Here’s what happened when I tried Aviva’s free dash cam for a week

The Aviva dash cam in action. Image: Aviva.
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The use of dash cams has risen in recent years with a quarter of UK drivers now using one. I downloaded Aviva’s free version, via the Aviva Drive app, to see why this handy gadget is the latest must-have car accessory.

Confession time: I hate driving in London. I loathe it. In fact, I’d rather get the bus.

Unfortunately, the car is a faster and much more comfortable way to ferry my small children around. And I’m a pretty good driver, a safe one, that is. I’ve not had an accident. Yet.

One thing I do like however is getting free stuff so, when I heard that Aviva had a dash cam app I could download for nothing, naturally I was keen to give it a go.

If you’re not familiar with them, dash cams are small cameras that record your view of the road so – if you’re unlucky enough to have an accident – you can prove exactly what happened.

I’d been curious about buying one (having had some near misses in the past), so saw the appeal, but didn’t really want to pay for one (the cost varies from £30 to £500) or wire it into my car.

And I’m not alone. More than 10.9 million1 UK drivers currently use a dash cam, their popularity perhaps fuelled by the fear of ‘crash for cash’ (a known scam where car accidents are staged by fraudsters so they can make an insurance claim) and unease about the poor state of driving standards in general.

Here’s what I learned when I tried the Aviva Drive dash cam app for a week.

Setting it up

When I told friends I was trialling a dash cam, one told me about the time he bought and attempted to set up a conventional dash cam, only to abandon it thanks to the myriad fiddly wires he was tasked to attach. He returned it and vowed never again.

Thankfully, the app was idiot-proof. After downloading it from my app store, I just had to open it, scroll through some short instructions and press start to record my journey.

The dash cam in place. Image: Aviva.

Getting the position right on my car was a bit harder, as you want the camera to get a full view of the road without obstructing your own. Aviva recommends using the app with a cradle you attach to your windscreen (pictured), which sounds more daunting to set up than it was.

I was given my cradle by Aviva, but a quick Google assured me they can be bought online for around £10.

Other people’s driving

When I downloaded the app I had visions of triumphantly capturing the city’s most hostile, dangerous drivers on film.

I live opposite a primary school on a very narrow road and the traffic around the gates can be a bit scary at times. I found it reassuring to know that, should someone clip my wing mirror, I could prove I wasn’t at fault.

Apart from the school run (which is brutal), my week using the dash cam made me realise London drivers are not that bad. Sure, there are a few people who can’t park or who do drive aggressively, but since I’ve been testing the app I haven’t seen anything truly dangerous.

People observe the speed limit, indicate and, on occasion, even let other drivers out. Aren’t we a considerate lot?


My own driving

I’ve become hyper-aware of my own driving since using the app. Perhaps when I’ve used it for longer I’ll become less self conscious, but for now it’s stopped me gong into autopilot on occasion, which is a good thing.

And it’s not just me. Research suggests that using a dash cam might make people safer drivers. According to a study by Aviva, 46% of drivers2 who tested their dash cam claimed that their driving had improved since using it.

And if critiquing my own driving isn’t enough, the app also monitors it and, helpfully, gives me a score out of 10. Gentle braking, a safe speed and smooth acceleration are all favoured.

I found this quite annoying at first. Then I realised that if, after 200 miles, the app deems you a safe driver, Aviva grants you a discount on your insurance when it’s time to renew.

Oh, and you won’t get penalised if your driving isn’t quite up to scratch. Happy days.

Phones are a distraction

The app doesn’t allow you to take calls, play music or use your sat-nav on your phone while the dash cam feature is in use.

That’s fine, I thought. My humble Yaris doesn’t boast the latest systems that connect your phone to your dash, and I don’t need a sat-nav.

What I have learned is that I use my phone more than I realise, mostly by taking hands-free calls. This is, of course, perfectly legal, but can be distraction.

I was pleased I could use the app with the ‘Driving – Do Not Disturb’ feature on, and put it to good use.

Accidents happen

I didn’t have an accident while trialling the app, but was curious to see what would happen if I did.

My wish was soon granted. The app is sensitive and it ‘detected’ that I’d had an accident on a couple of occasions: once, when I dropped the phone when taking it out of the cradle and another time when I drove over a speed bump too quickly.

The app retains 30 seconds of footage before and after a suspected collision. It actually records the entire journey but on a loop, only keeping it if an accident is detected or if you touch the screen. If not, the video is deleted automatically so as not to use up precious memory on your phone. 

Watching the video. Image: Aviva.

You then have the option to be put straight through to Aviva’s claims team and send your footage to them from the app directly, if you wish.

Great news if you’re an Aviva motor insurance customer but I’m not sure how it works if you insure elsewhere (you don’t have to be insured with Aviva to use the app).

Final thoughts

The dash cam on the Aviva Drive app is easy to use, quick to set up (once your cradle is in place) and free – the fact it rewards safer driving habits with an insurance discount is a nice bonus too. It’s also reassuring to know that the footage could be used as evidence and help resolve my claim more quickly if I was in an accident.

But it’s not perfect. The collision detection software is a little too sensitive (although this is better than not picking up genuine accidents) and drains my year-old Samsung 7’s battery if I’m on a long journey. Aviva recommends using an in-car phone charger for this reason.

It only records the view in front of your vehicle, so if you’re hit from behind the recording won’t be of much use (other than to prove you weren’t reversing). There’s nothing stopping you from setting it up to face the other way, but I imagine this would be a bit of a chore.

