There’s a Little Grinch In Us All

I’m in a grinchy kind of mood. It has nothing to do with the Grinch in the movies, nor even the one in the White House. Nor does it have to do with the damnable cold and cough I share with half of South Florida. No, it has to do with Big Brother’s little brother, plugged into the lower left side of the dashboard courtesy of my auto insurance company.

The company doesn’t call it a grinch. They call it a driving tracker. My insurance agent told me two things. The first was that I didn’t have to use it but that my rates would go up if I didn’t. Secondly, he said this was the latest innovation the auto insurance companies have come up with to most accurately assess the driving habits of their customers and rate them accordingly. He also told me that was what they told agents who sold Progressive to tell their clients.

Progressive was the first company to use these gimmicks. Frankly, it seems more regressive to me than progressive. The silver device plugs into your car’s computer system and is able to capture all the conversations going on between your car’s systems. “TMI” is one problem. You may not want all that information to be tucked away into Progressive’s computers.

My second problem is my car. I drive a 2015+ (meaning it has everything the 2016 has in it) Volvo XC 60. Better said, it tells me how to drive it. It has the BLIS system which means it is surrounded by electronic beams that tell me about any cars that are alongside me and warns me if it decides they are too close for me to to do anything but stay-put in my lane and be patient.

It has a lane changing system. If I signal a lane change, but I’m endangering myself the BLIS system activates. If I change lanes without a signal it yells at me as it also does if I drift over the lane line. I don’t know how it does this, but it does. The car can be a bit domineering. If you make three unsignaled lane changes on the highway in a certain period of time a “suggestion” lights up on the speedometer that tells you to pull off the road and rest.

If you get too close to something, defined by the car as your not having enough stopping time to avoid hitting it, the car takes over and stops itself. It can scare the pants off you doing that because it has no compunction about what most would call a “panic stop” where most drivers probably would hesitate before slamming on their brakes. Not a second lost, saved for you by the computer.

On the highway, the car never rests. Along with all the above analysis, it constantly calculates the car’s speed and the distance from the car in front of you. If it decides you are too close it makes the decision for you to slow down, which is a very weird feeling. You’re whizzing along at 70 and are overtaken by this sensation that you’re slowing down–65, 60, maybe even 55. It doesn’t tell you to slow down, it does it for you, no questions asked.

All in all, this is a car that does not brook much back talk and everything it tells you it is whispering to Progressive’s little buddy so what do I need the little buddy for? As you might guess the answer is that there are a few more things that buddy wants to know. Are you negotiating turns too sharply? Are you speeding? Are you getting too close to the next car and then hitting the brakes? This is the one that makes me bat-shit. First of all, my car has told me that and quite definitively. A red light flashes where the windshield meets the dashboard in front of my face and a miniaturized claghorn goes off as well. Now mixed into this cacophony comes my little buddy chirping like a hungry sparrow depressingly telling me I’ve done something wrong yet again.

It is the “uh oh you’re too close” feature that maddens me as well. I’ve learned that my little buddy is happiest when I begin to pump the brakes or apply light pressure to them about two football fields away from the car in front of me (maybe I exaggerate), then I’m just about rolling or coasting forward, and slightly depress the brake. Untolled joy for this toy is when you needn’t actually stop the car but have taken so long to slow down that the red light is green and traffic has begun to move forward without your having actually stopped. However, if the light is still red and you have to depress the brake if you depress it hard enough so that car stops with even a slight rocking motion, the sensor goes off.


In a few months, my friend will have learned a lot about me, including how much hair is on my left leg, next to which the little gizmo is nestled. It will then with great expectation assume I’ve kept the box that brought me this little pest, and I will send it back. A month or so later I’ll find out if my rates change.

I did some research to find out how many of these idiot boxes are sucking information out of us. I couldn’t find a number. With the help of US News and World Report, which did an article on them (which says to me its a big number and growing or they wouldn’t be writing about it), I did find out that many of the major insurance companies, like All-State have followed suit each having thought of what they hope is a more palatable name than “spy device” for their plug-ins.

The question remains though, do you want this extra passenger in your car? For some it’s easy. Even though virtually everything electronic today except the toaster is reporting on you the way Nazi kids reported on their parents, aunts, uncles, and neighbors, these folks will not have anything reporting on them if they can help it. So for them, it’s a no.

For folks like me who are blessed to live in Florida but pay the price, literally, for insurance premiums that are the highest in the nation, it’s a bit more complicated. I’m retired, we live on fixed incomes. Saving money is a good thing. I’m 75. For how much longer is what is collected on me going to be of any use? If I could figure out the answer, I’d be writing this from Las Vegas. I can’t, and I’m not, so I exchange my inner driving secrets for a shot at winning lower insurance rates.

US News concludes with this nostrum with which I agree. Insurance companies are out to make the most money they can from you with the least amount of risk (and lowest damage payments they can justify). When you are dealing with an insurance company, read the fine print. In fact, read everything because the odds of you’re coming out on top rank pretty close to the bottom–at least from my perspective.


Gralnick the Grinch wants you to know he appreciates Christmas, especially its music, and most especially when people remember what it is supposed to mean. He writes religiously every Sunday and on occasion writes about religion. You can find all his writing on his website at or his blogs at

Oh yes, as he reminds us, “Read! It’s good for both of us.”





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