What happens when a car teaches you to drive?
That’s a question I started asking when I tested out the 2017 Buick LaCrosse (base price $32,065), a vehicle that uses the new OnStar Smart Driver telematics system.
Buick made significant design changes to the LaCrosse for this model year. The LaCrosse was one of the first “high tech” cars, providing blind spot monitoring, rain-sensing wipers, and other safety features long before they became common on most new vehicles. This radical refresh makes it even better.
Similar to the Progressive SnapShot, Smart Driver knows when you brake too hard, speed up unnecessarily, drive late at night, or drive too fast for too long, and it calculates other factors, like your average MPH and average MPG.
You can enroll in the program and see a driver score each day, week, month, or year. There’s also a lifetime score. When you receive the data, you can then decide if you want to share this information with one of the insurance partners they support — Progressive, Liberty Mutual, and Nationwide. (With SnapShot, that’s not optional once you agree to the terms. Your rate can go up or down.)
I drove the LaCrosse for a week, then had Buick send me the results. It turns out my driving is fairly average — not too aggressive but not too tepid. One day, I hard-braked eight times, which is quite high (the previous day it was only three times). I learned that I needed to stop doing so many jack-rabbit starts and throttle it back a little on the highway. Because of a glitch with my press car enrollment, I didn’t get an overall score for the week. I never drove late at night and my miles were low, so my score would have been positive.
As you can guess, this is the future of driving. Combined with innovations like autonomous driving and cars that can tell when the light turns green, driving analysis is an important step because it means we will have more data (hopefully for our own review as an option). Buick says Smart Driver can reduce your insurance rates by as much as 30 percent.
I have a loftier goal.
Eventually, I want the car to not only analyze how I’m driving but analyze the engine, remind me about maintenance, tweak the settings for the way I drive, and learn about my driving style using AI and machine learning. In other words, I want a future Buick LaCrosse that does more than scan the road for obstructions and other cars. A Tesla Model S sedan already has lidar sensors (despite Elon Musk’s not being a fan of that technology) that can look for other cars and adjust my steering and speed, which is short of fully autonomous driving.
A self-driving car needs to also do self-analysis: What’s the best way to take that corner on the highway, based on my driving style and reams of driver data? What speed works best for getting better fuel economy on my routes? Ford hinted at this future scenario when it partnered with Google to make predictions about your commute way back in 2011. Today, it is not that common to have the car know about your driving habits, although some Mercedes-Benz models can tell when you’ve been driving too long and remind you to take a coffee break.
I could see how this vision could expand. Systems like Smart Driver are a good first entry because they pave the way for the car knowing more about your own driving habits. At night, the car might adjust itself (engine power, more vigilant sensors) because you tend to drive a bit sleepy. In the morning, the car might know there are way more trucks on the road and use an adaptive cruise control setting that automatically keeps you farther away from other vehicles.
This is the connected car future. For now, Smart Driver teaches you not to drive so fast and brake so hard. In the future, it could do much more than that.