Birmingham & Black Country

Black boxes to cut cost of motoring for young drivers

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Media captionRS Fleet, in Perry Barr, said it was now fitting 400 of the devices a day

A Birmingham company which fits "black boxes" that monitor driving standards in a bid to lower insurance premiums has said it has seen a huge increase in demand.

Installing the devices in cars is one of several measures being championed in a bid to drive down the high cost of insurance for young drivers and they were among options being looked at during a meeting of insurance companies hosted by David Cameron in Downing Street on Tuesday.

RS Fleet, based in Perry Barr, said it was now fitting 400 of the devices a day.

Like the black boxes installed on aircraft, Telematics record information about the pilot - or driver's - actions.

The units measure speed, acceleration, G-force and mileage.

Aggressive manoeuvres and fast cornering are flagged up on a small dashboard device which displays amber and red warning lights.

The results can also be downloaded from a website to allow young drivers, or more often their parents, to monitor driving behaviour.

Fitting the devices can save more than £500 on annual premiums, as well as ongoing incentives.

'Peace of mind'

Lea Hodson started RS Fleet in 1989, specialising in fitting car electrical systems such as alarms and radios.

Like many other companies, he said he had suffered with the economic downturn in 2008.

In the same year, a small-scale trial launched in Staffordshire to see if black box units could encourage safer driving.

For Malcolm Harris, from Stoke-on-Trent, whose daughter Steph, now 22, was part of the original trial, the biggest incentive was not money, but "peace of mind".

"Her driving was a nightmare," he said.

"It gave us the opportunity to do something about a habit which could be fatal.

"We will never know if an accident was missed because of it. But if those black boxes save just one life it will be worth it."

The trial, which was declared a success, was made permanent and was later rolled out across the UK.

RS Fleet said the majority of its fittings were for specialist Telematics insurance company Insure the Box, which said it had fitted 75,000 units since June 2010.

Mr Hodson said: "We're now fitting 400 units a day. Since June 2010 we've gone from 13 staff to 124.

"Our old workshop in Birmingham has been turned into a call centre. We've moved in a load of desks and phones."

"The city seems to have become the centre of the country for this technology."

He said the company's success had felt "like winning the lottery".

Young people

He said that the Telematic units now represented about 90% of the company's business.

At weekends the company also employs more than 70 Birmingham students to answer phones and book fittings for the following weeks.

Last week RS Fleet was praised for its employment of young people at a meeting at the House of Lords with Lord Baker and Education Secretary Michael Gove.

Image caption RS Fleet employs more than 70 students from the city to deal with calls at weekends

The company plans to take on 100 apprentices next year, with the market expected to continue growing as more insurers take up the scheme.

The cost of the devices and the fitting is borne by insurers, but many in the industry believe they represent a sound investment.

According to the Association of British Insurers (ABI), the average claim made by a 17-year-old in their first year of driving is £1,600 and one in five will have a crash within six months of passing their test.

Co-operative Insurance (CIS) said more than 12,000 17 to 25-year-olds across the UK had signed up to the Telematic units in the past 11 months.

Over the same period, the company said it had seen a 34% fall in the cost of claims by those drivers, compared with other customers of the same age group.

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