Why is there a set limit of 70 MPH?

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  • Updated 2 years ago
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Bothered by 70MPH limit.  Speed limit on OH turnpike is 75MPH.  I still get 40+ MPG in my diesel Jetta, so why not let me decide what speed is appropriate?
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Ron Stidmon

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Posted 3 years ago

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Adam Altman, Alum

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Official Response

Hi Everyone,

I'm the head of Product here at Automatic.

We’re very sorry for the clear frustration around our 70 MPH speed threshold for the drive score.  It seems there has been miscommunication about what exactly the drive tones / score represent and options you have to get the experience you want. Good news, for some of you at least, the product may already do what you want and this post can help you get there. For others perhaps not, and we hope that the transparency about what and why makes it at least somewhat less frustrating.

Before getting into the bits about the Drive Score, please note that if you are frustrated simply by the audio tone beeps at 70 mph, that’s easily solvable. You can change the threshold for the tones to whatever you’d like—or turn tones off completely. Head over to settings in your app to check it out.

It is true that no matter the setting for audio tones, driving 70+ mph will negatively affect your Drive Score. Although there are many legitimate places to drive 70+ mph, that doesn’t actually matter for the score because the purpose of a score isn’t an indication of legality—nor is it a measure of safety, goodness, driver legitimacy, or any other rendering of judgement on you. It is singularly a piece of feedback on how little or much you exhibit the driving behaviors that most commonly affect fuel economy.  And it’s not a perfected user experience by any means, but it largely does what it was designed to do. Let me try to explain.

--Why can’t I move the threshold?--

One of the key promises that Automatic made to you when buying the product is that we’ll give you feedback on driving behavior that can save you a bundle on gas. That feedback is yours to engage with or ignore at will. But underlying that promise must be the most honest assessment we can give of the thing we said we’d measure. So we have to report on what we believe is impacting your fuel economy, and we hold firm that driving over 70 mph has this effect. If we let users set their own threshold, as suggested a few times here, that promise of honest feedback would be broken. The score would not have a standardized meaning to help you compare against other drivers, as each user’s basis could be different.

--But I can get very high MPG over 70mph sometimes, so what gives?!?--

As some users have pointed out, they can get high MPG values even when driving at relatively high speeds. So shouldn’t that mean they’re doing fine and should have a high score? Not quite, and the reason “why not” again comes down to what score is actually saying. There’s a subtle but important distinction to clarify about the score’s relationship to fuel economy.

It is a fuel-economy-focused behavior score, not a fuel economy score. What that means is the score does not go higher or lower in exact relationship to mpg. This is by design, as there are many factors well beyond your immediate control that affect the fuel economy: hill incline, cargo weight, wind speeds, traffic conditions, etc. Sure you could change these factors with lots of advanced planning, but not in the moment once your trip has started. Automatic driving feedback is focused on calling out behaviors that you can easily take action on. So the score goes up and down instead with the frequency of the immediately controllable behaviors that we know to use more gas. Driving at less efficient high speeds is one of these behaviors, which brings me to the all-important point.

Driving at 70mph is almost always less efficient than driving at 60mph in the exact same conditions.  There may well be times when you get a higher MPG going 72mph in segment A than you did going 55mph in segment B. That is an apples to oranges comparison and brings into play the point made above: score does not (by design) try to account for the myriad environmental factors that go into ultimate mpg. In nearly every consumer vehicle we’ve come across, and throughout large bodies of research, engines are factory-tuned to be the most fuel efficient somewhere in the 50-65 mph range. This means that for the segment A example though you already had higher MPG than in segment B, it would likely have been even higher had you been going a bit slower. And that’s the exact feedback that we promised you we would give.

We’ve likely not nailed communicating this well in packaging or onboarding and this may be at the heart of some frustrations.  Apologies and hope this clears things up.

It is worth repeating, Automatic makes no judgment of how one should drive. Rather, we give you the information on what you are actually doing as cleanly and consistently as possible. You decide for yourself what’s important. It may well be that you don’t want to engage with this feature. To that, we say no problem: just turn off audio tones and don’t pay attention to the score metric on your screen.

I hope this sheds light on what the speeding threshold and drive score are used for, and that on the margin that eases some of the frustrations—or even better, may help you get what you want out of Automatic.

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Official Response
I'd like to clarify that what has been explained here over the past couple of years by way of the logic behind how the Drive Score currently works is by no means a proclamation that it will never change. It was originally designed with a particular perspective and with some initial assumptions in mind -- by a very tiny team of original founders and first employees. There was nothing on the market at the time that did quite what we were trying to do so we had to start somewhere.

We've grown as a company and have learned a lot over the last couple of years. We actually agree that it is an imperfect feature, and for some users, even a broken experience. (eg: those who live in states with freeway speeds over 70 MPH). We absolutely want to make it better.

However, we want to make the entire experience of Automatic better and are, in fact, working on just that. The Drive Score is not the highest priority in this piece of work but it will be addressed in time. When our product team is freed up to put their focus on rethinking the Drive Score, the thoughtful feedback we've received from users will be invaluable. 

In the meantime, we hope you continue to enjoy the other features Automatic has to offer. And I'm sure you'll enjoy what's coming!