Root looks to partner with automakers to get connected-car data

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Telematics insurer Root is in talks with auto manufacturers in search of alternative driver data from connected cars for claims and underwriting.

Company CEO Alex Timm says that together, vehicle and insurance data can better inform carriers about driving frequency in real time—taking the speculation of how much policyholders drive away from carriers.

Agreements with original equipment manufacturers, or OEMs, will also ensure Root benefits from autonomous technology as it continues to mature, Timm says. The insurer currently sports a partnership with Tesla covering drivers when they turn on semi-autonomic features on the luxury vehicles.

“If you don’t have partnerships with OEM’s, you should,” says Timm, who was in Detroit discussing terms with automakers last week. “In traditional insurance, you don’t know how much people are driving until you see your losses.”

Despite its investment in the technology, Root believes full autonomy is far in the future as driverless has been approached with data science and is difficult to get right 100% of the time. Timm believes the auto industry is only 10% to 20% there. However he predicts as more autonomous features are churned out, “We will see fewer accidents. Semi-autonomous vehicles tend to drive safer.”

Focused on expansion

Root, launched in 2015, underwrites auto insurance based on 200 driver risk characteristics. Upon signing up, Customers drive for three weeks while the insurtech measures personal driving habits to conjure up quotes using its mobile app. Hard braking, speeding and turning are among the key metrics observed by the company.

This week the startup will announce Oklahoma as the sixth state in its distribution network joining Arizona, Indiana, Illinois, Utah and its home state of Ohio as states where policies are available to drivers.

Root’s growing team of 60 employees, consisting of mostly engineers and data scientists, has also been busy on the tech front. The company recently rolled out its texting and driving model, which uses the micro-vibrations of a phone to determine whether policyholders are looking at mobile devices while operating their vehicle. Root can now measure the duration of distraction and is implementing the data in its underwriting Timm says. The company will soon factor distracted driving data into pricing for premium discounts as well.

Additionally, Root has added a mobile option for customers filing first notice of loss reports. Drivers can now fill out accident information and send it directly to an adjuster via Root’s smartphone app. The insurtech however finds many of its policyholders still prefer to speak with customer service representatives at the time of a claim.

“There’s a lot of R&D around claims launching next year,” said Timm. “Including how to detect accidents with phone and decipher damage and close the claim without human interaction.”

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