All in all, the dash cam app is a fantastic bit of in-car tech, and it’s free, so I’ll continue to use it and look forward to receiving my discount next year.

This is a sponsored article by Aviva. Find out more about the dash cam app here.

1Research conducted by Censuswide on behalf of Aviva in June 2018.

2Research conducted by Censuswide on behalf of Aviva in June 2018.

 
 
 
 

Just like teenagers, self-driving cars need practice to really learn to drive

A self-driving car, of unknown level of education. Image: Grendelkhan/Flickr/creative commons.

What do self-driving cars and teenage drivers have in common?

Experience. Or, more accurately, a lack of experience.

Teenage drivers – novice drivers of any age, actually – begin with little knowledge of how to actually operate a car’s controls, and how to handle various quirks of the rules of the road. In North America, their first step in learning typically consists of fundamental instruction conveyed by a teacher. With classroom education, novice drivers are, in effect, programmed with knowledge of traffic laws and other basics. They then learn to operate a motor vehicle by applying that programming and progressively encountering a vast range of possibilities on actual roadways. Along the way, feedback they receive – from others in the vehicle as well as the actual experience of driving – helps them determine how best to react and function safely.

The same is true for autonomous vehicles. They are first programmed with basic knowledge. Red means stop; green means go, and so on. Then, through a form of artificial intelligence known as machine learning, self-driving autos draw from both accumulated experiences and continual feedback to detect patterns, adapt to circumstances, make decisions and improve performance.

For both humans and machines, more driving will ideally lead to better driving. And in each case, establishing mastery takes a long time. Especially as each learns to address the unique situations that are hard to anticipate without experience – a falling tree, a flash flood, a ball bouncing into the street, or some other sudden event. Testing, in both controlled and actual environments, is critical to building know-how. The more miles that driverless cars travel, the more quickly their safety improves. And improved safety performance will influence public acceptance of self-driving car deployment – an area in which I specialise.

Starting with basic skills

Experience, of course, must be built upon a foundation of rudimentary abilities – starting with vision. Meeting that essential requirement is straightforward for most humans, even those who may require the aid of glasses or contact lenses. For driverless cars, however, the ability to see is an immensely complex process involving multiple sensors and other technological elements:

  • radar, which uses radio waves to measure distances between the car and obstacles around it;
  • LIDAR, which uses laser sensors to build a 360-degree image of the car’s surroundings;
  • cameras, to detect people, lights, signs and other objects;
  • satellites, to enable GPS, global positioning systems that can pinpoint locations;
  • digital maps, which help to determine and modify routes the car will take;
  • a computer, which processes all the information, recognising objects, analysing the driving situation and determining actions based on what the car sees.

How a driverless car ‘sees’ the road.

All of these elements work together to help the car know where it is at all times, and where everything else is in relation to it. Despite the precision of these systems, however, they’re not perfect. The computer can know which pictures and sensory inputs deserve its attention, and how to correctly respond, but experience only comes from traveling a lot of miles.

The learning that is occurring by autonomous cars currently being tested on public roads feeds back into central systems that make all of a company’s cars better drivers. But even adding up all the on-road miles currently being driven by all autonomous vehicles in the U.S. doesn’t get close to the number of miles driven by humans every single day.

Dangerous after dark

Seeing at night is more challenging than during the daytime – for self-driving cars as well as for human drivers. Contrast is reduced in dark conditions, and objects – whether animate or inanimate – are more difficult to distinguish from their surroundings. In that regard, a human’s eyes and a driverless car’s cameras suffer the same impairment – unlike radar and LIDAR, which don’t need sunlight, streetlights or other lighting.

This was a factor in March in Arizona, when a pedestrian pushing her bicycle across the street at night was struck and killed by a self-driving Uber vehicle. Emergency braking, disabled at the time of the crash, was one issue. The car’s sensors were another issue, having identified the pedestrian as a vehicle first, and then as a bicycle. That’s an important distinction, because a self-driving car’s judgments and actions rely upon accurate identifications. For instance, it would expect another vehicle to move more quickly out of its path than a person walking.


Try and try again

To become better drivers, self-driving cars need not only more and better technological tools, but also something far more fundamental: practice. Just like human drivers, robot drivers won’t get better at dealing with darkness, fog and slippery road conditions without experience.

Testing on controlled roads is a first step to broad deployment of driverless vehicles on public streets. The Texas Automated Vehicle Proving Grounds Partnership, involving the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, University of Texas at Austin, and Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas, operates a group of closed-course test sites.

Self-driving cars also need to experience real-world conditions, so the Partnership includes seven urban regions in Texas where equipment can be tested on public roads. And, in a separate venture in July, self-driving startup Drive.ai began testing its own vehicles on limited routes in Frisco, north of Dallas.

These testing efforts are essential to ensuring that self-driving technologies are as foolproof as possible before their widespread introduction on public roadways. In other words, the technology needs time to learn. Think of it as driver education for driverless cars.

People learn by doing, and they learn best by doing repeatedly. Whether the pursuit involves a musical instrument, an athletic activity or operating a motor vehicle, individuals build proficiency through practice.

The ConversationSelf-driving cars, as researchers are finding, are no different from teens who need to build up experience before becoming reliably safe drivers. But at least the cars won’t have to learn every single thing for themselves – instead, they’ll talk to each other and share a pool of experience.

Johanna Zmud, Senior Research Scientist, Texas A&M Transportation Institute, Texas A&M University .

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.