Crashboxx hopes to steer way to success

FORT COLLINS – Peter Byrne’s little black box could change the way people drive, saving money and potentially lives.

The small box plugs in below the steering wheel above a driver’s right knee; its software records the vehicle’s location, crash data and, crucially, whether the driver is speeding or doing anything else on the road that might be considered reckless.

“The value proposition of this is it allows you to manage driver behavior,” said Byrne, a 20-year auto-safety industry veteran. “Driver behavior is directly related to crash causation and injuries on the road.”

Byrne, president of Fort Collins-based Crashboxx, began developing the product three years ago with business partner and engineer Greg Bayley. They maintain an office in the Rocky Mountain Innosphere, the tech company incubator in Fort Collins.

The company has plenty of competition, including one of the leaders in the niche, Redwood Shores, Calif.-based GreenRoad.

But Byrne believes Crashboxx is different, and better.

“What makes us unique is that we combine the driver behavior and crash (data) all in one platform, and we’ve got video, as well,” Byrne said.

Advances in road infrastructure and vehicle safety over the years have left one thing to improve upon: driver behavior, he said.

Byrne hopes Crashboxx will help parents and employers alike prevent crashes. That’s important considering the more than 32,300 traffic deaths in 2011 in the U.S. alone, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Many automakers already equip vehicles with black boxes, or so-called event data recorders. But these devices often engage only after an airbag is triggered and record data such as speed, braking and seatbelt use only in the seconds before and after a crash.

These factory-installed black boxes do not have Global Positioning Systems tracking capabilities, which Crashboxx does.

Additionally, Crashboxx is constantly recording what’s going on.

There’s another difference that Crashboxx is promoting:

In many cases, drivers lack the means to access data recorded on its competitors’ black boxes.

That’s not the case with the Crashboxx, which allows its owners to review whatever data the device collects.

John Bowman, spokesman for the National Motorists Association in Waunakee, Wisc., said that lack of access in some machines has raised privacy concerns because most new vehicles come installed with these devices whether the consumer wants them or not.

Indeed, the data recorded can be subpoenaed as evidence in court cases and could be used against a driver.

Regardless, black boxes may be required in all new cars beginning in 2015, if Congress votes in favor of them.

At the moment, instead of trying to sell his device to carmakers, Byrne markets the Crashboxx as an after-market product, meaning directly to vehicle owners.

Byrne has sold the $130 plug-in hardware for more than year, but only recently has started selling the entire package, including software developed by Kevin Kaiser, general manager of another Innosphere company, Clear Path Labs.

A subscription that gives customers access to the software costs $16 to $18 per vehicle per month depending on the options chosen by the customer. He also plans a version aimed at parents of teen drivers.

Besides putting the brakes on poor driving habits, Crashboxx’s product could influence everything from auto insurance premiums to police investigations.

The Fort Collins Police Department already extracts data from airbag modules to conduct crash investigations, Officer Drew Jurkofsky said.

Products like Crashboxx could play an important role as the insurance industry shifts from assessing a driver’s risk based on age or where they live to analyzing individual risk.

For example, Progressive Casualty Insurance has a product called Snapshot that notes the number of miles driven, times a driver operates a vehicle, as well as sudden stops. It then offers a discount for good drivers after a month of monitoring those driver behaviors.

“Auto insurers, with the policyholders’ permission, are offering so-called pay-as-you-drive products,” said Michael Barry, spokesman for the Insurance Information Institute in New York City. “This allows the auto insurer to get a more accurate reading on the policyholders’ driving habits, while at the same time allowing the policyholder to reduce their premiums.”

Insurance companies, Byrne said, could use Crashboxx to investigate claims. As an example, they could use Crashboxx’s device to measure the force in a vehicle crash to verify injuries such as whiplash, a common claim in insurance fraud.

Similarly, the device could help insurers and employers investigate worker’s compensation claims.

There already are plans to sell Crashboxx to insurance companies.

Ottawa, Canada-based troo Corp., a fleet-vehicle software tracking firm with 600 customers in 40 countries, aims to start by marketing Crashboxx’s device to South African insurers.

In addition, it’s testing Crashboxx’s black box with the intent to resell to companies that want to track their vehicle fleets, said Pat Fitzgerald, troo’s VP of sales.

Fitzgerald points out that fleet operators also can save money by using Crashboxx to identify and stop excessive idling as well as heavy acceleration and braking, he said.

“Some other (black-box device) companies will do very basic driver analytics,” he said. “This one’s all-encompassing.”

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