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January 29, 2018

Driver or passenger? It’s all in your test drive data.

One of the most common questions we get asked is “How does Root Insurance know whether I’m the driver or passenger during the test drive?”

Since we base your car insurance rate primarily on how you drive, it makes sense that you’d want to be certain we know when you’re the one behind the wheel.

The Root test drive starts with your smartphone

We measure your driving behavior through the Root test drive to give you the rate you deserve. 

After you download the Root app and begin to drive, we collect high-frequency sensor data from instruments that already exist in your smartphone.

Global positioning system (GPS)

GPS is used anytime you open Google Maps or other navigation apps. In addition to latitude and longitude, your GPS collects data including speed, altitude, and the direction you're heading.


The accelerometer detects the acceleration of your phone, which plays a big role in determining whether you’re driving in a car. It shows if you’re accelerating too quickly or slamming the brakes abruptly—two of the main factors that determine your Root test drive score. 


You'll find gyroscopes in other technology, too, but the one in your phone helps collect your rotation rates. Basically, it monitors and maintains your phone’s orientation during movement. The gyroscope can tell whether your phone is flat on a table or angled upward like you’re holding it. Don’t worry, if your phone is mounted on your dash or in a static holder, we can tell you aren't holding it, even if it’s upright. The gyroscope helps us measure how smooth or sharp your turns are, which directly factors into your driving score. 


The magnetometer works with the accelerometer and gyroscope to detect your phone's orientation. Like a compass, it measures your phone’s relation to the Earth's magnetic field.

All of the data collected through these instruments are put into an algorithm that accurately determines the motion of your phone. 

And the motion of your phone looks different when you're the driver versus a passenger. During the course of your Root test drive, the motion from your phone develops patterns, and these patterns help us make sense of the data. Once we’re confident with the measurements, your test drive ends.

Planes, trains or automobiles–how can we tell the difference?

Different forms of transportation transmit different data. So, it’s easy to tell whether you’re driving, riding a bike, taking the bus or subway, or even flying.

For example, if you're riding a bike, the speed patterns will be much slower, as will acceleration and deceleration rates.

Trains and buses also have distinct rates of curvature. We can even merge the data we receive from your phone with a data set of train and bus routes. Of course, planes are pretty straightforward to recognize, since they travel very fast through the air. All of this data combined shows us your mode of transportation.

The technology in our phones is finally smart enough to make car insurance fair. And that’s why Root exists. See how much you could save with an auto insurance rate that’s based primarily on your good driving. 

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