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Safety, Security and Telematics in Times of Trouble (PART 1)

Today, driving comes with significant risk. According to the Association for Safe International Road Travel, nearly 1.3 million people die in road crashes each year (more than 3,000 every day) and an additional 20-50 million are injured or disabled. In the U.S., the CDC reports motor vehicle crashes as the leading cause of injury-related deaths in age groups 5 through 24, and the second leading cause for ages 25 and above.

Safety and security have been synonymous buzzwords with vehicle telematics since the earliest successful applications of the technology. Telematics can help make driving safer through such things as reporting on driving habits, tracking potential risk events, enabling easier roadside assistance, providing automatic crash alerts, and by streamlining the daily driving experience to limit distractions… at least until everyone has self-driving cars.

To understand how telematics can help improve safety and security, it helps to appreciate how the technology works. The website ExtremeTech.com published a good article earlier this year explaining vehicle telematics from an integrated OEM perspective, using as a first example the most widely known telematics program in the U.S., General Motors’ OnStar.

Formally launched in 1995, OnStar has been promoted heavily for its safety and security benefits of simplified roadside assistance, crash alerts, and stolen vehicle tracking capabilities. “Safe and Sound” was the name for OnStar’s primary subscription service until earlier this year when they expanded to offer more plan options and raise prices. The entry-level OnStar subscription plan is now called simply “Protection,” it still offers roadside assistance and crash alerts, but stolen vehicle assistance and theft alarm notification cost extra.

As a mobile service delivery platform, we’ve seen smartphones in recent years largely replace the need for vehicles to be separately connected for routine mobile communications and turn-by-turn navigation, but not necessarily for qualified usage-based insurance applications or during times of trouble. The real benefits of telematics go beyond infotainment, navigation, games and internet radio. Smartphone telematics can provide useful applications, but having an embedded or after-market installed telematics system (or OBD2 plug-in device) still offers much stronger value than relying only on a smartphone, particularly in an emergency or for making secure transmission of insurance-grade driving data.

Forbes reported< recently about Ford SYNC’s new program functionalities, calling attention to how a direct to cellular connection from the vehicle is particularly useful in emergency situations and when needing to locate the car, lock or unlock the doors, or remotely start it on a cold day.

SYNC has relied on smartphone connectivity for its service delivery since 2007, but last year saw a major SYNC 3 upgrade and Ford recently announced SYNC Connect, with an embedded LTE cellular modem. Having capability for the car to communicate independently of a smartphone (like OnStar) also makes system software upgrades smoother and not reliant on the driver connecting their phone to the car.

The Forbes article rather ominously concludes by stating the obvious: “Of course having that perpetual connection in the vehicle also means there is a new potential attack vector for hackers… Fortunately it appears that all automakers are now taking this issue far more seriously than they did a few years ago.”

Hacking cars is a real concern if not taken seriously. My earlier blog post, “Keep Calm and Don’t Fear the Connected Car,” has links to several high-profile stories about car hacking, though so far the cases talked about in the media have been deliberately planned demonstrations and mostly benign examples of what’s possible. The “scarier” stories, such as how “Terrorists Could Crash Your Car” and Computerworld’s commentary on why all vehicles are at risk of attack, have all helped to raise awareness in the industry of the need for more attention on telematics data security.

In the second part of this continued installment I’ll talk further about the importance and value of telematics data security and what standards compliance means for insurance telematics applications and automotive safety for Octo, including potentially life-saving crash detection and management capabilities. In the meantime, remain calm and get connected!

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