Driving apps for smartphones are becoming increasingly popular nowadays, and are a great way to see how your driving standards measure up. They can save you some serious money too, as you’ll find out if you read on.
How do driving apps work?
The technical term for the technology behind these apps is telematics. Essentially, all of these safe driving apps use your phone’s GPS to assess your driving, usually in a number of different ways, such as judging the smoothness of your breaking and your adherence to speed limits.
Over a period of several weeks, my wife and I took at good look at all the main telematics apps on the UK market, and road-tested three of them in detail. I used an iPhone 6 and the latest iPhone 6s for our tests, but there are plenty of Android driving apps out there too – just see below for details.
What can driving apps do for you?
Telematics driving apps are often linked to specific insurance companies. As use of the apps allows the companies to track your driving style, they can offer discounts to those who exercise consistently safe driving habits.
Let’s use Aviva as an example: If you use the Aviva Drive app, you are given a driving score after you’ve covered 200 monitored miles. Depending on your score, you can save up to 20% on a car insurance policy. Aviva state, at the time of writing, that people using the app save an average of £112.
Are there any privacy concerns?
In order to track your driving, the driving apps obviously have to track where you are. This kind of thing is increasingly part of modern life, but if you’re uncomfortable with sharing this kind of information, perhaps telematics apps aren’t for you.
One thing that bothered me slightly to begin with is that all of the apps I road tested required me to have my location available to the app, even when not using it.
After some time spent with the apps, it became clear why they work like this; If I’d been required to manually start the app at the beginning of every car journey, I would have forgotten half the time. The fact that location services are permanently available to the apps means your journeys get tracked automatically, without any effort on your part beyond confirming whether or not you were driving when you next go into the app.
These apps wouldn’t really be that useful if they didn’t work in this way, but if you decide to use them, you have to accept that the company behind the app knows where you are all the time – and that will obviously be off-putting to some. My wife and I were inclined to think that as Facebook and Google know where we are most of the time, telling a couple of insurance companies wasn’t going to do that much harm!
With that out the way, let’s proceed to the road tests.
Our Top Choice: Mi Universe
AVAILABLE FOR: iOS, Android
Mi Universe differs from most of the UK telematics apps in that it’s not linked (at the time of writing) to any particular UK car insurance company. Instead, you “unlock” discounts as you progress and cover more miles using the app. We won’t tell you exactly that these discounts are but they’re undoubtedly useful and valuable to you as a motorist.
Mi Universe is definitely one of the most enjoyable telematics apps to use. Most importantly, it accurately auto-tracks your journeys, so you can forget about it and leave it to do its thing.
There’s no shortage of information returned by Mi Universe, and this is definitely the driving app we’d recommend to the real motoring enthusiasts out there. You can even see the fuel cost and carbon emissions for each journey taken. Another pleasing feature is the ability to upload documents like driving licences and insurance cover notes. This functionality all links with your smartphone camera, so you can easily build a library of all this info without dusting off your old document scanner.
Nothing’s perfect, and I do therefore have a couple of small criticisms with the app. A little more practical advice to complement the percentages would be handy, especially so I could easily work out what exactly I did, for example, to cause the braking score to suddenly drop!
Secondly, as data is all stored on Mii Universe’s servers, sometimes retrieving it is a little slower than ideal. However, the flip side of this is that when I upgraded from an iPhone 6 to a 6S, all my data was ready and waiting after I restored the backup to my new smartphone.
Finally, one last irritation is that it’s really easy to inadvertently tap the “Start New Journey” icon when playing around with the app, resulting in a bunch of invalid journeys lasting just a few seconds. The app is smart enough to not include these in the journey list, but a small tweak to the user interface could quickly eliminate this annoyance.
All in all, however, Mi Universe is a great telematics app for the driving enthusiast, especially if you’re one for facts, figures and stats. It’s free, and using it gains you rewards and offers – what’s not to like?
2. Aviva Drive App
AVAILABLE FOR: iOS, Android, Windows Phone
The Aviva Drive app is a very different beast to Mi Universe.
