Project Description

Progressive Snapshot: Deal or No Deal?
Have you seen the fictional character Flo that appears in the Progressive Insurance Snapshot TV or radio commercials? Dating back to 2008, Flo has been explaining to millions of motorists how to save on insurance by using Snapshot, a usage-based discount program designed to personalize rates based on driving habits.

It’s a pretty simple program. Drivers are only asked to attach an OBD II (on-board diagnostics) device to a port under the steering column in most vehicles. Once installed, the device automatically records driver data such as time of day, fast accelerations, hard brakes, miles driven per day, and how often you drive between midnight and 4 a.m. It does not track whether you’re exceeding the speed limit and this information doesn’t impact your potential savings.

We’ve been writing about Progressive for years, so we thought it was time to try the device for ourselves. So, I signed up for the Snapshot discount. They asked me for some basic contact information, such as name, birth date, information about my car, and any additional drivers of my car. It was really that simple. All I had to do was wait. My dad (who just happens to be an employee at Specialty Publishing) and I both signed up for the program. It took less than a week and two trial devices showed up in the mail at the Specialty Publishing offices. We simply plugged the Snapshot device, which is about the size of a flip phone, into the OBD ports’ in our trucks and we were ready to go for our 30-day trial. While the device is connected, it collects our VIN (vehicle identification number) and alerts us if the Snapshot gets disconnected for any reason during the trial period.

Besides being super easy to setup, Progressive has a Website for drivers to review their progress. And believe me I checked every day—mostly because my father and I had a driving contest to see who could get the biggest discount based on our driving behavior. I was determined to prove to my father that I was the better driver, of course.

Progressive’s Website allows you to track your progress, potential savings, and overall statistics. Progressive awards a grading system based on driver performance. For instance, in the early stages of my driving I was feeling pretty darn good since I was receiving an “A” for my stellar driving earning me an estimated 16-30% savings. Scoring a “B” meant a discount in the range of 1-15% and a grade of a C resulted in 0% discount. But as I will describe that A was only short lived and so was my discount.

Badges are another way to track performance. They are awarded for smaller achievements that I was able to unlock for good driving. There are a few badges in the collection of 18 total that are dedicated to nondriving functions. The first one is the “Creative Commuter” and is for “5 days. No driving. By bike, train, or even a co-worker … you get where you’re going. And the going is good.” The next one is the “Alien Abduction” and that’s for “7 days away from the wheel. Either you’ve gone green, or you’ve been abducted by aliens. Here’s hoping it’s the former. We’d miss you.” And the last one is, “On Hiatus,” which is the longest one for “Looks like someone took a 10-day vacation from driving. We’re hoping it was to someplace warm or breezy.”

I don’t see much value in these badges. People who work most likely use their vehicle to travel to and from work. But these badges reward people for not driving rather than how well they drive. Seems counterintuitive.

So, back to the trial. Once the 30-day trial was finished, I was able to apply for my discount. I filled out the quote forms and then Progressive provided me with an estimated price. I should mention, if you choose to stay with Progressive at this point, you leave the Snapshot device plugged in for another five months and your discount is immediately applied.

The competition proved very enlightening. We both knew we wouldn’t end up with the same discount, but I was determined to prove to my father I was a better driver, meaning I wanted to earn a better discount. I had a feeling my father would end up on top of this contest in the end, but what really happened was a bit shocking for both of us. Let me explain.

Have you ever seen the movie “Starman?” I think the people at Progressive have. Here’s the premise. An alien comes from space and takes the form of a widow’s late husband and she agrees to drive him across the country. As the woman gets tired, she lets the alien drive after proclaiming he has watched her drive and knows the rules. As he is driving to an intersection the light turns yellow and the alien flies through cutting off a large trailer truck and causing a three-car accident. Once the woman gets a hold of her bearings she scolds the alien, “I thought you watched me, I thought you knew the rules.” The alien defends himself by declaring, “Red light stop, green light go, yellow light go-very-fast.”

Progressive measures a hard-break as a deceleration exceeding 7-mph per second. This is where the “Red light stop, green light go, yellow light go-very-fast” comes into play. This is where I failed miserably losing all my discounts. But let’s be fair here: Have you ever driven up to a traffic signal and right as you come up to it, it turns yellow? You have a few options, you can either stop abruptly or speed up and hope you beat the light. I suppose the option is to gradually glide into the middle of the intersection hoping you don’t cause an accident as you wait for the light to change.

There were a few instances I had to contemplate whether to avoid hard stops that would drop my potential savings, or to fly through the yellow lights. Thanks Progressive. According to Progressive rules, any kind of hard stop, whether I’m avoiding an accident or preventing landing in the middle of an intersection, negatively impacts my score and my grade took a nose drive. Every week I would check the Progressive Website and I could see my grade plummeting. I suppose the good news is that I knew what was happening. The bad news is there was nothing I could do but watch my discount fade away.

The last item measured is average of miles per day driven. The only way I could envision earning a 30% discount is basically not drive. These programs are based on total miles driven and large discount programs seem to be geared to those drivers.

Here’s another point worth mentioning: While Snapshot might personalize rates based on miles driven, it has a standardized formula to penalize anyone who drives between midnight and 4 a.m., regardless of the reason. I’m not sure I agree those hours are more dangerous than the rush hours we have in Chicago. I understand that between those hours more people are off work and perhaps are more likely to get into mischief, because of drinking or speeding (which Progressive doesn’t collect anyway, so why is that a factor now?) But I struggle with why Progressive wants to punish the hard working people who work graveyard shifts and who have managed their lifestyles accordingly? Also, if this is a personalized rates program, how is that possible when rates are based on blanketed assessments and predetermined data?

My final concern is how it calculated my father’s discount. First, my father doesn’t drive anytime between midnight and 4 a.m. He only drives to and from work and maybe to the grocery store a few times a week, and he never really has hard breaks (which I think means he took the “go-very-fast” approach).

In the end, the test results proved to be very disheartening for my father and I. He only received a B on his trial and I earned a C+. While my father’s discount was pretty much negligible, I didn’t even earn any discount at all. However, I did run through yellow lights to avoid hard brakes. While we didn’t see any discounts, Progressive says discounts can be as high as 30%, but most drivers earn a discount between 10-15%. I’d like to know who are those drivers and can they teach me how they skirted the system? Even though I like the Flo commercials, I think I will stick with my existing insurance company, at least for now.