The nation’s largest insurer has stepped up its investment in telematics, announcing this week an upgrade to its usage-based insurance program that allows policyholders to check on their driving habits trip-by-trip instead of waiting for a periodic score card.

State Farm Mutual Insurance Co. announced a partnership with Cambridge Mobile Telematics to launch version 3.0 of the Drive Safe & Save Mobile app, which uses smartphone sensors and a beacon device affixed to the vehicle to detect hard braking, excessive speed, harsh acceleration and hard cornering and delivers reports in “real time.” The system can also tell when the driver is distracted by his or her cell phone.

State Farm offers an immediate 5 percent savings to policyholders who enroll and discounts of up to 30 percent for the safest driving scores.

“Users can now see exactly what driving patterns have affected their performance. For example, I can now learn that I always make a hard brake at a particular stop sign, and I can work to correct that with better anticipation. Previously, I was only able to get general information about the entire driving experience,” State Farm Director of Telematic Services Scott Bruns said in a press release.

Bruns said in a telephone interview that prior versions of the Drive Safe & Save program also tracked driving habits such as hard braking, but drivers learned about their bad habits when they received a semi-annual grade based on a 12-month rolling average.

“It didn’t change often enough to meet our customers’ needs,” Bruns said.

The new system allows drivers to check their driver scores for any period of time, even for a particular trip. It will be useful for drivers who are working to improve safety and save on premiums, as well as parents who want to keep an eye on teenage drivers, said Ryan McMahon, vice president of marketing for Cambridge Mobile Telematics.

“What we offer is an opportunity to use your own driving data for your advantage,” McMahon said.

Nine of the top 10 private passenger automobile insurers have usage-based insurance programs in place, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

The programs are growing in popularity, said Lucian McMahon, senior research analyst at the Insurance Information Institute. McMahon said as of late last year, there were 10 to 11 million telematics-enabled insurance policies in place, out of some 200 million insured automobiles.

“People are pretty optimistic that that number is only getting to get bigger,” McMahon said. “It may not be that everybody is falling head over heels, but more and more people seem willing to share driving data with their insurer.”

Much of that growth is driven by the growing number of telematics devices installed in automobiles by manufacturers. Statistica, a firm that collects market data, estimates that there are 49.7 million connected cars in the United States now — 20 million more than just two years ago. The number of connected cars is projected to grow to 95.7 million by 2023.

The telematics movement got a boost in January with publication of a report by the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences, a professional society of research and analytics professionals. INFORMS examined the database of a “major U.S. automobile insurance company” and discovered that drivers who enrolled in usage-based insurance programs decreased hard brakes by 21 percent after six months. Younger drivers improved their driving more than older; female drivers more than males.

“We also observed greater improvement for drivers who received more negative feedback on hard brakes,” stated researcher Ting Zhu, with Purdue University. The level of economic incentive was also a factor associated with changes in driving behavior, INFORMS said.

Cambridge Mobile Telematics keeps its own statistics. It says drivers reduced distracted driving incidents by 40 percent and hard braking by 18 percent 60 days after enrolling in its Drive Well program, which State Farm has adopted for use with its usage-based insurance program.

One major carrier its taking a contrary attitude: Berkshire Hathaway’s GEICO is the only one of the top 10 private passenger carriers that does not have a usage-based insurance program.

GEICO mocks its competitors use of telematics in advertising. One commercial features “Smart Dogs” that vigilantly watch for distracted driving, even knocking cell phones out of their master’s hands.

The ad ends with a message: “Smart Dogs are not the answer,” and urges motorists to turn on the do-not-disturb feature on their cell phones.

*This story appeared previously in our sister publication Claims Journal.