For a start, it’s much more simple and straightforward, and it’s also linked to Aviva car insurance. After covering 200 miles using the app, I revealed a score of 9.4 out of 10, which qualified for a 20% car insurance discount.
As far as the app itself is concerned, there’s a lot less here than in Mii Universe. It still provides a useful list of journeys, but tapping into one only provides a map, along with time, mileage and journey duration. There are no emissions figures or journey costs.
Beyond that, you can share and compare driving scores by using social media, and win some rudimentary achievement badges – although I’m not quite sure why I didn’t earn more of these given the high overall score!
Aviva Drive isn’t that exciting but it works, and is very clearly linked to cheaper car insurance. It’s well worth a look, especially if you’re already an Aviva customer.
3. More Than Drive App
AVAILABLE FOR: iOS, Android
The MoreThan Drive app is, unsurprisingly, linked to MoreThan car insurance.
It’s a great app, with functionality pitched almost exactly between the all singing, all dancing Mi Universe and the more stripped-down Aviva effort.
I particularly liked the fact this app gives out actual written advice on things like acceleration and braking rather than a distinctly more abstract percentage score.
However, there’s a problem, and one I can’t ignore. By default, the More Than app has a feature activated to “Disable Autostart on WiFi.” This means that if you set off on a journey whilst still connected to a WiFi network, it doesn’t automatically record the journey. At my home I can still pick up WiFi outside where the car is parked, as will be the case for many people.
The idea of this is to save battery life, but it means you need to manually record each journey – something easily forgotten. Worst of all, on both of my test iPhones, trying to toggle the setting off resulted in the app crashing and returning me to the home screen.
There’s so much to play with in the More Than app, including achievement badges and even social leagues – and of course the chance to get cheaper insurance. Sadly, this technical glitch meant I didn’t capture nearly as much journey information as I did with the other apps I road-tested.
Other Driving Apps in the UK
The apps I road-rested are the mere tip of the iceberg. Telematics apps are cropping up everywhere at the moment! Here are some basics on a few of the others out there right now:
Direct Line DrivePlus
AVAILABLE FOR: iOS, Android, Online desktop portal
Direct Line’s option provides cheaper car insurance for people willing to have a telematics box installed in their car to permanently monitor their driving. (More Than and other insurance firms have this option too, often known as “black box insurance.”)
It still uses an app, which looks a lot like Mi Universe. Under 26s can get a discount up-front just for having the box installed.
AVAILABLE FOR: iOS, Android
Admiral’s “AppyDriver” offering is probably most like Aviva Drive, but you must cover 250 miles rather than 200 before you get a rating that will affect your car insurance premium. This app also uses Bronze / Silver / Gold ratings rather than percentages.
The colourful app features badges and achievements, and quite a good range of stats too.
AVAILABLE FOR: iOS, Android
The Octo U telematics app is another option, like Mi Universe, which isn’t linked to any particular car insurance firm. However, the company do still highlight the potential to earn discounts with your driving score.
One part of Octo U which is currently unique is its ability to also track the weather conditions while you are driving – something that adds a whole new dimension to your collected stats. It’s rumoured that weather integration will soon become a key part of motoring telematics.
Driving Apps: Some Important Considerations
After spending some time with some of these apps, it’s easy to become convinced by their benefits, and it seems that the use of telematics will continue to increase, especially as part of insurance policies for young drivers who can save on their premiums by having their motoring behaviour monitored.
As we said above, there’s undoubtedly a privacy implication here. It’s similar to using social media really; If you’d rather not share, you don’t have to, but you miss out on the benefits – in this case discounts, offers, and access to interesting stats. Whether you choose to make that compromise is really up to you.
Last year, a report in The Daily Mail stated that telematics will be standard-issue by the end of this decade. Separate reports have revealed that data recorded by telematics apps and systems can be handed over to the authorities in the event of accidents.
On that basis it looks like driving apps using telematics are the new reality, whether you like them or not. Sure, that’s not great news if you’re a bit of a speed demon, but for everyone else, these safe driving apps should make the UK’s roads less dangerous for everyone.