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Have you ever heard the word telematics being used and wondered, “what is telematics?”?  We at Redtail Telematics have put together some information that we hope you might find helpful in answering that question.

According to Wikipedia, Telematics is:

Telematics is an interdisciplinary field that encompasses telecommunications, vehicular technologies (road transportroad safety, etc.), electrical engineering (sensors, instrumentation, wireless communications, etc.), and computer science (multimedia, Internet, etc.).

Telematics can involve any of the following:

What can telematics be used for?

The most commonly known use of telematics is for usage-based insurance.  Telematics-based car insurance will include the use of a telematics (black box) device in the vehicle.  The car insurance company will then give the policyholder driver feedback.  This is often followed by an increase or reduction in insurance costs based on driving behaviour.

Telematics is about monitoring your driving through behaviours such as your speed, braking and acceleration.

The data is recorded using various methods such as hard-wired or self-fit devices, or smartphone apps.  Redtail’s driver scoring is more detailed, so it uses many other factors, including environmental factors.  For example, the type of roads you drive along, the time of day you tend to drive (in the context of if it’s during the busier periods, not late-night driving) and your average speed in relation to other users of the same road at the same time of day.

This data allows car insurance companies to build a picture of the driver and establish a “risk” score.

Risk score is used to define how safe/unsafe the person’s driving is and offer rewards.

There are other uses for telematics in car insurance too.  Pay-by-mile car insurance companies, like By Miles or KOBA, use telematics data to work out insurance costs from miles driven.  This is a very cost-effective option if you need car insurance but don’t drive many miles each year.

Another option is for stolen vehicle recovery.  In this case, the black boxes are usually professionally fitted so they are somewhere hidden.

A car owner can install a telematics device in their vehicle to track their vehicle if it gets stolen

Telematics is also great for managing a fleet of vehicles.  You can use the data to monitor efficiency, safety, required maintenance etc.  This feedback can all be used to, for example:

  • Help optimise delivery routes
  • Reduce the time a vehicle is off the road for maintenance
  • Identify and remove any high-risk drivers or provide them with more training to make them safer on the roads

We’ve even been using our telematics technology in partnership with Synaptiv to work on pothole identification.  We’ll be talking about this in more detail soon, so I won’t focus on that too much now.  However, what I will say is that it is an exciting project!

What different types of Telematics devices are there?

Hardwired (professional-install)

Require a professional engineer. Great if you’re worried someone might tamper with the device. Since these are usually well hidden, they are useful for stolen vehicle recovery.  These are the most reliable and record the most accurate data. However, they can also be the most expensive because they need an expert to fit them.


OBD (self-install)

They are self-install and are usually very small because they connect to the vehicle’s OBD port. The data is just as reliable as a hard-wired device. However, self-fit can mean they aren’t always secured properly or get knocked out of the port.


12v plug-in (self-install)

These devices are also self-install, but they plug into the 12v socket in the vehicle. As with OBD devices, the data from these is just as reliable as a hard-wired device. Again, like OBD devices, a downside of these is if the “installer” doesn’t secure it properly.  In other words, the device can be prone to getting knocked about. Additionally, users might also be tempted to unplug this device if they want to use the 12v socket for another device. Redtail’s variant comes with a USB socket on the 12v plug and tamper detection technology to lower these risks.


Smartphone-as-a-sensor (no external installation required)

In contrast to the other options, this option requires no installation of any external device.  This is because the user’s phone is the telematics device. However, this is the least reliable option and should be avoided in favour of the telematics device where possible. Consequently, the data can be less appealing for crash analysis and claims handling; two key benefits of telematics data. Also, different phone brands have slight differences in how they work so no two phones will produce the same data. Furthermore, a phone will never be put in the same location in a vehicle every time, which affects the calibration/orientation sensors.


There are lots of negatives with this option, but there are positives too. For example, it’s:

  • A cheap option (for insurer and insured because no one has to pay the cost of a black box)
  • Less invasive/disruptive to the vehicle (no “unsightly” aftermarket devices)
  • Convenient (insured doesn’t have to find a time to book a fitting or to fit the box themselves)

Having read the options, which device do you think you would choose?

I have an OBD device in my car, so I suppose that’s my answer.  The Redtail OBD devices are so small and fit nicely in the OBD socket, so I easily forget it’s there.

So, hopefully, the information you’ve read above has proved helpful.  Do you think you could answer the question “what is telematics?” if someone asked you?  Hopefully, with our help, the answer is yes you can!

We’d love to hear your questions if there is anything telematics-related that we haven’t cleared up in this article.  Put your questions or comments in the comments section below and we’ll see if we can answer them.