I received a solicitation from my auto insurance company offering at least a 5 percent discount if I would install a tracking device in my car. The device would use GPS, and perhaps cell phone tower triangulation, to monitor all of my driving.
The insurance company would know how many miles I drive, and where. It would also know my driving habits behind the wheel. How quickly I accelerate, or how abruptly I brake. It would know how fast I drive, and I suppose, could compare my speeds with the posted limit. It would also know when I’m driving and may make inferences from the time of day I am on the road.
I immediately thought this is too much personal data to give up. But then I realized I have been flying with this level of monitoring for decades. From taxi out to taxi in on most of my trips the FAA monitors everything I do, and everything I say on the frequency. In jets every word spoken in the cockpit is recorded. And for airline flying every control input, airspeed, altitude and major system operation is recorded and available for examination.
If you fly only VFR you may think you escape FAA tracking, but not entirely. Over the past several years the FAA has developed software that can identify on radar recordings pilots squawking VFR transponder codes, and often even a primary target with no transponder. This capability is used most frequently in accident investigations where the FAA can now show the NTSB investigators the flight path, altitudes, ground speeds and so on of a pilot who never once called a controller. But the same techniques could be used to locate almost any airplane on a radar recording for whatever reason.
Is this almost continuous tracking of our flying behavior by the government a problem? I don’t know. It’s been part of my flying, particularly IFR flying, for so long I guess I have just grown accustomed to being monitored and recorded at all times.
Airline crews had to come to grips with cockpit voice recorders, and flight data recorders, years ago. One of the beneficial efforts of pilots’ unions was to demand rules that prevent the recordings from being used for enforcement, or for performance monitoring by airline management. That policy has changed somewhat with development of flight quality assurance programs that permit safety experts to examine recordings looking for unsafe operational patterns, but even there, the information cannot be used for enforcement or discipline unless there are willful, almost criminal actions on the part of pilots.
When cockpit voice recorders became required equipment in business jets several years ago we all tried to stick totally to business, especially during taxi and pre-takeoff checks. Who wants something like a blown tire event to allow people to listen to you discuss last night’s dinner, or whatever, as you roll toward the runway. But, hard as you may try, we tend to forget, at least sometime, that that little mic is there and listening to every word.
It’s odd, but I’m beginning to think I trust the government more when it comes to tracking my performance, at least in the cockpit, than I do an insurance company following me in my car. Yes, busting an assigned altitude, or not following a controller’s clearance can have serious consequences. But I know that we pilots and controllers are all working for the same goal which is to do our jobs with as few mistakes as possible and to promote safety. When it comes to private industry like an automobile insurance company what is the goal? Pretty clearly it is to make more money by weeding out the higher risk drivers and not insuring them, or charging them much higher premiums.
I agree to fly in the system with all of its continuous and automated tracking and recording of my performance because I think I’m up to the challenge. I really don’t think about the voice and radar recordings, I just want to do the best I possibly can as a pilot.
I also think I’m an ok driver who doesn’t fib to the insurance company about how much I drive in a year, or drive like I did when I was a teenager. But having some insurance company snoops looking at my every move behind the wheel is still a little creepy. And I fear that we may be tarred with presumed guilt if we don’t install a tracking device in our car.
So watch me fly all you want, but I’m still trying to decide what to let my car insurance company know about how I drive.