised public transportation. And in our livable cities, good old-fashioned walking and cycling, too.

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