Distracted Driving: Can Insurers Stop This American Addiction?


The medical field has not yet declared excessive smartphone usage an addiction, but research shows it has many similarities to gambling, which is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5). With smart devices being so easily accessible and 90% of American adults owning a cell phone, this is very disconcerting. Another recent trend that should be addressed is the number of 4th grade children and older who own smart phones or devices, thus perpetuating the addiction

As with all addictive behaviors, there are societal repercussions. If there are societal repercussions, you can bet your bottom dollar the insurance industry will be impacted or will have an impact. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s—CDC—Motor Vehicle webpage states that “Each day in the United States, approximately 9 people are killed and more than 1,000 injured in crashes that reportedly involves a distracted driver.” Distracted driving is more predictive of an eventual loss claim than any other behavior, including speeding and braking. They also found that drivers distracted by cell phone use have 20% more insurance claims than others in the risk-pool.

The CDC references three main types of distraction:

  • Visual: taking your eyes off the road
  • Manual: taking your hands off the wheel
  • Cognitive: taking your mind off of driving

Distracted driving endangers the life of the driver and others. Texting while driving, talking on a cell phone, using a navigation system—especially looking on a map on your phone—and eating while driving are a few examples of distracted driving. However, texting while driving is especially dangerous because it combines the three types of distraction mentioned above. When you send or read a text message, you take your eyes off the road for about 5 seconds, long enough to cover the length a football field while driving at 55 mph. Think about that for a minute.

To stem the number of accidents and deaths attributed to distracted driving, many insurance carriers currently partner with traffic-data startups and app makers to monitor cell phone use while driving. Zendrive, a traffic-data startup that monitors 60 million cell phones, took usage data and combined it with a self-assessment of the drivers who own the phones. What they found is that American drivers have no idea how often they use their phones, and 1/3 of the worse multitaskers consider themselves safe. Other companies monitoring distracted drivers include TrueMotion, which tracks driving metrics for eight of the top 20 auto insurers in the U.S., and Cambridge Mobile Telematics, which monitors distracted driving for 35 insurers including State Farm. This data collection has two main purposes:

  1. Some U.S. auto insurers offer a discount if they agree to be monitored.
  2. Insurance underwriters will be better able to evaluate the risk and exposures of potential client when deciding how much coverage the client should receive, how much they should pay for it, or whether even to accept the risk and insure them.

Even with laws and distracted driver monitoring systems, Zendrive found that distracted driving levels increased in all but four states in the past year. This is not surprising, as the majority of smartphone users are connected to their phones 24 hours a day, with a small number actually turning off their ringer. The research also found that a very high percentage of smartphone users are constantly checking their phones even when they don’t ring. As mentioned at the beginning of this blog, being constantly connected is an addiction and it is becoming a national epidemic. Do you think insurers stop this American addiction? I am not sure, but I know they are already making a difference and I applaud them for trying to find ways to keep us and our fellow drivers safe.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of VUE Software


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