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Conservation drives new idea

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A new insurance idea in which motorists shell out money only for the number of miles they’ve driven is raising interest among environmentalists and worries among privacy advocates in the Bay Area.

The program, called “pay as you drive,” is available from several insurance companies in 34 states, Canada, Japan and Europe. Assembly Bill 2800, authored by Assemblymember Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, would authorize it in California.

In some existing programs, mileage is tracked by a global positioning system and reported to the insurance company, offering a financial incentive for people to reduce their driving. Huffman’s bill leaves the method of tracking mileage up to the California Department of Insurance. State Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner has indicated he would explore less intrusive methods of obtaining data than installing GPS devices.

Jerry Hill, a San Mateo County supervisor and California Air Resources Board member who was elected to the state Assembly in June, said the idea could help the Bay Area reduce congestion.

“One of the major components of reducing carbon output is reducing vehicle miles traveled,” Hill said. “Any effort to get us closer to that point is welcome and it saves consumers money as well.”

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But state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Mateo/San Francisco, said that if GPS tracking devices were involved, he would likely vote against the measure because of concerns that the detailed data could be misused or fall into the wrong hands.

“People’s privacy is extremely important,” he said. “It’s a basic tenet of a free society.”

Heidi Anspaugh, a 36-year-old online community manager from the Outer Sunset, said the program sounded interesting.

“It sounds really good for people who live and work in San Francisco and can walk or take transit most places,” she said. “I live far out and have to drive to work in San Mateo, so it wouldn’t be good for me.”

Under California law, insurance companies already take mileage into account when adjusting rates, but it is based on often-inaccurate estimates by motorists of how much they plan to drive in a year.

tbarak@sfexaminer.com

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